Regina artist says designing Louis Riel silver coin was a collaborative effort

When the Royal Canadian Mint unveiled a new coin featuring a portrait of Louis Riel in Winnipeg this week, it was a moving experience for David Garneau.

Garneau, an artist and professor of visual arts at the University of Regina, designed the silver collector coin celebrating the Métis leader who founded Manitoba.

He said being at the ceremony among Métis dignitaries brought home the need for some kind of nation-to-nation recognition.

The coin was launched on the 175th anniversary of Riel’s birth.

“Louis Riel is front and centre and just off to the right a little bit,” said Garneau, who began the project more than a year ago. “There’s a big Métis sash that loops around in front and behind him, and it should remind you of the Métis Infinity symbol.”

A special edition coin featuring Louis Riel is seen in this undated handout photo. The Royal Canadian Mint has issued a new coin featuring a portrait of Louis Riel, an important Métis leader and the founder of Manitoba. The coin was launched Tuesday on the 175th anniversary of Riel’s birth. (Royal Canadian Mint/The Canadian Press)

It is also the first coin to be engraved with Michif, the official language of the Métis Nation.

“So there’s a lot a lot crowded into the small space,” Garneau said.

Riel was central to the Red River and North-West resistances, which asserted Indigenous rights and fought Canadian encroachment on Métis land.

He was executed in 1885 in Regina.

Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand, left, gives the thumbs up at the unveiling of a new Royal Canadian Mint coin commemorating Louis Riel. (Radio-Canada)

Garneau visited museums and did other research during the design process.

On the coin Riel is wearing a beaded, buckskin jacket which came about through consultation with Métis Nation knowledge keepers.

“It’s a shared responsibility and it’s a shared task,” Garneau said.

“There’s only about four or five photographs (of Riel) in existence. They wanted him outside of his business suit or sort of western attire. So he’s in a beaded vest.”

Garneau said he wanted the design to show Riel as an artist, poet and thinker. 

He said it was interesting creating the design on paper and then handing it to an engraver who transformed it into an “incredibly flat sculptural” coin.

Only 15,000 of the coins will be produced. They will cost about $60 and are available through the mint.

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