This history has focused on legal tender money in Canada,


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 community 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
Appendix B
Alternative Money
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 companies, and individuals. While some tokens identified
the issuer, many did not. Provincial governments
also issued tokens. These so-called semi-regal
tokens were not legal tender coins because they
were not sanctioned by the authorities in London.
Issuing tokens was a profitable business, since the
cost of production was significantly lower than their
denominated value.
While most early colonial tokens were taken
out of circulation in the 1870s, when the new
federal government reorganized Canada’s copper
coinage, trade tokens remained popular into the
1930s. Trade tokens were redeemable for goods and
services of a given value (for example, a loaf of
bread) and were issued by a wide range of companies. While these tokens were very successful in
local communities, their popularity waned when
transportation improved and business became less
local in nature.
A History of the Canadian Dollar 93
7. Useful references include Breton (1894), 

Banning (1988), Cross (1990), and Berry (2002).
Bank of Montreal, halfpenny, 1839
The Bank of Montreal issued basemetal tokens for general circulation in
the late 1830s and early 1840s. The
rarest issue from this bank is the
so-called “side views” that feature a
view of the corner of the Bank of
Montreal head office.
Merchant token, I. Carrière,
½ loaf, Buckingham, Quebec
From the late nineteenth through
the mid-twentieth centuries, many
Canadian businesses issued tokens
as advertising and to encourage
client loyalty. Typically made of
brass or aluminum, they were
redeemable by the issuer for the
indicated item or service.
94 A History of the Canadian Dollar
Today, Canadian Tire “money” represents
the best-known modern equivalent of trade tokens.
First introduced in 1958 as a “cash bonus coupon,”
Canadian Tire “money” constitutes a promotional
reward program under which the scrip, which
has no expiry date, is redeemable for goods at any
Canadian Tire store in any amount. Canadian Tire
“money” has sometimes been accepted by third
parties in lieu of cash.

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