Mark Carney is on the charm offensive. Less than a month since becoming the Governor of the Bank of England he’s posing against a background of climbing blush pink roses holding the new design of the British £10 note. By 2017 Charles Darwin, who currently graces the note, will be nudged aside, replaced by author Jane Austen and her quotation,”I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” This brings the grand total of women represented on British currency to…wait for it…two! (The Queen is the other dame. Prisoner reformer Elizabeth Fry will stage an exit in 2016.)
When Carney presided over the Bank of Canada, he weathered no shortage of money woes, chief among them the global recession. Other currency debacles included the scandal surrounding Canada’s $100 bill. The original drawing for the new polymer note showed an Asian-looking female scientist. But when focus groups objected to having one ethnicity represented on Canada’s largest bank note, the image was swiftly replaced with a woman bearing Caucasian features instead. In 2012, the $50 banknote replaced an image of the Famous Five—five women who launched a Supreme Court case in 1929 to have women declared “persons” with – wait for it – an icebreaker. Currently, only the Queen and the anonymous female scientist of an undetermined ethnicity grace Canadian currency.
Why aren’t more women represented on Canadian currency? There’s no shortage of dynamic women who changed Canadian history, and in one case, possibly its very existence. For starters, how about Laura Secord? No relation to the confectionery company that bears her name, Secord risked life and limb to warn British soldiers and their Mohawk allies of an impending American invasion. Never acknowledged for her bravery during her lifetime, Secord, an impoverished widow, was given a £100 note in 1860 by the future Edward VII after he heard of her contribution and her plight during a tour to Canada.
Another strong contender is Mary Pickford who was born in Toronto, Ontario who practically invented modern Hollywood. Known as America’s Sweetheart, Pickford was not only a star of the silent screen, coming only second to Charlie Chaplin in popularity, she also co-founded United Artists, the independent film production company that put power in the hands of the performers. An astute businesswoman, she unfortunately misread the importance of sound in film and watched her popularity wane as a result.
One name you may never have heard of is May Irwin. She and her sister Flora were singers. Eventually they split up the act and May went on to perform successfully on Broadway. When the inventor Thomas Edison cast her in his one-minute “moving picture” called The Kiss—the first film ever shown in Canada—it scandalized audiences and was denounced by the clergy. Despite a short-lived film career, her creative efforts endure to this very day. This summer, whenever you order a crisp iceberg lettuce salad slathered in a creamy, tangy dressing, give a nod to Irwin. She named the remoulade/Russian dressing 1,000 Island, after her family’s vacation home there.
Other strong contenders include Lucy Maud Montgomery, creator of the much-loved Anne of Green Gables series, Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most famous artists or Nellie McClung, the woman who was instrumental in making all women equal at the polling stations.
Carney has promised that the antediluvian process of selecting banknote subjects will change to better reflect the diversity of great British historical figures. Canada, are you listening?