OTTAWA – Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney is working to put images of women on Britain’s new bank notes, years after removing images of women from Canada’s own currency.
In his first week as new governor of the Bank of England, Carney acceded to protests that designers of Britain’s new five-pound note plan to replace an image of Elizabeth Fry with one of Sir Winston Churchill.
The proposed move would leave no women on any British bank-note denominations, apart from the Queen, which Carney said “is not the Bank’s intention,” promising an announcement by the end of the month.
The British protest against the removal of female images on the currency parallels a similar protest in Canada, when Carney, as Canada’s central bank governor, announced in 2011 that an icebreaker would displace the images of five famous women on a new series of $50 polymer notes.
The move sparked a campaign to restore the image of the so-called Famous Five, led in part by Calgary city council. The bank quickly countered it was too late to change the designs, the result of a $20-million research, testing and development process.
“I hope the Brits have better luck than Canadians in convincing Mark Carney to address concerns raised about the absence of women from that nation’s bank notes,” said author and historian Merna Forster, one of the Canadian activists.
“None of our bank notes celebrate specific women in Canadian history,” she said from Victoria, B.C.
“As a Canadian who happens to be a woman, I would like bank notes that belong to me to include at least one image of an actual woman — and preferably more.”
Before Carney’s 2008 appointment as Canada’s bank governor, the institution won plaudits for using images of the Famous Five, who took a landmark case to the Supreme Court, then to Britain’s Privy Council in 1929, to have woman declared “persons” and therefore eligible to sit in the Senate.
The $50 bill issued in 2004 featured a picture of a monument to the Famous Five, unveiled on Parliament Hill in 2000, by Edmonton artist Barbara Paterson, who says she’s annoyed by the erasure of female images.
“It seems like we’ve taken a hundred steps backward,” she said in an interview. “Where did we drop the ball?”
The chair of the Calgary-based Famous 5 Foundation applauded Carney’s epiphany in London, while regretting the legacy he left on Canada’s circulating currency.
“What happened in Canada is that women were an afterthought,” Peggy Mann McKeown said in an interview.
“What was disappointing is that they had overlooked the important role that women play.”
Carney sent the foundation a letter explaining the design process, she said, but offered no apology.
Forster says she received no response from the Bank of Canada to her letters of protest. She was among dozens of people registering their disappointment about the removal of women — apart from the Queen — from the new currency.
“It is appalling that women’s contributions continue to be ignored in the history of our country, including on our bank notes,” said one writer to Carney on Dec. 12, 2011, among many emails and letters obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
“There is simply no excuse for it, except for the antediluvian attitude of those in charge of the Bank.”
Said another to Carney on Dec. 11, 2011: “As a Canadian woman who can vote because of these courageous women, I wish to see their images remaining on our currency.
“These women are far more significant to our history than any ship could ever be.”
Canada’s new series of polymer bank notes does contain the image of one woman, a medical researcher on the $100 bill.
But the image sparked controversy — and an apology from Carney — after The Canadian Press reported the originally proposed image was that of an Asian woman whose facial features were later changed to look more Caucasian after focus groups raised questions about her ethnicity.
“I apologize to those who were offended — the Bank’s handling of this issue did not meet the standards Canadians justifiably expect of us,” Carney said last August in a rare mea culpa.
“We will be reviewing our design process in light of these events. Our bank notes belong to all Canadians, and the work we do at the Bank is for all Canadians.”
A spokesman for the Bank of Canada says the image of a Canadian icebreaker on the new $50 bank note, issued in March 2012, honours “the men and women who serve in the Canadian coast guard.”
And the 2004-issue $50 bank note, with pictures of the Famous Five, “will remain cherished parts of Canada’s numismatic heritage,” said Jeremy Harrison.
The Bank of Canada’s review of the currency design process will encompass the issue of women’s images, said Alexandre Deslongchamps, another bank official.
“That review is still underway and the Bank will not comment until it is completed,” he said.
Although the Bank of Canada governor is responsible for the design of new bank notes, Canada’s finance minister must also approve them.