|Robert-Ralph Carmichael, an artist from Sylvan Valley east of Sault Ste. Marie, created the design of the original loonie, or one-dollar Canadian coin. Royal Canadian Mint asked him to create a new design for a special anniversary silver coin. (PROMOTIONAL PHOTO)
SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — Robert-Ralph Carmichael artwork has been minted 1.5 billion times in 25 years.
The local artist is the man behind the original loon artwork on Canada’s one-dollar coin.
“It’s lovely that there’s so many images out there,” Carmichael, 74, said in an interview. “I do enjoy seeing it on the television when they put up a big loonie when they’re talking finance. It’s kind of fun to see it.”
The loonie, as it’s been nicknamed, was first minted June 30, 1987.
In 2011, 25 million loonies were minted.
Carmichael’s design was chosen after the master dies for the original design, which featured a voyageur, went missing when in transit from Ottawa to Winnipeg in November 1986. After that happened, the government authorized a new design of the coin.
While Carmichael is not besieged by coin collectors, or numismatists, clamouring to be photographed with him, the artist does hear from Canadians curious about the landform in his original design’s background.
“I have had a number of e-mails asking me if that island is the one that they know from their lake,” he laughed. “It’s a generic island.”
Carmichael’s association with the mint has continued for more than 30 years.
His artwork is featured on about 15 different coins including a $100 coin marking the 100th anniversary of the Library of Parliament (2001), a silver dollar commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Saint-Maurice Ironworks (1988) and a silver dollar celebrating the 400th anniversary of the first French settlement in North America (2004).
He also created a new loon design for a 25th anniversary fine silver one-dollar coin. Carmichael’s wife, Gwen Keatley, assisted in the design. Fifteen thousand were made.
“Two common loons swim majestically past one another, one admiring the loonie’s eventful journey while the other looks to the future and the many adventures to come,” a press release from the mint said.
Over the years, the loonie has had a number of different designs. It has celebrated the 125th anniversary of Confederation, Canada’s peacekeeping efforts, the 25th anniversary of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, the Olympics and Parks Canada.
While he enjoys the challenge of creating coins, Carmichael’s real passion is painting and he has a show coming up featuring his work at the Art Gallery of Algoma.
“The coin designing business is important to me, but it isn’t my life’s achievement,” Carmichael said. “I have faith that the paintings will take on a life of their own too.”