Canada took its currency in a new direction in more ways than one with the redesigned $10 bill. The purple polymer note is the first to feature a woman of colour, and the first vertically oriented bill issued in this country.

The Viola Desmond $10 bill, unveiled on Thursday at a Halifax library by her sister, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz, honours the black Nova Scotian businesswoman for her civil rights activism. The bill also includes images of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and an eagle feather, said to represent reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

The Bank of Canada said the vertical orientation allowed for a more prominent image of Desmond, and distinguishes the new $10 bill from the current roster of polymer notes.

Desmond is the first black person - and the first non-royal woman - on a regularly circulating Canadian bank note. Last year, Agnes Macphail’s image was featured on a commemorative $10 bank note celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

“Our bank notes are designed not only to be a secure and durable means of payment, but also to be works of art that tell the stories of Canada. This new $10 fits that bill,” Poloz said in a statement. “I’m immensely proud of all the innovation that went into this note.”

The reoriented design drew mixed reactions online.


While Canadians are accustomed to horizontal political figures, animals, and monarchs greeting them when they reach into their wallets, Switzerland, Bermuda, Israel, Venezuela, Argentina and Cape Verde have embraced vertical design.

One design firm suggests vertical formatting is more intuitive, given the way people handle their money.

“You tend to hold a wallet or purse vertically when searching for notes. The majority of people hand over notes vertically when making purchases,” Designboom author Andy Butler wrote in 2010. “All machines accept notes vertically. Therefore a vertical note makes more sense.”