Canadians got their first look at the slick new plastic bills that will soon line wallets across the country.

The Bank of Canada unveiled two bills in its new series of polymer-blend bank notes at an Ottawa news conference on Monday afternoon. The $100 and $50 bills are slated to begin circulating in November 2011 and March 2012 respectively.

The new bills, which are smoother to the touch and harder to crumple, are made from a durable type of polymer and will eventually replace the cotton-paper blend used in existing currency.

While the plastic bills will cost nearly twice as much to produce compared to those currently in circulation (19 cents per bill versus 10 cents for the old version), the new plastic currency is said to be 2.5 times more durable.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty joined Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney to introduce the new bills, describing them as "cultural touchstones that reflect and celebrate our Canadian experience."

The Conservative government pledged in the 2010 budget to move the country to synthetic bills.

Images on the $100 note recognize breakthroughs in Canadian research including the discovery of insulin and the invention of the pacemaker.

The new $50 note, scheduled to circulate in March 2012, showcases images of the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen.

Some aspects of the bank notes are expected to remain consistent.

Sir Robert Borden, prime minister of Canada between 1911 and 1920, remains on the $100 note in an updated portrait. Two-time prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King remains on the $50 bill as well.

The much more common $20, $10 and $5 bills are expected to be unveiled and released by the end of 2013.

While their colours will not change, the smaller-denomination notes will have their own unique themes:

  • The $5 note is dedicated to Canada's space program
  • The $10 note will depict Canada's railway lines
  • The $20 note will feature sacrifices made in Canadian conflicts

Bills created to combat counterfeiters

The new notes, to be printed on polymer produced in Australia, were created in part to battle bogus bill production -- although that practice has been declining in Canada since 2004.

RCMP Commissioner William J.S. Elliott heralded the new bill as being an effective security measure against counterfeiters.

"These new and technically innovative notes will go a long way to deter the threat of counterfeiting in coming years," he told reporters at the news conference.

New holographic security areas will be printed on the bills, including one in the shape of a maple leaf. They will also feature raised ink, hidden numbers and metallic images printed on a transparent window.

The bills will be printed on a smooth film developed specifically for bank notes and used in about 30 countries around the world, including New Zealand, Hong Kong and Mexico.

The plastic bills are also said to be recyclable, giving them a smaller environmental footprint than is the case with the current bills, according to the Bank of Canada.

With files from The Canadian Press