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Tofino artist designs new loonie honouring Canadian 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 Tofino 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.”

Claire Watson’s vision was selected by the Mint to use for the coin and 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 the effigy 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.

The Westerly News was unable to reach Watson by presstime, though she expressed her ecstatic 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.

“Designing these coins along with the guidance from my fabulous art director has been a challenging yet rewarding experience, and I’m thrilled to see my work represented on them!,” she wrote.

The Royal Canadian Mint’s announcement includes a lengthy explanation of MacGill’s significant achievements and impact, touting her for being responsible for many firsts as a woman studying and practicing engineering as well as her strong, lifelong advocacy for women’s rights.

“Through her dedication and an unshakeable belief that there was nothing women could not do, Elsie MacGill broke the glass ceiling for Canadian women pursuing careers in engineering, and made historic contributions to Canada’s efforts during the Second World War,” said The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. “I am so pleased that this commemorative coin will honour the legacy of a remarkable champion of women’s rights, and will share her story with a new generation of Canadians.”

MacGill 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.

She accepted a post as Chief Engineer at the Canadian Car and Foundry plant in Fort William in 1938 and her tenure lasted until 1943, during which she played a key role in re-tooling the factory for the production of over 1,450 Hawker Hurricanes.

“Apart from all of her other notable achievements, she was a wonderful grandmother. I spent nearly every Sunday evening during my high school years with Elsie and my grandfather, Bill Soulsby,” said grandson Rohan Soulsby. “There was never any shortage of interesting conversation around the dinner table as we discussed current events in Canada and around the world on topics ranging from politics to women’s rights to aviation, music and the arts. On top of all that, she also made an awesome peach pie!”

Throughout her career in aeronautics, MacGill became increasingly passionate about her work advocating for women’s rights, presiding over the Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs from 1962-64 and being appointed a Commissioner on the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1967.

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

“She was not deterred by setbacks, and she knew the value of teamwork and harnessing the support and cooperation of her colleagues in both fields to effect the changes she desired. She believed Canadians could work together to soar beyond social and technical limitations.”

The coins will be limited to a mintage of three million, with 2 million being coloured and circulation starting on Aug. 1. Coins can be found in change and can also be ordered through the Mint at 1-800-267-1871 or

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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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