Canadian botanists and the Bank of Canada are embroiled in a dispute that goes to the heart of Canadian identity: the depiction of the maple leaf on Canada’s new currency:
The untrained eye might not at first spot the difference between the maple leaf on the new $20, $50 and $100 bills and the North American sugar maple.
But it is clear to Sean Blaney, a botanist who tracks plants for the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Center in New Brunswick, and who brought it first to the attention of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
The central bank has pushed back:
“It is not a Norway maple leaf. It is a stylized maple leaf and it is what it ought to be,” said Bank of Canada currency spokesman Julie Girard. . . .
Blaney is not buying the explanation. “I think it’s just an after-the-fact excuse,” he said.
Julian Starr, a professor at the University of Ottawa who is normally consulted by the Royal Canadian Mint on the accuracy of its botanical designs, was not asked to review this one. “I would have said immediately that it would be best to make it look more like a native maple leaf,” he said. “I mean this to me is just . . . wrong.”
This is not the first time that the Bank of Canada has come under fire for its artistic choices. Back in August, it came to light that an image on the $100 bill of an Asian-looking woman gazing into a microscopic had been purged and replaced by a woman of “neutral ethnicity” after focus groups reacted negatively to it. Some thought it played on stereotypes about Asians being good at math and science, and others felt that the yellow-brown color of the banknote “racialized” the image. Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney was forced to admit he had let down his countrymen: “I apologize to those who were offended. The Bank’s handling of this issue did not meet the standards Canadians justifiably expect of us.”
(If you’re wondering what a woman of any kind of ethnic background looking into a microscope has to do with Canada, the answer is that she’s meant to represent Canada’s history of medical innovation: She’s pictured next to an insulin bottle, and insulin was first discovered at a lab at the University of Toronto. Didn’t know that? I bet you didn’t know that Canadians basically invented basketball, either.)