Your students will research and choose their own iconic Canadian, theme, images and symbols to go on a new bank note.
Look closely at Canada’s most recent bank note, the vertical $10 featuring Viola Desmond. Pick your own portrait subject, theme, symbols and images for the next bank note.
The symbols, images, themes and portraits on bank notes represent Canada and Canadians.
60 minutes with an option for bank note design in class time or as homework
Grades 4 to 10; Elementary Cycle Two to Secondary IV
- Past and present: Changes in everyday objects
- Heritage and identity: Communities in Canada, past and present
- Historical significance, continuity and change
- Use the historical inquiry process to investigate different cultural and social groups throughout Canada
- Significant Canadians throughout history
- Identity, citizenship and heritage
- Visual arts: Reflecting and analysing, exploring forms and cultural contexts
- Visual arts: Elements of design, communicate ideas using symbolism
- research important Canadians and Canadian symbols
- identify the visual features of a bank note, including portrait, images and symbols
- design a bank note
Classroom supplies and technology
- computers or tablets with internet access for students (one per two to four students)
- white board and markers
- art supplies for students
Download and print this resource on regular paper:
- “Design Your Own Bank Note” graphic organizer—one copy per student
From the Bank of Canada:
Activity 1: What makes a bank note?
1.1 Opening discussion
Explain to your students that the Bank of Canada is redesigning the $5 bank note. In 2018, the Bank unveiled the vertical $10 note featuring Viola Desmond, the first portrait subject nominated by the Canadian public. A similar public nomination process was used again in 2020 for the next $5. This bank note will be blue, just like the current $5 note, and it will be vertical like the $10.
1.2 Examine the vertical $10 bank note
As a class, examine the Viola Desmond $10 bank note.
Explain that bank notes have many parts:
- The denomination is how much a bank note is worth.
- The portrait is the picture of the person featured on the bank note.
- Symbols and images are the other pictures on the bank note. Some of these symbols and images also double as security features that help keep Canadian bank notes safe from counterfeiting.
- These symbols and images support the overall theme of the note.
Ask the students to look closely at the portrait on the bank note.
- Who is this person?
- What do we know about her?
- Is there anything else on the bank note that can give us clues about what she represents for Canada?
Watch the Heritage Minute by Historica Canada:
Ask students to pick out features on the bank note besides Viola Desmond’s portrait.
The portrait subject is not the only important visual design element of a bank note. Bank notes also feature other significant images and symbols that tell their own stories. For example, once Viola Desmond was named as the portrait subject for the $10, the Bank of Canada designed the rest of the note to reflect the theme of human rights and social justice. Much of the other imagery on the vertical $10 reflects this theme.
Several images on the note complement Viola’s story and represent Canada’s ongoing pursuit of rights and freedoms, such as:
- a map of Halifax’s historic North End, where Viola lived and worked
- the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, a national museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that aims to inspire and promote respect for others while encouraging reflection and dialogue about human rights
- an eagle feather, an Indigenous symbol for ideals such as truth, power and freedom
- an excerpt from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals in the highest law of the land
- the laurel leaf, as seen in the Supreme Court of Canada, an ancient symbol of justice
There are also several Canadian national symbols and images. These include:
- the Library of Parliament’s dome ceiling
- the Canadian flag
- the Canada Coat of Arms
- maple leaves
Activity 2: Design your own bank note
30 minutes, plus additional time at home or in another class period
2.1 Choose a portrait subject
Tell your students it’s now time to start designing their own bank note. Ask each student to choose a portrait subject. This portrait subject for a Canadian bank note:
- is a Canadian (by birth or naturalization)
- has demonstrated outstanding leadership, achievement or distinction in any field, benefiting the people of Canada or in the service of Canada
- has been deceased for at least 25 years
- is not a fictional character
Encourage students to think about diversity and to include Canadians they have learned about recently. These could be Indigenous people, women, local and regional historical figures, people of colour, veterans, etc. Students can use a computer to research their choices. The Canadian Encyclopedia, Heritage Minutes and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography are good places to start.
Students can also use the shortlist of nominees for the $5 bank note and choose one of the eight candidates for their note.
2.2 Choose a theme, symbols and images
Explain to your students that now that they have a portrait subject, they will have to choose a theme, symbols and images to put on their bank note. Give each student the graphic organizer, “Design Your Own Bank Note.” On page 1 is a chart for students to brainstorm a theme, symbols and images.
Explain to your students that in designing Canadian bank notes, the Bank of Canada follows its Principles of Bank Note Design. Show this web page to your students and highlight the section “Reflect Canada.”
Bank notes must reflect Canada and:
- promote Canada and Canadians—our values, culture, history, traditions, achievements or natural heritage
- be clearly identifiable as Canadian through the use of symbols, words or images
- be meaningful to Canadians today and for years to come
- evoke pride and confidence in Canada
In addition to these principles, we also know that the next series of bank notes will have a vertical design, just like the $10.
Students will brainstorm themes and research symbols and images related to the portrait subject they chose. They should fill out the table on page 1 of the graphic organizer. They can do this individually or in pairs.
Invite student to share their choices with the class and discuss why their portrait subjects, symbols and images.
2.3 Hands-on activity
Ask students to turn to page 2 of their graphic organizer, which has a template for a $5 bank note. Using their portrait subject and the symbols and images they’ve chosen, they should fill in the template to create their bank note. They can complete their design in class, or you can give it as a take-home assignment.
2.4 Discussion and conclusion
- What are some of the symbols and images that you chose for your note? Which symbols and images do our class bank notes have in common? Which are unique?
- Was it difficult to choose symbols and images to reflect both your portrait subject and Canada?
- How does your design reflect your vision of Canada?