A 'Vimy' for your thoughts? - Macleans.ca

A ‘Vimy’ for your thoughts?

Canada’s $20 commemorates 1917 battle


Jeremy Diamond wants to change the way you talk about money, one $20 bill at a time. For him, it’s an investment in the future that draws on the past.

“I don’t think people really pay attention to what’s on the money,” he says, listing the various prime ministers on Canadian currency.

The Vimy Foundation lobbied the Bank of Canada to commemorate the 1917 battle of Vimy Ridge on the new polymer $20 bill. As the charity’s campaign manager, Diamond is now trying to get Canadians to call the bill a “Vimy” — something easier said than done.

“It’s always easier to introduce new words when it’s for a totally new thing,” says Molly Babel, a linguistics professor at the University of British Columbia. Canada’s $1 coin may have planned to feature two people canoeing, but when those dies were lost in transit, the Bank of Canada changed the design to a loon. The loonie then became part of everyday speech.

“The fact that Canada already has nicknames for its currency—like loonies and toonies—it seems like that creates an environment where calling something ‘Vimy’ would catch on,” Babel says.  The campaign aimed at getting people to donate “a Vimy for Vimy” is not lacking in star power with endorsements from Rick Mercer, Paul Gross and Don Cherry.

Even Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of Canada is on board.

“The Bank of Canada issues the notes, but we can’t tell people what to call them,” Carney said. “I would say, though, calling the $20 a ‘Vimy’ has a nice ring to it.”

Though plans have yet to be finalized, Diamond hopes a two-storey, 20,000-square-foot education centre—featuring lecture theatres and display spaces—will be built right next to the monument at Vimy Ridge in France.  “In terms of walking in the footsteps of history connection, it’s right there,” he says. The Foundation wants to raise $20 million to build the centre, and the government has already chipped in the first $5 million.

Despite the foundation’s efforts, there are skeptics. “It is not clear how many of these people support the bid to force a nickname onto our $20 bill,” Matthew Coutts wrote for Yahoo Canada. “There is a well-known adage that goes like this: ‘You can’t choose your own nickname.’”

When the two-dollar coin came into circulation in 1996, the former MP from the Northwest Territories, Jack Anawak, made a plea in Parliament to use the new coin name as an educational opportunity.

“The word ‘nanuq’ … in English means polar bear; majestic, strong, powerful and mysterious, the creature which now graces our two dollar coin,” he said in Inuktitut to his colleagues in the House of Commons. “I suggest we adopt the name ‘nanuq’ for our two-dollar coin in honour of Inuktitut, one of the original languages of this country, and the name of a truly northern Canadian animal.” Instead, the word “toonie” earned public acceptance—a combination of “two” and “loonie.”

Like the “nanuq” the quest to have Canadians withdrawing “Vimys” would be an uphill battle. However, any recognition the Vimy Foundation receives in its attempt—successful or unsuccessful—could be a teachable moment for those curious about Canada’s achievements in the First World War.

Molly Babel moved to Vancouver four years ago from Minnesota with little knowledge of Canadian history. Upon hearing about the “Vimy,” she started to research. “I learned a little about Canadian history,” she says.

Four Canadian divisions with men representing all regions fought at Vimy Ridge against German forces. During the four-day battle, 3,598 Canadians died.  “In those few minutes,” Brigadier-General A.E. Ross famously declared after the war, “I witnessed the birth of a nation.”

Almost a century later what happened at Vimy is not forgotten, but the word is coming into public discourse in new ways.

Last weekend at a bar with friends, Babel says the new word for a $20 bill was contagious, though likely not a permanent part of their daily vocabulary. “We were happy to use it for the evening,” she says. “I don’t think anyone paid with a Vimy, but certainly we were making bets to each other in the form of Vimys.”

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A ‘Vimy’ for your thoughts?

  1. Loonie was a stroke of luck – I don’t know if some media personality made the big launch of the term, but it rolls off the tongue and makes sense. ‘Spare a loonie?”.

    Twoonie was derivative – we already had the loonie, so this uncreative jem was born out of its two-dollar cousin.

    In Newfoundland, we already call five dollar bills ‘finns’. As in, “B’y, you got a finn on ya?”

    I tend to call $10 bills Johnnies, I call $20 bills Lizzies, $50 bills are ‘Kingmakers’, and $100 bills are just ‘hundos’.

    • “Toonie” is even more brilliant — two + “loony tunes.”

    • In my family we call the $2 coin a “moonie” because it’s the Queen
      with a bear (bare) behind

  2. This is just silly.

  3. I don’t think jocular is the right tone for referencing Vimy.

  4. I still prefer “doubloon” for the $2.00 coin.

    It just sounds more graceful than “toonie” or “twonie”.

  5. How about we just call it a crappy piece of chemical-based product that looks like it was designed by an amateur on Microsoft Publisher, doesn’t fold properly, and feels like it was handled by too many slippery politicians?

  6. The hypocrisy of hyphenated Canadians is the pathetic truth of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism in Canada was designed by a man from Quebec because he wanted to help strengthen the position of Quebec within Canada as they were the largest minority ethnic group and they stood to gain the most. English Canada being the majority at the time was automaticly excluded from the minority rights game and was sure to come out the big loser. Now with a unilingual “Nation of Quebec” land of the anti English language police still receiving the lions share of transfer payments to the provinces and English Canada multicultured to the point of promoting English as a second language to new comers while paying over a trillion dollars to date to promote bilingualism out side Quebec (plus transfer payments) BILLIONS & BILLIONS, it’s no wonder pockets of tens or hundreds of thousands of hypenated Canadians appear to have questionable loyalty. What’s most sad is the fact that unlike the predictable loyalty of the majority of Canadians in WW1 and WW2, one can no longer be sure where that loyalty will lie the next time that kind of a crisis rears it’s ugly head. Most likely there will be a lot of action right here in our own homeland. It’s kind of a sad bit of reality. Quebec did as little as possible for Canada in WW1 & WW2, that’s a fact that will soon come to a very bright light as we remember 1914 to 2014, 15, 16, 16, 17, 18, 19. Many English speaking Canadians from Quebec volunteered, not guys like P. Trudeau. Four Divisions fought at Vimy Ridge, *****ONE BATALLION was French speaking.***** Look what they did to the English speaking people in that pretend country. Justin Trudeau can go smoke another joint.