Often referred to as the "Loonie", the gold-colored Canadian dollar coin has a fascinating and sometimes quirky history, beginning in 1982, when the Royal Canadian Mint began experimenting with a new composition for its Voyageur dollar.
First minted in 1935 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ascension of George V to the British throne, the Voyageur dollar was originally struck in silver, with a bust of the monarch on the obverse and a voyageur, (an unlicensed fur trader) in a canoe on the reverse. In 1968, the composition of the coin, which had previously been about 80% silver, was changed to a nickel composition due to the rising price of the precious metal, in a move similar to the United States' transition from silver to clad coins four years earlier. The size of the coin's diameter was also reduced by 4 millimeters, from 36mm to 32mm, but the general design remained the same. In the 1970's, regular production was put on hold several times, when the mint instead put out circulating commemorative dollars (1970, 1971, 1973, 1974). Unsurprisingly, the nickel dollar was received with far less enthusiasm than its silver counterpart, and circulated very little. So in 1982, rather than scrapping the project altogether, the RCM decided to take further steps to ensure the circulation of the dollar coin, including a further reduction of the size of the coin, a change in color to distinguish it from the quarter and half dollars, and the ceasing of production of the $1 bill. There may have been a few reasons for the RCM's dogged persistence in pursuing a functional dollar coin, such as the longevity and durability of a coin over a bill, which would save the government production money, and the lobbying efforts of the vending machine and public transit industries.
The original design for the new coin (still made mostly of nickel, with a golden bronze plating) displayed a Voyageur-esque scene on the reverse. A problem arose when it was discovered that, while in transit from RCM headquarters in Ottawa to the mint in Winnipeg, the original dies went missing. It has not yet been either discovered or disclosed what became of them, but mint officials, fearing they had been stolen, ordered a new design to be crafted so that the potential thieves couldn't make counterfeits. The second reverse was designed by Robert-Ralph Carmichael, featuring a Common Loon floating serenely on a lake. The Common Loon (scientific name Gavia Immer) is a summer resident of Canada, where, according to National Geographic's Complete Birds of North America, the majority of Loon nests are built in North America, and thus a smart pick for the reverse of the coin.
Production of the coin began in 1987 (and continues to present day). It was roughly the size of a U.S. Susan B. Anthony dollar, but learning from the mistake of the U.S. government, it was easily distinguishable from the Canadian quarter due to its gold color and unusual shape- the 11-sided hendecagon. While not universally popular at first, Canadians seem to have warmed to it in the years since. There is even a monument to the coin in Echo Bay, Ontario: "The Big Loonie", an enormous model of the Loon reverse mounted on a stand. In addition, the RCM has, since 2004, produced special Olympic-themed Loonies, considered lucky (one was placed in the center of a hockey rink in 2002, and both the Men's and Women's Canada hockey teams went on to win gold medals. This original "Lucky Loonie" is now on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame). Several million Loonies are minted every year, and they are very widely circulated.
It's pretty safe to say that, given all of this, the Loonie experiment turned out far better than it's United States counterpart. A popular dollar coin with a lovely design and interesting history, the Loonie is gearing up to be a classic in the world of coin collecting.