World Coins

Loon dollar designer Robert-Ralph Carmichael dies

The iconic Loon design by Robert-Ralph Carmichael debuted on Canada’s dollar coin in 1987 and remains on the denomination today. Carmichael died July 16 in Ontario.

Images courtesy of the Royal Canadian Mint.

Robert-Ralph Carmichael, whose iconic Loon image came to define the dollar denomination of Canadian coins, has died.

Mr. Carmichael died July 16 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He was 78 years old.

His artwork depicts a loon swimming in a lake, with coniferous trees visible on points of land on the horizon. Carmichael’s initials, RRC, are visible below the tip of the loon’s beak, above the ripples on the surface of the water.

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In 1987, the Bank of Canada’s $1 notes were replaced by the new dollar coin. The coin was instantly dubbed the Loonie after the solitary loon gracing the coin’s reverse side; the nickname caught on and Canadians have embraced it (and the design) ever since. 

According to the Royal Canadian Mint, “Mr. Carmichael’s design has stood the test of time due to its simplicity in depicting an icon of Canadian wildlife.”

More than 1 billion Loon dollars bearing the iconic imagery have been released, according to the RCM. The introduction of the Loon dollar in 1987 was the most significant change to Canadian coinage in 50 years. It was also only by chance that Carmichael’s design ended up on the denomination. 

When the RCM originally announced it would replace its $1 note with a coin as a cost-cutting measure, it was supposed to carry a version of a silver dollar from 1935 that was produced to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George V.

The 1935 design featured an aboriginal man and a voyageur paddling a canoe laden with packages, paying tribute to Canada’s historical fur trade.

However, when the dies for the coin were shipped together from Ottawa to the RCM’s plant in Winnipeg, the package was lost. 

Concerned that the lost dies could end up in the hands of counterfeiters, the RCM instead chose to change course and use Carmichael’s design, releasing the new coins on June 30, 1987.

In 1992, Carmichael’s hometown of Echo Bay, Ont., near Sault Ste. Marie, erected a giant Loonie monument in tribute to the artist’s design.

The RCM marked the 25th anniversary of the coin in 2012 with a commemorative silver coin.

Mr. Carmichael designed several commemorative coins for the RCM as well. He is survived by wife Gwen Keatley, family and friends. 

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