Emily Carr has been the face of the Chemainus dollar since 2010. The renowned Vancouver Island artist is one of 12 finalists to become the first Canadian woman on the front of a Canadian banknote.

Emily Carr driving Vancouver Island hopes as the face of Canadian money

Renowned Island artist already on Chemainus currency, finalist to repeat that feat on a new national banknote

Emily Carr remains Vancouver Island’s last and best chance to get one of our own women on Canadian currency.

But she is already legal tender in at least one Island community.

The renowned B.C. artist was revealed late last month as one of 12 finalists in the discussion about who will be the first Canadian woman to grace the front of our money. But it’s a perch she has held for six years in Chemainus.

In the spring of 2010, Vancouver Island’s mural town launched the Chemainus Dollar program, where you can trade your money in for professionally detailed, Carr-adorned $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills that you can use to purchase goods at par in a number of stores in The Little Town That Did.

Chemainus — which has in recent years augmented its longstanding mural attractions by incorporating elements featuring Carr and her works — chose her largely for the marketing potential.

But the five-woman, two-man panel charged with helping our country decide who breaks the longstanding national pecuniary gender barrier has a few more elements to consider. The successful candidate must have overcome barriers of her own, been inspirational, made a significant change and left a lasting legacy.

“The women who appear on our list should resonate with Canadians and reflect the diversity of Canada. Their achievements must be seen in the context of the time they lived,” the council said in a statement on the Bank of Canada website.

Vancouver Island University Women’s Studies chair Marni Stanley said local favourite Carr is a legitimate contender.

Carr heritage“While I personally would have preferred a candidate of political import I think Emily Carr is a good choice who will be very popular here on the West Coast,” she said. “While she was someone who approached life with humour and passion, she never lets us off the hook for the harm we can do as humans either to each other, or to this beautiful world she celebrated with such skill.”

While the exact denomination has yet to be determined, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged that when the 2018 series of bank notes rolls of the presses, a Canadian woman will be on the front of at least one.

While she said the issue has never been on the front-burner for her personally, Stanley fully supports the rationale behind the initiative.

“It’s not personally something I care that much about, but it is an important symbol,” she said. “Currency is designed to present some kind of identity of the culture. We have a currency that celebrates less than half the population. Canada is telling a story that only white men contributed to development of our country.”

The Victoria-based Carr — acclaimed worldwide for her works celebrating the West Coast rainforest and Aboriginal heritage — certainly defies that message.

The Bank of Canada describes her as “one of the pre-eminent Canadian painters in the first half of the 20th century — and perhaps the most original.”

Stanley said beyond Carr’s skill and popularity is a message that resonates with our national identity.

“Not only does she call attention to the unique eco systems of the west coast, but she also, in works such as Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky reminds us of the necessity of respecting the fragility of nature’s bounty and our responsibilities to the earth,” she said.

“As well, in works such as The Crazy Stair she was an early advocate for respecting the sophistication and complexity of Indigenous cultures while warning her audience of the threat of colonization.”

Karl Schutz

Six years after the Chemainus currency’s launch, the town is scheduled to add at least two more Carr-related murals to the two already in existence. Chemainus Visitor Centre greeter Kelly Argue said the Carr dollars continue to circulate and attract the interest of tourists.

The bills themselves feature Carr’s portrait on the front superimposed over variety of Chemainus murals. The design of the new Bank of Canada note won’t be determined until after the subject is chosen.

Other than the queen and other members of the royal family, the only women to have graced Canadian currency were the Famous Five, the activists who successfully launched the court case that got women recognized as persons under Canadian law. They were on the back of the $50 from 2004 to 2011, along with Quebecois politician Therese Casgrain.

Stanley’s first choice for the front of the new bill was also the Famous Five, but she said the degree of thought and effort that has gone into this process is unprecedented and good for Canada.

The 12 finalists were chosen from 461 nominees submitted by 26,000 Canadians. After a public consultation, a short list of three to five women will be submitted to the federal finance minister to make the final selection.

“More thought, more attention, more process — it will be the best-chosen,” she said. “I’m not going to get my (choice), but it’s not going to be anyone I’m embarrassed with. I’m satisfied.”

For the complete list of nominees, click here.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Struggling to afford rent, Sylvia Bailey is hoping to trade her love of cooking for some more affordable accommodation. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Bailey)
Retired Victoria woman looking to cook, clean or garden in exchange for rent

Sylvia Bailey is hoping to use her love for cooking to help afford rent

Victoria police are searching for a suspect after a stabbing Monday night. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria police searching for suspect in late-night stabbing

Victim taken to hospital with potentially life-threatening injuries

The drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)
Island Health opens COVID-19 testing site at UVic

As with all other sites, an appointment is needed to receive a test

Thousands filled Centennial Square in June for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Black Press Media file photo)
Survey seeks input on racism in Greater Victoria

Confidential answers to inform work with immigrants and marginalized people

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan Bui (left) and Kairry Nguyen at the end of the trial that found Tanessa Nikirk guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. Nikirk is back in court for her sentencing hearing. (Black Press file photo)
UPDATED: Court hears letter from driver convicted of hitting Saanich girl

Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since she was hit in 2017

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Candice Woloshyn prepares her flower beds for the next season at her ‘Dirty Girl Flowers’ farm in Merville. Despite the pandemic, Woloshyn was able to sustain her homegrown business as community members opted for regular deliveries of fresh cut flowers. Photo by Binny Paul/ Campbell River Mirror.
Vancouver Island flower farmers were blooming as the pandemic wilted everything else

Floriculturists saw increased subscriptions as fresh flowers became a ‘sight for sore eyes’ during isolation

The ‘new normal’ for hockey parents in Chilliwack and elsewhere in B.C., watching their kids from outside of the arena due to COVID-19 protocols. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey parents petition to be let back in the arena

Refused access due to pandemic protocols, parents are now applying pressure to loosen the rules

Aaliyah Rosa. File photo
Crown says murder of B.C. girl, 7, by accused mother was planned, deliberate

The trial of KerryAnn Lewis began Monday in New Westminster

Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. money laundering inquiry hears of $800,000 and more in bags, luggage, backpacks

The lottery corporation has said it consistently reported suspicious transactions to Fintrac

Some of the characters in the League of Legends video game. (Photo: na.leagueoflegends.com)
E-sports trial at B.C. high schools to start with ‘League of Legends’ team game

For fall launch, Vancouver’s GameSeta company partners with BC School Sports

Most Read