Emily Carr driving Vancouver Island hopes as the face of Canadian money

Renowned Island artist already on Chemainus currency, finalist to repeat that feat on a new national banknote

Emily Carr remains Vancouver Island’s last and best chance to get one of our own women on Canadian currency.

But she is already legal tender in at least one Island community.

The renowned B.C. artist was revealed late last month as one of 12 finalists in the discussion about who will be the first Canadian woman to grace the front of our money. But it’s a perch she has held for six years in Chemainus.

In the spring of 2010, Vancouver Island’s mural town launched the Chemainus Dollar program, where you can trade your money in for professionally detailed, Carr-adorned $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills that you can use to purchase goods at par in a number of stores in The Little Town That Did.

Chemainus — which has in recent years augmented its longstanding mural attractions by incorporating elements featuring Carr and her works — chose her largely for the marketing potential.

But the five-woman, two-man panel charged with helping our country decide who breaks the longstanding national pecuniary gender barrier has a few more elements to consider. The successful candidate must have overcome barriers of her own, been inspirational, made a significant change and left a lasting legacy.

“The women who appear on our list should resonate with Canadians and reflect the diversity of Canada. Their achievements must be seen in the context of the time they lived,” the council said in a statement on the Bank of Canada website.

Vancouver Island University Women’s Studies chair Marni Stanley said local favourite Carr is a legitimate contender.

Carr heritage“While I personally would have preferred a candidate of political import I think Emily Carr is a good choice who will be very popular here on the West Coast,” she said. “While she was someone who approached life with humour and passion, she never lets us off the hook for the harm we can do as humans either to each other, or to this beautiful world she celebrated with such skill.”

While the exact denomination has yet to be determined, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged that when the 2018 series of bank notes rolls of the presses, a Canadian woman will be on the front of at least one.

While she said the issue has never been on the front-burner for her personally, Stanley fully supports the rationale behind the initiative.

“It’s not personally something I care that much about, but it is an important symbol,” she said. “Currency is designed to present some kind of identity of the culture. We have a currency that celebrates less than half the population. Canada is telling a story that only white men contributed to development of our country.”

The Victoria-based Carr — acclaimed worldwide for her works celebrating the West Coast rainforest and Aboriginal heritage — certainly defies that message.

The Bank of Canada describes her as “one of the pre-eminent Canadian painters in the first half of the 20th century — and perhaps the most original.”

Stanley said beyond Carr’s skill and popularity is a message that resonates with our national identity.

“Not only does she call attention to the unique eco systems of the west coast, but she also, in works such as Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky reminds us of the necessity of respecting the fragility of nature’s bounty and our responsibilities to the earth,” she said.

“As well, in works such as The Crazy Stair she was an early advocate for respecting the sophistication and complexity of Indigenous cultures while warning her audience of the threat of colonization.”

Karl Schutz

Six years after the Chemainus currency’s launch, the town is scheduled to add at least two more Carr-related murals to the two already in existence. Chemainus Visitor Centre greeter Kelly Argue said the Carr dollars continue to circulate and attract the interest of tourists.

The bills themselves feature Carr’s portrait on the front superimposed over variety of Chemainus murals. The design of the new Bank of Canada note won’t be determined until after the subject is chosen.

Other than the queen and other members of the royal family, the only women to have graced Canadian currency were the Famous Five, the activists who successfully launched the court case that got women recognized as persons under Canadian law. They were on the back of the $50 from 2004 to 2011, along with Quebecois politician Therese Casgrain.

Stanley’s first choice for the front of the new bill was also the Famous Five, but she said the degree of thought and effort that has gone into this process is unprecedented and good for Canada.

The 12 finalists were chosen from 461 nominees submitted by 26,000 Canadians. After a public consultation, a short list of three to five women will be submitted to the federal finance minister to make the final selection.

“More thought, more attention, more process — it will be the best-chosen,” she said. “I’m not going to get my (choice), but it’s not going to be anyone I’m embarrassed with. I’m satisfied.”

For the complete list of nominees, click here.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

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