It may have been missed under all the attention paid to the birth of Prince George, but another major change was recently announced in England. Beginning in 2017, the image of Jane Austen will appear on 10-pound notes.
The Bank of England officially announced the change on Wednesday, confirming that the image of Charles Darwin, who currently appears on the bill, will be replaced by the author of Pride and Prejudice.
It got me to thinking. Why doesn’t Canada follow suit? Sure, we’ve recently introduced a new line of banknotes, which feature Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Canadarm and a scientist who certainly doesn’t appear to be Asian.
But in 10 or 15 years from now, when a new circulation is announced, why not feature some artists on the bills? Why wouldn't we consider this? Is it that we don’t have authors as celebrated as Austen? Who does?
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"Austen is undoubtedly one of the most popular and widely read authors in the English language, said Chris Salmon, the Bank of England’s chief cashier.
“People come to her novels from books, from serializations, from films. Many people enjoy and love and know her work. Moreover, from a more literary perspective, many critics emphasize the importance of her novels in the development of the British writing tradition."
The work of Canadian artists has been featured prominently on previous banknotes, specifically a collection released in 2001, which are just now being replaced in circulation by new polymer bills.
The $5 bill features Sir Wilfrid Laurier on one side and an image of children playing hockey on the other and includes an excerpt from Roch Carrier's short story The Hockey Sweater, while an excerpt from John McCrae's In Flanders Fields is found on the $10 bill.
Larger bills further art and excerpts from Canadian painters and poets. But the idea of an artist's face — an author's face — would be a Canadian first.
One of the main problems Canada would have following suit is, simply, our age. We are not centuries old like England. We are dealing with a much shorter, younger,literary history. Austen, for example, died in 1817 — fifty years before Canada was formed as a federal dominion. But we’ve certainly had writers worthy of acclamation since then.
National Post Books Editor Mark Medley likes the idea of celebration Canadian authors and offered a few suggestions.
"I think it's a great idea, especially since, come November, a passage from Roch Carrier's The Hockey Sweater will no longer adorn the $5 bill," Medley told Yahoo! Canada News.
"If I was running the Bank of Canada, I'd probably slap the late Pierre Berton on one of the bills. He's as Canadian as maple syrup, and one of the greatest chroniclers of this country's history. If I had to pick someone who writes fiction, I'd say Alice Munro, especially now that she's announced her retirement, or Mordecai Richler — he'd probably decline the honour, though, were he still alive.
"Or perhaps we could put Margaret Atwood's likeness on the two-dollar coin. We could call it a Peggy."
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Atwood, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin, was among the first names to jump to my mind. Peggy, as she is known, may still be writing (and tweeting), but she is among the country’s most acclaimed authors.
Her appearance on Canadian currency, however, would likely cause some confusion at Toronto City Hall, where Coun. Doug Ford once admitted he had never heard of her.
Another preferred option would be Leonard Cohen. The famed Canadian artist is best known for his music, but also has a handful of novels and poetry collections under his belt. He is one of Canada's most beloved talents. And, considering his recent money troubles, he could use a boost when it comes to bank notes.
Other possibilities include Lucy Maud Montgomery, famous for her Anne of Green Gables series, Farley Mowat and Marshall McLuhan, whose impact on our nation goes well beyond his academic works.
So, sure, Canada is young. But we’ve got a strong collection of writers and authors who could be celebrated on our currency. For a few years, anyway. Until Prince George is old enough to take their place.
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