The $20 bill is one of the most widely circulated banknotes in the United States, and since 1929 it has featured the portrait of a prominent American statesperson on the front. For the last century, that figure has been Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the United States. However, in 2015, the U.S. Treasury announced plans to replace Jackson’s image with that of Harriet Tubman, the famous abolitionist and political activist. The new $20 bill was scheduled to be released in 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. However, the Trump administration delayed the redesign, citing counterfeiting issues. With the election of President Biden, the Tubman $20 bill is back on track for release by 2030. This has led many to wonder: what will happen when Queen Elizabeth II, whose portrait graces Canadian $20 bills, passes away? Will she still remain on the Canadian currency, or will she be replaced by a new monarch, likely her son Charles III?
Brief History of the Queen on Canadian Currency
Queen Elizabeth II has been featured on Canadian currency since her accession to the throne in 1952. However, she was not the first monarch to appear on Canada’s money. In 1935, the Bank of Canada was established and it introduced new $20, $50, $100, and $1000 banknotes featuring the portrait of King George V. His image remained on Canadian currency through the reign of his son King Edward VIII and King George VI. It was only after Queen Elizabeth II succeeded her father in 1952 that the first banknotes bearing her portrait were issued. These were the 1954 Canadian Journey Series, which featured the Queen on all denominations, including the $20 bill. She has remained on the main $20 banknote ever since, through subsequent design updates in 1969, 1979, 2001, and 2011. The Queen is also currently found on the $5, $10, $50, and $100 Canadian banknotes.
The Tradition of Monarchs on Currency
It is a longstanding tradition for the reigning British monarch to appear on Canadian money. This tradition extends back to the colonial era when coins issued by the French colony of New France bore the image of King Louis XIV and later French kings. After Britain gained control of what is now Canada, coins issued in the colonies featured the monarch. The first paper banknotes printed for use in Canada in the early 1800s also depicted the reigning king or queen. When the Bank of Canada was established in 1935, it continued this tradition by featuring British monarchs on all banknotes and coins. The monarch has appeared on all of Canada’s banknotes ever since. Other British colonies and Commonwealth realms like Australia and New Zealand also depict the Queen on their currency to this day.
What Happens When the Queen Dies?
The Queen’s death will set in motion a host of changes great and small for the Commonwealth realms where she currently reigns as head of state. One of these changes will be the currency; new coins and banknotes featuring the next monarch will need to be designed and minted. This is the established protocol and precedence – when a monarch dies, currencies depicting them are gradually phased out and replaced with currencies depicting the new monarch.
However, this change will not happen overnight. The Bank of Canada already has a ten-year policy for banknote changes, meaning each banknote denomination is redesigned once a decade regardless of what is happening with the monarchy. We are unlikely to see King Charles III or any new monarch immediately on the $20 or any other banknotes. The Queen’s portrait will remain in use for years after her death until the scheduled redesign for each bill. The $20 is not set for a redesign again until 2026 at the earliest. Even then, the Queen may remain if the Bank of Canada decides to implement changes gradually.
When King George VI died in 1952, Canadian banknotes depicting him remained in circulation for a decade alongside new notes depicting Elizabeth II. The same may occur with the current Queen’s banknotes and the next monarch’s for a smooth transition. The Queen’s portrait may co-exist on currency with her successor for many years after her death.
Possibilities for the Next Monarch on Currency
Assuming Prince Charles takes the throne upon the Queen’s passing as expected, he will eventually become the new king depicted on Canadian currency. However, there is speculation around whether he may abdicate and pass the crown directly to his son Prince William instead. If this happened, it would be William rather than Charles who would receive the title King and have his image put on money. There is also still debate around Canada and other Commonwealth realms becoming fully independent from the British monarchy when Elizabeth II dies. If Canada chose to forgo having a king as head of state, British monarchs would likely no longer appear on the currency. There are many possibilities, but the most likely scenario is a multi-year transitional period with both Queen Elizabeth II and the next monarch appearing on banknotes until her portrait is gradually phased out.
Could the Queen be Replaced by Someone Else?
Besides replacing the Queen with the image of the next British monarch, there have been some calls over the years for her portrait to be replaced with that of a prominent Canadian. However, there is no formal public consultation process around who should appear on banknotes like there is in the United States. It would be at the sole discretion of the Bank of Canada. There are no rules stating the monarch must appear, so the central bank could choose to depict a notable Canadian personality, symbol, or landmark instead. But given the strong tradition and the significant design costs involved, it is unlikely they would make such a change. The British monarch is almost certainly going to remain on Canadian currency for the foreseeable future. Any changes to this tradition would require substantial public and political debate.
Table of Monarchs Appearing on Canadian Currency
|Years Appearing on Currency
|Queen Elizabeth II
|1952 – Present
|King George VI
|1936 – 1952
|King Edward VIII
|King George V
|1935 – 1936
|King Louis XIV
|1670 – 1701 (New France era)
The Queen’s Iconic Portrait
The Queen’s portrait is one of the most iconic and recognizable images among world currencies. The current portrait appearing on the $20 bill and other Canadian banknotes was painted in 2001 by Canadian artist Dora dePédery-Hunt. It shows the Queen wearing her royal diadem and pearl necklace. It is based on a photograph by Douglas Glass. This elegant portrait has defined Canadian money for two decades, meaning most Canadians have grown up never knowing any other image on their $20 and other bills besides the Queen. Her portrait is intertwined with Canadian money in the public imagination. For this reason, even after the Queen’s death, the Bank of Canada may be reluctant to remove such an iconic image from the $20 bill and other denominations. Her famous portrait could potentially continue to appear for many years into the future despite her passing.
Other Commonwealth Currencies with the Queen
As the head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II appears on the money of many countries besides Canada. These include currency in Australia, New Zealand, and 12 countries in the Caribbean and Oceania that belong to the East Caribbean Monetary Union. The Queen’s portrait also appears on coins in the United Kingdom, although British banknotes feature the Queen alongside other historical figures. When she passes away, these other Commonwealth currencies bearing her image will also eventually transition to depict the next monarch, just like Canada. However, until new banknotes and coins can be issued, existing ones with Queen Elizabeth II will likely remain valid. There will be a transitional period where she remains on these countries’ money alongside the new king or queen for continuity.
Looking beyond the current $20 banknote, it is possible the Bank of Canada may issue special commemorative banknotes or coins featuring Queen Elizabeth II after her death. These would not be for regular circulation, but specifically to honor her reign and service to Canada. For example, in 2002 they released a $20 banknote commemorating her Golden Jubilee of 50 years on the throne. A commemorative collector’s item banknote would allow the bank to pay tribute to the Queen’s legacy on Canadian currency. The commemorative banknotes need not use her formal portrait, but could include other illustrations depicting significant moments from her life and reign. This would allow the Bank of Canada to honor the Queen’s profound impact on Canadian society and history while still transitioning to new monarch’s portrait on circulating currency.
Queen Elizabeth II has been featured on Canadian banknotes and coins for over 70 years, including the current $20 bill. When she passes away, work will begin on a transition to depict the next British monarch, likely her son Charles. However, these changes will occur gradually over the coming decade. The Bank of Canada is likely to take a phased approach, allowing existing $20 bills and other notes featuring the Queen’s iconic portrait to remain valid in circulation alongside new bills bearing the image of the future king or queen. This will enable a smooth currency transition that minimizes public confusion or economic disruption when the remarkably long reign of Queen Elizabeth II comes to an end. For the foreseeable future, the Queen will continue to appear on Canada’s money as a symbol of stability, continuity, and devotion to public service.