The changing face of Canadian currency

Oak Bay woman’s petition calls for Canadian women on banknotes

Merna Forster holds up a $10 bill featuring the likeness of John. A MacDonald. The Oak Bay woman is leading a campaign to have women featured on Canadian banknotes. A proposed $100 bill featuring Emily Carr (inset) was submitted to the website by Terri Hendrson.

Move over Wilfred Laurier, it’s time for a woman to take your place.

One Oak Bay woman is calling for Canadian women would take a more prominent role on the nation’s banknotes.

Merna Forster has started a petition campaign that has now gathered more than 53,000 signatures calling for Canadian women to be featured on currency.

“I’m only an accidental advocate. My life’s vocation is not to be an activist. I started doing this as a hobby,” said Forster.

Forster’s campaign began in late 2011 when Canada’s new polymer banknotes began rolling out of the mint.

“That’s when I first noticed they cut the Famous Five and Thérèse Casgrain off the back of the $50 bill,” she said.

The Famous Five were a group of Alberta women who fought to have women recognized as people and Casgrain was the first woman elected to lead a political party in Canada.

“In the new series they were cut and replaced by an icebreaker,” said Forster, the executive director of the great unsolved mysteries in Canadian history at the University of Victoria.

Forster wrote an op-ed piece at the time that was widely distributed and began writing letters to Mark Carney, then-governor of the Bank of Canada. She received little response. Carney eventually went on to become governor of the Bank of England, and it was then that Forster saw him beaming as he held up a mockup of a new British banknote featuring author Jane Austen.

Forster eventually became in touch with the woman who organized the British campaign to feature women on banknotes and in July 2013 started her petition campaign at

“Now there are over 53,000 people who have signed,” she said. “Way more than in the United Kingdom, for a country with a much smaller population.”

Forster points to Australia, which features a man on one side of the banknote and a woman on the other. “They don’t celebrate four dead, white, male prime ministers, and the Queen.”

While an anonymous woman is featured on the back of the $100 bill to depict the discovery of insulin, Forster says there are plenty of real Canadian female scientists that deserve acknowledgement.

Forster isn’t quick to put forward her own idea of who should be on the banknote, saying, “I try to stay away from that because it’s controversial.” She does refer to another website she created called where people can create their own $100 bill with the woman of their choice. There have been hundreds of suggestions.

“One that’s often suggested is our own Emily Carr, an internationally recognized artist,” said Forster, adding a lot of comments also suggest the inclusion of an Aboriginal woman.

Another person who has received a lot of attention is Viola Desmond, who refused to leave the whites-only area of a Nova Scotia theatre in 1946. “She was our own Rosa Parks.”

For more ideas, one needs to look no further than Forster’s two books: 100 Canadian Heroines, Famous and Forgotten Faces, published in 2004, and 100 More Canadian Heroines, published in 2011.

Forster’s campaign has so far drawn the support of seven MPs, including Victoria’s Murray Rankin.

“This is not a radical idea, they are half the population,” said Forster. “We say we’re a modern nation committed to gender equality … and when you see those four men there, and the Queen, and no Canadian women, it’s discrimination.”

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