Although we often think of the dime as Canada's smallest coin the true honour goes to our earliest nickels. Referred to as fish scales due their tiny size and gleaming silver appearance these coins truly did resemble a fish's scales and rightfully earned their nickname. The term nickel was not applied to our 5 cent coin till after 1922. The first Canadian five cent coin featured the image of England's reigning monarch on one side and the image of a pair of maple boughs on the other side from 1858 till 1921 when the nickel was upgraded to receive its more modern appearance.
In 1922 the Canadian five cent coin under went a major update. The nickels size was increased to 21.21 mm while its weight increased to 4.54 grams. The metal composition also changed. Originally designed of silver this precious metal was now replaced with a ninety-nine percent composition of the much lower valued nickel. This is how the term Nickel came to describe the new Canadian five cent coin.
A further change in 1922 was to the back of the coin where the previous image of two entwined maple boughs changed to the image of two twigged maple leaves. This design created by Fred Lewis.
In 1937 the industrious beaver was added to the five cent piece. This beaver image was designed by G.E. Kruger-Gray and was an image strongly reminiscent of Canada's historical beginnings it helped to portray early Canada's association with the Hudson's Bay Fur Trading Company.
In 1942 another design change occurred. With nickel being required for the manufacture of metal arms and machinery for the war effort Canada's five cent coins were suddenly a valuable commodity. To insure sufficient metal during the war years from 1942 to 1946 Tombac (a specially prepared brass) was the metal now used for the minting of Canada's 5 cent pieces.
A victory symbol was proudly displayed on each of these Canadian war time nickels. This gave the 5 cent pieces minted during the war years the nickname of "Victory Coins". A little known fact about these victory nickel coins is that from 1943 to 1945 each had a special Morse code message etched into the outer edge of the coin. The Morse code message is, We win when we work willingly. In 2005 a special Canadian anniversary 5 cent nickel with the victory symbol was minted to celebrate the sixtieth year after the end of World War ll.
Why are England's Monarchy On The Face Of The Canadian Nickel? Our coinage was originally minted in our Mother country England so our coins have traditionally borne the image of England's royal family. In 1908 when the Canadian mint opened this tradition was continued. England's reigning Monarch have been pressed onto one side of most coins minted at the Royal Canadian Mint. The Monarchs gracefully rest on the face of each Canadian nickel. 1902 and 1910 it is the image of Edward Vll, from 1911 to 1936 it is the image of George V, from 1937 to 1952 it is George V1, and from 1953 to present day it is Queen Elizabeth.