Part of the fun of collecting coins is finding out the fascinating history behind them. In 2018, the Royal Canadian Mint released a set of commemorative reproductions of Maritime coins used prior to the Atlantic Provinces joining the Confederation. They tell a story about the provinces’ initial hesitancy to join the Confederation and attempts to maintain autonomy before eventually making the decision to join the federal union. The four-coin set includes reproductions of coins from each of the traditional Maritime Provinces—New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia—as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, which remained separate from Canada for nearly 100 years before finally joining the Confederation in 1949.
The Journey To Become Part of Canada
In the mid-19th century, British North America consisted primarily of the Province of Canada and the Maritime Provinces. Early attempts at Confederation occurred as early as 1839. Confederation offered several potential advantages. One of the most pressing in the wake of the American Civil War was the ability to muster an army and defend the territory against any attempt by the newly unified and rapidly expanding nation to the south to take over Canada and control all of North America. Other advantages included an interprovincial, transcontinental railroad and the ability to mint unified currency.
In retrospect, it may seem that Confederation was a foregone conclusion, but many in the Maritime Provinces had doubts. They had their own economic interests to consider. They felt they were the best-administered colonies in the British Empire and felt they had an important role to play in its evolution. The anti-Confederation sentiment was particularly strong in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. As island provinces, they did not stand to benefit from many of the promised improvements that Confederation offered, especially an interprovincial railway system.
It was felt that joining the Confederation would cost them dearly to pay for benefits that they did not get to enjoy. While politicians in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick favoured joining the Confederation and eventually became two of the original four provinces, opinions were more mixed amongst the populace, especially in Nova Scotia. Prince Edward Island held out for a few years, but being almost completely surrounded by the new nation took an economic toll, and it joined the Confederation as the smallest province in 1873.
As for Newfoundland, it maintained its autonomy until the 20th century. During the Great Depression, however, it went bankrupt. The necessary surrender of its self-government in 1934 led to it eventually joining the Confederation in 1949. In the interim, it was governed by a commission that consisted of three appointed officials from Newfoundland and three who were British.
The Features of the Coin Set
The colonial currency coin set consists of four silver coins recreating those used in each of the Atlantic Provinces prior to Confederation. There are one-cent Canadian coins for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, as well as a five-cent piece for Newfoundland. Each bears an antique finish that gives it the appearance of the patina that older coins develop over time. The reverse designs are authentic to those used in the 19th century, but they have been adapted to a larger size for better viewing and appreciation. The obverse bears a portrait of today’s reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
Based on an 1861 design, the coins from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are strikingly similar to one another, with a wreath of roses and mayflowers encircling St. Edward’s Crown. The New Brunswick coin is closer to its original size, while the Nova Scotia coin has been enlarged.
Prince Edward Island adopted the decimal system of currency just prior to joining the Confederation, but the one-cent piece was the only decimal coin struck specifically for the province. It bears a portion of the provincial coat of arms. The Newfoundland five-cent piece is based on an 1880 design that is particularly ornate.
Look for this unique set of reproduced Maritime coins at Colonial Acres, as well as originals from the 19th century.