Despite Lord Sydenham’s failure to introduce a government issue of paper currency, efforts to introduce a decimal-based currency in British North America gained momentum through the 1850s, especially during the government of Francis Hincks, who became prime minister of the Province of Canada in 1851. In June of that year, representatives from the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia met in Toronto to work towards the establishment of a decimal currency. A few months later, the Canadian legislature passed an act requiring that provincial accounts be kept in dollars and cents. However, the British government, still seeking to establish a currency system based on pounds, shillings, and pence throughout the empire, delayed confirmation of the act on a technicality. While willing to concede the introduction of a decimal currency, the British government was still reluctant for Canada to adopt the dollar—the currency system of a foreign government with possible continental ambitions. Instead, the British authorities proposed the introduction of the "royal,” a gold coin linked to sterling, with subsidiary silver and copper coins, to be called "shillings,” and "marks,” respectively. While Hincks was open to the idea, this proposal was rejected by the legislature.
A compromise Currency Act was finally passed in 1853 and proclaimed on 1 August 1854. Under this act, pounds, shillings, and pence, as well as dollars and cents, could be used in provincial accounts and were recognized as units of Canadian currency.
The Currency Act also confirmed the ratings of the British sovereign and the US$10 gold eagle that had been in place since the establishment of the Province of Canada in 1841. The British gold sovereign was rated at £1 4s. 4d. local currency or Can$4.8666, while the gold eagle (those minted after 1834 with a gold content of 232.2 grains) was valued at Can$10. British coins, both gold and silver, as well as U.S. gold coins, were legal tender. Other foreign silver coins, while not legal tender, continued to circulate.
Since the colonial authorities in New Brunswick had passed similar currency legislation in October 1852, the proclamation of the Currency Act in the Province of Canada meant that the two regions had compatible currencies, fixed at par with their U.S. counterpart, with $1 equivalent to 23.22 grains of gold (or $20.67 per troy ounce).
(Province of Canada, double-proof set, 1858
To celebrate Canada’s new coinage, several sets of specially struck coins, called proofs, were prepared for presentation.)
Decimalization received a further boost a few years later. Following a recommendation from the public accounts committee, the Province of Canada revised the Currency Act in 1857 so that, from 31 December 1857, all provincial accounts would be kept in dollars. Silver and bronze coins, denominated in cents and bearing the word "Canada,” were subsequently issued for the first time in 1858.35 This marked the birth of a distinctive Canadian currency.
In Nova Scotia, decimalization occurred on 1 July 1860. Nevertheless, because the colony rated the sovereign at $5 instead of $4.8666, its currency remained incompatible with that of Canada and New Brunswick. New Brunswick officially decimalized on 1 November 1860, while Newfoundland passed similar legislation in 1863. Like Nova Scotia, Newfoundland’s currency was not compatible with that of Canada or New Brunswick. The colony of Vancouver Island decimalized in 1863, followed by British Columbia in 1865.37 Manitoba decimalized in 1870, upon its entry into Confederation, and Prince Edward Island followed in 1871.
(Nova Scotia, 1 cent, 1861
Although Nova Scotia ordered its first coinage in 1860 to be ready for issue later that year, the Royal Mint did not ship the coins until 1862, owing to the heavy demand for domestic British coinage.)
(New Brunswick, 1 cent, 1861
Like Nova Scotia, New Brunswick did not receive its shipment of new decimal coins until 1862, almost two years after they were ordered.)
(Newfoundland, 20 cents, 1865
As a separate colony of the British Empire, Newfoundland had its own distinctive coinage, from 1865 to 1947.)