Bank ready to show Vimy Ridge $20 bill can stand the heat and cold

OTTAWA – The Bank of Canada is taking no chances with the new plastic $20 bill.

Following the flap about the erased Asian scientist and unintended subliminal images — both sexy and ghostly —on earlier roll-outs of the $50 and $100 polymer notes, the central bank is making sure the launch of the new double sawbuck Wednesday goes as smoothly as possible.

The bank telegraphed the design on the back of the new note far in advance and it’s something few Canadians could quibble about.

The key image is of the twin-towered Vimy Ridge monument, commemorating the famous First World War battle taught to every school child as Canada’s heroic coming of age as an independent nation.

“It’s the most important launch so far because it’s the note that everybody uses,” said Gerry Gaetz, chief of the central bank’s currency department.

“(Vimy) was felt to be a good match because … it’s an historical, cultural touchstone and it seemed to resonate with people.”

At the peak, there will be about 800 million of the bills in circulation — as many as all other denominations put together.

As with the past launches, the design was tested with focus groups to get input from Canadians, but it is unlikely to stir up the controversies that followed the launch of the $100 and $50 notes.

Access to information requests by The Canadian Press following previous launches found that some Canadians saw unintended images in the bills while others questioned the use of an Asian female scientist on the $100 note. Bank governor Mark Carney was forced to apologize after it was revealed the image was changed before going to the printer.

Bank officials were also perturbed by suggestions that the plastic bills melted after being left on the dashboard of a car on a hot sunny day.

Impossible, says Gaetz. The bills have been tested and shown to withstand heat of 140 C. At most, the heat inside an automobile will reach only 85 C.

He calls them the most durable notes in circulation, but cautions they are not indestructible.

On Tuesday, the bank treated The Canadian Press to a sneak preview of their demonstration for the new $20, including introducing the greenish notes to the “crumpler,” “tumbler,” “the beaker” of boiling water, the “hot plate” and the “globe ice box.”

The bills passed the test with flying colours, emerging unscathed from boiling water, a hot plate set at 85 degrees Celsius, an ice box at -45 degrees, a tumble with stones and other objects designed to hack the note to pieces, and a crumpling machine.

“There are certainly ways you can get them to stick together, but this note has been on the hot plate for about half an hour now and it’s fine,” said Martine Warren, the bank’s scientific adviser.

Gaetz said he has heard of a man who stored some of the plastic notes in his kitchen oven, forgot about them, then turned on the heat to 400 or 500 degrees.

“The notes, because they were at a very high temperature, they fused together,” he said. “We don’t encourage handling them that way.”

This is not paper money. The bills are actually made out of polymer rather than cotton fibre and that allows the bank to load them with security measures.

Those measures include a see-through window with holograms of the Queen and a metallic Peace Tower that shines and subtly changes colours when tilted. Both images appear suspended in air and are identical on both sides of the bill.

The notes also include other security features, including raised printing and a see-through maple leaf that when viewed up close while light is shining on it, reveals the denomination of the bill.

And that is not all.

“We have some things in the bank note we won’t tell you about that can be read by certain types of equipment,” Gaetz said.

He believes that counterfeiters will encounter great difficulty duplicating the notes and that the features allow retailers, authorities and even untrained Canadians to spot fakes more easily.

Polymer also permits the bank to enhanced the raised “bumps” on the notes so that the blind can more easily identify the denomination.

Gaetz calls the new notes the most sophisticated Canada has ever produced and because they are expected to last two-and-a-half times longer than the old bills. That’s expected to save taxpayers about $200 million over the next eight years.

The bank will roll out the remaining denominations — the $5 and $10 notes — next year.