No doubt you are familiar with the Canadian dollar, the version of the dollar used throughout Canada. There are many countries around the world that use some form of the dollar, and as is usually the case the Canadian dollar is distinctly different from its American counterpart. As such when an amount is written or indicated in print, it is displayed using the letter C before the dollar sign. So while something costing twenty dollars in the US would be displayed as $20, in Canada something costing the same amount of money would be displayed as C$20.
The most common nickname given to the currency is the loonie. The currency is so called because of the loon that can be seen on the dollar coin. Buck is also used to describe the currency, while other lesser known nicknames exist in French too, since French Canada (the area around Quebec) also uses the currency.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
There are six coins used in Canada today. These are 5 cent, 10 cent, 25 cent, 50 cent, $1 and $2 coins. In common with the coins used in America, the smallest three are known by other names – the nickel, the dime and the quarter in order of smallest to largest in value. Up until 2012 Canada also had a one cent coin commonly referred to as the penny, but this has now been discontinued and is no longer produced.
If you are not familiar with the Canadian coinage it is easy to mistake it for the US coinage if you only take a casual look at it. There are differences though, and they are more clearly seen on the banknotes than the coins.
There are five banknotes in circulation at the moment. These are the $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 dollar bills. Each one is a distinctly different colour, ranging from the blue $5 bill through the green $20 bill and the red $50 bill. There has been several series of banknotes released over the years and the most recent was the Frontier Series released in 2011.
From past to present – the history of the Canadian dollar
Back in the early days of Canada, bartering was used as a form of payment for all kinds of things. If you wanted to buy grain for example, you had to barter with the person selling it to see what they wanted in return. Between the two of you you’d have to come up with an agreeable swap and then the deal would be made.
Over the years it became clear a proper currency was called for. By the time the 17th century arrived people were desperate to have one. With no official one forthcoming at that time they started using playing cards as a form of currency instead. Unfortunately for those relying on them they were banned from being used as currency early in the next century. However despite this the residents of Canada would have to wait until the 19th century to get the currency they wanted.
In 1858 the Province of Canada finally started minting 1, 5, 10 and 20 cent coins. As was common back then, the 1 cent bronze coin actually was made from that metal. The other three coins were made from silver. However once again nothing more happened for another two decades, except for some more pennies being minted in 1859 to expand the supply.
As for banknotes, these took even longer to come into use. When the War of 1812 took place, army bills were issued to drum up funds for the war effort. The result of this was that people started to become more familiar with banknotes. By the time the bills were redeemed, the final barrier in the way of launching the Canadian dollar disappeared.
How to get hold of the Canadian dollar
Fortunately it is a lot easier to obtain Canadian dollars today than it was in centuries gone by. Of course you can order your dollars prior to arriving in Canada, simply by using an online currency exchange service. You could also find one local to where you live. Check first to see whether they have larger amounts in stock or whether you would have to order them in advance for later collection.
Once you are in the country you have several options too. Since Canada is a well developed country it has a good network of ATMs. You can use both credit and debit cards to withdraw cash locally whenever you need it. Check first to see what exchange rates and/or charges your bank or provider will levy on each withdrawal so you know how much this service will cost you.
It is worth noting that card providers typically flag suspicious activity on cards issued to customers. Trying to withdraw cash in another country could well be viewed as this type of behaviour. For the sake of a quick phone call it might be worth contacting your bank and card providers to let them know where you are going and when you will be away. There is nothing more inconvenient than trying to get the cash you need, only to find your card has been stopped.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Canadian dollar
You can find this information quite easily online or at your local bureau de change. It’s best to compare sources before opting for the best deal you can get.
If you need more information on visiting Canada you can visit the Government of Canada’s UK embassy website at http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca.
Travelling safely with the Canadian dollar
Canada is one of the safer countries in the world, so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about with regard to your dollars. Of course it makes sense to keep them safe, especially if you are in a large and crowded city. The main plan of action should be to keep everything safely tucked away out of sight. Open bags, unzipped pockets and valuables and cash carried in the hands without due care and attention are the prime targets for pickpockets.
Where to spend your dollars in Canada – and what to spend them on
Canada is a real surprise to visit if you have never been before. It is a charming country filled with great places to explore, both in the cities and in more rural areas.
Of course Niagara Falls is among the best and most famous places to visit in terms of natural beauty. There are three sets of falls here, one of which is on the Canadian side of the falls. They are situated on the border between the US and Canada. The falls you can visit in Canada are the Horseshoe Falls.
Elsewhere you can visit the Canadian Rockies and also the breathtaking Banff National Park. If you love mountainous scenery these will definitely be for you. There is plenty more you can enjoy throughout Canada though, and if you choose to visit one or more cities you could do a lot worse than to pick Toronto – the biggest city the country has to offer.
Toronto is often thought of as the capital of Canada, but if your geography holds up you will know this accolade actually goes to Ottawa (this city is also well worth a visit). Toronto has lots of attractions and destinations to check out. It is famous for the CN Tower, which offers you the chance to go up to the observation deck for an amazing view over the city. Elsewhere you can go shopping in the Eaton Centre or head into Centre Island. The name is somewhat misleading, since it consists of several islands and not just one. It offers an amusement park that opens throughout the summer months, but it is worth a visit even if you don’t head to the park.
If you decide to visit the Rockies it’s worth allocating some time for a trip to Calgary as well. There are plenty of parks and attractions here, not to mention a great downtown area that is delightful to explore on foot.
In short, wherever you go you can look forward to some great scenery and lots of opportunities to part with a few Canadian dollars. Depending on where you are staying you can always opt for a packed lunch, but why do that when there are plenty of chances to try some superb Canadian cuisine?
As you can see the Canadian dollar only came into being after the people of Canada managed for many centuries without a proper currency. Indeed, bartering seems to be in the blood here – it is quite legal for bartering to still occur providing both parties can come to an agreement on a suitable fee to be paid for the goods or services required.
If you ever get the chance to visit Canada make sure you do so – it has much to offer and lots of great destinations and attractions that will tempt you to spend those dollars.