Spirit of Adventure
History fuels modern innovation to create a marvel of art and technology.
“It’s as if you’re right there, standing on the shore or a rocky outcrop, watching the canoe rush by,” says Matt Bowen, an engraver at the Mint. Bowen holds up the silver masterpiece. It’s epic. The world’s first oval and concave kilogram coin, measuring 161.8 mm across its length and curving down a full 20 mm to deliver incredible depth perception that brings the scene to life.
The voyageurs have just cleared a treacherous cascade on the Ottawa River, and their canoe looks like it’s about to launch itself from the design. The effect is remarkable. Even more beautiful than the image Bowen says he had in his mind.
Bowen is no stranger to the thrills of canoeing. In fact, a number of team members who worked on this coin have spent time paddling on the water, one of them even crafting his own cedar strip canoe.
“We all agreed a coin as grand as this should feature the voyageur, especially since we also wanted to treat it with special antiquing which would be perfect for a historical theme.
“The voyageur is a uniquely Canadian figure that continues to ignite the imagination today. Few people push off in a canoe without having the sense they are following in the wake of these amazing pioneers.”
From the 1690s to the 1850s, the voyageurs were the engine of the fur trade. They opened the continent to trade, sometimes travelling as much as 3,500 km which some did not survive. While the majority were French-Canadian and Metis, there were English, German and Iroquois voyageurs as well.
During their 14-hour workdays, voyageurs paddled as many as 50 strokes a minute and carried hundreds of kilograms across difficult portages. Their endurance, strength and courage were unimaginable, but the lure of money and adventure was stronger still. By the start of the 18th century, 25% of Montreal’s men were voyageurs, regardless of class or social status.*
Bowen marvels at the voyageur’s way of life, “After a day on the water, we can head indoors or go to the grocery store to buy food to cook dinner, but the voyageurs had no such luxury. They slept on the ground in all kinds of weather with no relief from the swarming flies that tormented them.
“What’s more, they would canoe down raging rapids—without safety gear! I think the voyageur’s grit and determination are beyond modern comprehension. This coin is an epic tribute.”
And there are only 400 of them.
Looking at the engraving (which rises an astounding 4 mm above the rim of the coin), it’s hard to imagine how such fine detailing could be created on a curved surface by striking a die against metal.
Such ultra-high relief demands that the dies are meticulously worked by hand, a task that Bowen eagerly embraced, “As an engraver, I rarely get to participate in so many stages – the design, sculpting and hand-working the dies. Because this coin is so innovative, everyone on the team went above and beyond their usual roles.”
Kevin Wright, the Mint’s R&D Engineer, ran Bowen’s initial design ideas through simulation software to see how the silver would flow through the press. Wright scrutinized the results and advised Bowen where to add or reduce the relief to get the results worthy of a world-class masterpiece.
The coin’s unprecedented format also pushed the envelope for the Mint’s production team. R&D Product Engineer, Christian Brochu, ensured it integrated smoothly at all levels, “Everyone involved felt personally vested in this project. We are so proud of this coin. It’s a major achievement.”
According to Christian Hamel, one of the Mint’s Account Representatives, “This coin has everything collectors look for – rarity, exclusivity, cutting-edge technology. This kilo is more than a coin; it’s a piece of art showcasing a snapshot in time. The design is gorgeous, with details right down to the movement of the water, the landscape, and the voyageurs’ faces. This coin is bound to stir a deep sense of what it means to be Canadian in anyone who admires it.”
*This percentage dropped as the city’s population grew throughout the 18th century.