On January 2nd, 1908 the Governor General activated the press that made the Dominion’s first domestically produced coin. With this fifty-cent piece and the first bronze cent the Ottawa branch of Britain’s Royal Mint was officially open.

The creation of the Royal Mint coincided with an era of increased gold production in the Yukon and BC but a refinery was needed to bring that gold up to the standard needed to produce coins. The Canadian Mint’s first refinery was finished in 1911 and it serviced the British Empire throughout WWI. It produced gold bars which Britain used to pay its debts to other countries.

Another refinery was built in 1936, which is still in operation today, that has produced 9999 fine gold bars since 1969. In 1982 it became the world’s first refinery to produce 9999 fine gold bullion coins. In 1999 it became the first mint to achieve 99999 fine gold purity. And in 2007 it created the world’s largest coin (that is now in the Guinness World Records)- a 100 kg, 99.999% pure $1million gold bullion coin. It’s as big as a table! Incredibly five of these have been purchased by investors. Can you imagine having so much money you could buy ONE coin worth $1 million?

As a Commonwealth country, Canada has included the likeness of the reigning monarch on its coins since it started production in 1908. There have been four different versions of Queen Elizabeth II from the years 1953, 1965, 1990, and 2003. The likeness from 1953 shows a 27 year old Queen Elizabeth II, and then in 2003 she is 64 years old. Interestingly, like her father George VI, in the most recent version of coins with Queen Elizabeth II on them feature her without her crown.

Not only does the Royal Canadian Mint produce all of Canada’s circulation and collector coins, but it also manufactures coins on behalf of many other nations. Those include Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Nepal, Tunisia, Cuba, and many others. I thought this was quite interesting as I just assumed each country made their own coins.  They also produced the athlete’s medals for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. In addition to their unique undulating shape, rather than being flat, the medals also feature a small part of a greater piece of art- either an Orca whale or a raven, so no two medals are the same.

In March 2012 the Canadian Government decided to stop the production of pennies and the final penny was minted at the mint’s Winnipeg, MB plant on May 4, 2012. Canadians must now round to the new smallest denomination which is now the nickel. I have to say that took a little getting used to on my most recent trip as it was the first time I’d been in Canada since they had made the change.

We visited the Royal Canadian Mint on New Year’s Eve so unfortunately for us (but fortunately for the staff) there was no production to see as most of the staff had gone home early. The tour is 45 minutes long and took us through halls overlooking the production areas. Our guide was very friendly and informative and told us stories like the ones above, plus many others. We really wished we could have seen the mint in action but the stories were interesting nevertheless. The tour also gave us a chance to see some of the Olympic medals which, being Canadian, I thought was really neat. We also got the chance to lift a real gold bar, that was well guarded and chained down. But I guess that’s to be expected when it’s worth about $750,000! We were disappointed though that they didn’t allow for photos to be taken except for in the gift shop where the gold bar was on display.

Gold bar at Royal Canadian Mint

You can hold $750,000 in your hands! (photo by L)

InformationIcon2  Tours are offered every day from 10:00 am- 5:00 pm. They are closed December 25 and January 1. They also have reduced hours on December 26 from noon to 6:00 pm. For more information, including current admission prices, you can visit the Royal Canadian Mint website.

Phone: 613-993-8990 or 1-800-276-7714 |  Email: customerservice.web@mint.ca

LocationIcon2Located at 320 Sussex Drive, Ottawa K1A 0G8

On-site underground parking is offered for $2.75 per half hour up to a daily maximum of $14 next door at the National Gallery of Canada.