Victorian launches drive to see women on Canada's bills

A Victoria woman is leading a campaign to see Canadian women featured on this country’s bank notes, following a successful petition that led the Bank of England to announce that writer Jane Austen will be featured on its currency.

More than 35,000 signatures were collected in the U.K. after citizens learned that Winston Churchill will replace Elizabeth Fry on five-pound notes. The outcry resulted in the Bank of England’s new governor Mark Carney — until recently Governor of the Bank of Canada — announcing that Austen’s image would be on 10-pound notes.

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That move inspired Victoria’s Merna Forster to re-ignite efforts to convince the Bank of Canada to put women who played a part in the country’s history on bank notes. Forster knows about these women — she is the author of 100 Canadian Heroines and 100 More Canadian Heroines, and founded the website

“Surely, in this day and age, we’ve got to represent women as well as men in some way,” she said Monday.

Last week, she set up a petition at CanadaBankNotes. By early Monday, it had 123 names. Every time a name is added, an email is automatically sent to the Bank of Canada, she said.

Canadian bank notes feature the Queen on the front of $20 bills. Former prime ministers Wilfrid Laurier, John A. Macdonald, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Robert L. Borden are on the other denominations.

Forster spoke out in 2011 after learning that the image of the Famous Five monument in Ottawa was being replaced on $50 bills by the CCGS Amundsen icebreaker. Efforts by that group of five women led the Privy Council of England, then Canada’s highest court of appeal, to determine that women are persons.

When the group appeared on the note, “I thought a lot of people thought, it’s great. It’s a good start,” Forster said.

After that, she expected, “There would be at least one woman on one bill.”

There is, but she doesn’t have a name. The $100 bill shows a female researcher looking through a microscope, with insulin in the foreground.

“They could have had a real female scientist,” said Forster, suggesting Dr. Leone Farrell, who devised a technique that enabled mass production of the polio vaccine.

As for the icebreaker bill, Forster said that it would have been appropriate to use Tookoolito, Inuit guide and interpreter, who worked with explorer Charles Francis Hall in his search for the Franklin expedition.

Forster’s initial effort, which started in 2011, to win support for women on bank notes did not take off. “I wondered what else I could do.” The Bank of England decision has given new life to her campaign. “I’m hopeful that maybe there is some sort of momentum here.”

The Bank of Canada is in the process of rolling out its latest series of bank notes, these ones made of a durable polymer, expected to last 2.5 times as long as the previous series.

Alexandre Deslongchamps, Bank of Canada spokesman, said it is estimated that the polymer series will be in circulation for at least eight years.

Planning will start next year for the subsequent series, he said. Public consultation is carried out through focus groups.

“For the polymer series, ideas for the bank note images were generated by Canadians who were part of an extensive consultation process,” he said.

The bank announced last year that it would review its design process. “The review is in preliminary stages,” Deslongchamps said.

Final decisions are made by the governor and the minister of finance, he said.

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