Countless coin dealers and other retailers around the world proudly offer a variety of collectible Canadian coins for sale, but not many places allow coin enthusiasts to see one of Canada’s most beloved coins recreated on a gigantic scale. The Loon Dollar Monument in Echo Bay, Ontario, offers just that experience, drawing tourists from miles around to view this unique attraction.
Canadian Coins 101: What’s a Loonie?
In 1987, the Royal Canadian Mint dramatically changed the design of the Canadian one-dollar coin. The redesigned one-dollar coins were created to replace paper dollars in response to pressure from manufacturers of coin-operated equipment such as vending machines and parking meters.
Before the new look, the one-dollar coin was silver-coloured and round, with an image of Queen Elizabeth II on the face and a depiction of voyageurs in a canoe on the reverse. The new one-dollar coins were golden-coloured and hendecagon-shaped (11-sided). The Royal Canadian Mint replaced the canoe image with a rendering of a single common loon. The common loon is a treasured Canadian symbol that represents the tranquility, solitude, and ruggedness of Canada’s vast wilderness. Canada is home to approximately 90% of the world’s common loon population.
Shortly after the redesign, Canadians began referring to the new one-dollar coins as “loonies,” and the nickname stuck. The nickname is so widely popular that the Royal Canadian Mint trademarked the term in 2006. Interestingly, the decision to replace the reverse image with the loon was made after the Royal Canadian Mint discovered it had lost the original voyageurs master stamping dies.
The Big Loonie in Echo Bay
The now-famous image of the loon that appears on Canada’s loonies was created by wildlife artist Robert Ralph Carmichael, a longtime resident of the scenic lakeside village of Echo Bay in northern Ontario. In 1992, the citizens of Echo Bay decided to honour the village’s celebrity resident by constructing the Loon Dollar Monument, better known as “The Big Loonie.”
The Big Loonie is a giant, to-scale replica of the circulating loonie coins. The monument is made from fibreglass and steel and was constructed under the guidance of Carmichael, who sculpted the model for the Big Loonie’s construction, along with representatives from the Royal Canadian Mint. It was erected at Echo Bay on June 30, 1992. A local time capsule is sealed in the monument’s base.
In May 2017, the enormous loonie was temporarily removed and refurbished at a local body shop to touch up some weather damage and scratches. It was replaced shortly thereafter and rededicated to the Macdonald, Meredith, and Aberdeen Additional Township as part of the Township’s 125th birthday celebration.
The Big Loonie sits in Loon Park in the village of Echo Bay, which is located roughly 26 kilometres east of Sault Ste. Marie at the confluence of Highway 17 and Highway 638. The monument is surrounded by over 1,500 feet of the Lake Saint George boardwalk, which offers beautiful views of the adjacent wetlands. This placement pays tribute to Carmichael, who had a lifelong passion for Canadian wildlife apparent throughout his artistic renderings, as well as to the common loon, which makes its home in wetlands such as these.
Carmichael’s initials are visible on the Big Loonie, directly beneath the loon’s beak, just as they appear on circulating loonies. Carmichael, who died in 2016, considered the loonie design to be his crowning achievement, though he created a vast collection of artworks during his lifetime. In fact, after his famous loon image, Carmichael created the artwork for at least a dozen other Royal Canadian Mint coins.
Find Loonies and Other Canadian Coins for Sale
In the years since its initial release, the Royal Canadian Mint has released many collectible and commemorative versions of the famous loonie. You can buy loonies and other prized Royal Canadian Mint coins from Colonial Acres. Visit our website to view our current selection.