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B.C. artist designs new loonie honouring sky-smashing icon Elsie MacGill

Claire Watson’s vision selected by Royal Canadian Mint to honour barrier-breaking engineer
Claire Watson’s winning design shows Canadian icon Elsie MacGill holding blueprints with a Maple Leaf Trainer II and Hawker Hurricane fighter plane. (Royal Canadian Mint image)

A B.C. artist’s design is behind a new loonie being circulated by the Royal Canadian Mint to honour barrier-breaking engineer and women’s rights advocate Elsie MacGill.

“Inspiring Canadians through stories of exceptional achievement is one of the most important functions of commemorative circulation coins,” said President and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint Marie Lemay. “What Elsie MacGill achieved as a trail blazing aeronautical engineer, and as a champion of women’s rights, made a difference in her lifetime and continues to influence us today.

“Hers is a story that needs to be shown and celebrated on a circulating coin that will be shared by millions of Canadians of all ages.”

Tofino-based artist Claire Watson’s vision was selected by the mint to use for the coin. It features MacGill holding a pair of rolled-up blueprints with the Maple Leaf Trainer II flying above her along with a Hawker Hurricane fighter plane.

Her name, “Elsie MacGill”, is engraved beneath the fighter plane and the other side of the coin features an image of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt.

MacGill designed the Maple Leaf Trainer II and helped produce over 1,450 Canadian-made Hawker Hurricanes for the Allied war effort in the Second World War, earning the nickname “Queen of the Hurricanes” for her unique wartime contribution, according to the announcement.

She graduated from the University of Toronto in 1927, becoming the first woman in Canada with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and went on to become the first woman in North America with a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering when she graduated from the University of Michigan in 1929.

A polio diagnosis in 1929 affected her mobility for the rest of her life, but hardly slowed her down as she went on to become Canada’s first female practicing engineer in 1938 and the first woman in North America to design an aircraft, the Maple Leaf II trainer.

“Elsie MacGill always looked to the horizon in her engineering and feminist endeavours and sought to move beyond it,” said biographer Dr. Crystal Sissons.

Watson expressed her reaction to the newly minted loonie in a Facebook post.

“Holy smokes…it’s so strange to see one’s own illustration on a new shiny Canadian Loonie,” she wrote. “Thanks to the Royal Canadian Mint engravers for doing such a great job… the coloured Hawker Hurricane looks so cool. I just LOVE how they turned out!”

In a Facebook post congratulating Watson, Mid Island - Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne noted that MacGill was the first Canadian woman to earn an Electrical Engineering Bachelor’s degree (in 1927) and the first woman in Canada to be a practicing engineer.

“We’ve loved Claire Watson’s art for years in Tofino, but now we’re going to see it on three million new loonies! Congratulations, Claire!,” Osborne wrote.

“Every time this coin lands in your palm or jingles in your pocket, you’ll know that not only does it commemorate a remarkable Canadian woman who championed women’s participation in science and engineering, but it was also designed by a remarkable woman Vancouver Island artist.”

Watson has designed three commemorative coins for the Royal Canadian Mint since 2019, but this is her first design that will see general circulation.

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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