One of the big events in Britain in 1965 was the decision to change the system of currency from the complicated pounds, shillings and pence, to the decimal system. Canada might have been stuck with pounds, shillings and pence in the 1850s if it had not been for a hard battle by Finance Minister Hincks and others.
When the United States adopted the decimal system in 1808, Canada tried unsuccessfully to do the same. Britain wanted to keep Canada in the “sterling bloc,” using its currency. Various measures were passed by the Parliament of Canada after the Act of Union in 1840 but were disallowed by the British Government. Finally a compromise was reached on August 30, 1851, but it was not until January 1, 1858, that the decimal system of currency became effective. Problems were created when New Brunswick and Nova Scotia joined Canada in 1867, and other provinces after that.
Some unusual forms of currencies were used in Canada over the years. Even playing cards (see my April 18 post: Playing Cards Become Money?!). when Britain took Canada from France in 1763, there were 800,000 livres of unredeemed paper money in circulation, and many people were big losers.
Then Spanish silver dollars gained wide acceptance, many of them coming into circulation through illicit trade. These dollars had different values in different places. In New York a dollar would be worth eight shillings, but only five in Halifax. In Quebec silver dollars were called “Halifax currency”, while Montreal called them “York currency.” One problem was to get metal coins small enough to make change. merchants used to curt the Spanish dollars into smaller pieces known as “four bits”, and “two bits”, expressions still (though, admittedly not widely) in use not that long ago, meaning 50 or 25 cents.
Currency complications continued as late as 1881, as new provinces joined Confederation. Their currencies were taken out of circulation gradually and redeemed. Even in the 1920s, a paper bill, known as a “shin-plaster” (worth 25 cents, was often seen.
” ‘Tis money rules the world now,
It’s rank and education,
It’s power and knowledge, sense and worth,
And pious reputation.
Get cash, and ‘gainst all human ills,
You’re armed and you’re defended,
For in it even here on earth,
All heaven is comprehended.”
– ALEXANDER McLACHAN, 1861
Term used for the Spanish silver dollar rated at five shillings of about twenty cents each in Nova Scotia. It was used from 1750 until 1751.
The Spanish reale in terms of the New York price of twelve and one-half cents was used in Ontario, and thus was distinguished from the Halifax shilling of about twenty cents. It was used between 1800 and 1850.
Too many men salt away money in the brine of other people’s tears.
– BOB EDWARDS, 1917