This Week in History


Royal Canadian Mint

For the week of Monday February 16, 2004

On February 19, 1908, the first silver coins were made at Royal Canadian Mint. Built in 1905-1908, this impressive building is characterized by its architecture and functions that symbolize the country’s wealth and financial independence.

5 dollar gold coin of 1912
© Currency National Collection, Currency Museum, Bank of Canada/ Gord Carter, Ottawa.

When the first colonists settled in Canada, they relied on bartering to exchange goods and services. As the colony developed and trade increased, many foreign coins and even playing cards were put into circulation, which was sometimes cause for confusion. Until 1867, coins were produced by chartered banks and private traders who each had their own system. To resolve this problem, the government called on the Royal Mint in London and then a British firm to produce coins for the country. This improved Canada’s economy inside the border.

In May 1899, W.S. Fielding, Minister of Finance, called in the House of Commons for a mint to be founded to increase the Canadian government's control of the economy, which was emerging from a major crisis. The development of gold mines in western Canada also motivated the decision to erect this building. Fielding, however, opted instead to construct a branch of London’s Royal Mint, since putting too many gold coins into circulation could have caused an inflation crisis. Canada, therefore, signed an agreement with England to establish a branch of the Royal Mint in Ottawa.

The Royal Canadian Mint Building
© Parks Canada

In 1905, David Ewart, Chief Public Works Architect, was charged with making the blueprints for the building, which officially opened its doors in January 1908. Ewart’s work was both symbolic and practical: it succeeded in increasing national prestige while allowing for the accommodation of offices and a factory to produce currency. Located near Parliament Hill on one of the most prestigious streets in Ottawa, Sussex Drive, the Royal Mint has a façade marked by two small protruding pavilions and two beautiful octagonal towers that give it the appearance of a medieval castle. The Royal Mint is part of an ensemble of government buildings that were erected in Ottawa by the Department of Public Works in the early 20th century and that, through their Gothic-inspired architecture, give the National Capital a uniform appearance.

In 1979, the Royal Canadian Mint was designated as a site of national historic significance.

For more information on the development of gold mines in Western Canada, visit Gold !!! in the archives of This Week in History.

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