A History of the Canadian Dollar
This history has focused on legal tender
money in Canada, that is to say money that has
been approved by the authorities for paying debts
or settling transactions. Canada also has a rich
history of private money—coins and paper scrip
produced by individuals and companies, which
commanded sufficient confidence within a commu-
nity that they circulated freely.
“Bons” and tokens
Through much of the colonial period in
New France and later in British North America,
merchants, and even individuals, issued paper scrip.
The paper scrip was not backed by gold or silver
but could be used to buy goods in the issuers’
stores—a sort of IOU, which quickly began to
change hands as money. The value of notes and
the extent of their circulation depended on the
reputation of the issuer.
In Upper and Lower Canada, such
fractional notes (known as bons after “Bon pour,”
the French for “Good for,” the first words on many
such notes) circulated widely during the eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries. Fractional notes
were also issued by merchants in the Atlantic
Montréal, George King note, 1772
This note and others issued by the local merchant George King were
denominated in “coppers,” a conventional designation for a halfpenny.
Halifax, merchant note, 5 shillings, 1820
Until the practice was outlawed in 1820, Halifax merchants commonly issued
personalized scrip in low denominations to meet the need for coinage.
provinces. The widespread acceptance of bons
(also called “shinplasters”) helped to set the stage
for the issuance of paper currency by commercial
banks (Shortt 1986, 37).
Similar to “bons,” brass and copper tokens
circulated alongside legal tender coins and helped
to offset a shortage of low-denomination coins,
useful in small day-to-day transactions.7 With a face
value of a half a penny or penny, tokens were
widely distributed by banks, non-financial compa-
nies, and individuals. While some tokens identified
the issuer, many did not. Provincial governments