LITTLE CURRENT – Over the course of four decades the Haweater coin was the principle go-to souvenir for many of those attending the annual Little Current Lions Club Haweater Weekend festivities every year—with many seeking to add to their collections every August long weekend.
Buck Belanger bought his first Haweater coin before Haweater coins officially existed. “The first one I bought was in 1968,” he said. “It was called a medallion to start.”
Mr. Belanger, long time owner/operator of Mardan Glass in Little Current, is a Haweater through and through—being born on the Island—and he credits his heritage as the reason he began collecting the coins.
He recently decided to pull his collection of coins out of the shadows and put them out on display. To that end Mr. Belanger created a display board that includes one of The Expositor tourist maps in the centre, with the coins arrayed around the map on a blue background. The map is distributed free to local tourism operators to assist their clients in navigating the iconic sights and sounds of Manitoulin.
“It was quite a bit of work,” he admitted. “I used a hole saw to cut the places for the coins to go and put in a blue background, because the Island is surrounded by water.” Constructed of plexiglass and encased in glass within a picture frame, the collection will be on exhibition at Mardan Glass for a while before heading home for its permanent display.
The Haweater coins were the longest continuously minted trade dollars in the world, a record Mr. Belanger believes the coins still hold and they are still actively sought by coin collectors to this day. With a face value of one dollar, some of the coins have accrued value dramatically, especially the avidly sought 1974 coin.
“That one has the Chi-Cheemaun on it,” he said. “It was the year the ferry first started serving the Island. It was worth about $150 the last time I looked.” (A short check on eBay finds an example with a value north of $250.) Several, he notes, have values ranging in the $20 range. He originally had three of the 1974s, but he gave one to each of his two sisters.
Each year since 1977, Mr. Belanger would buy four coins, “one for each of my kids when they got older.”
He also purchased the more expensive $20 coins, including one that holds the distinction of being the first trade dollar to be issued with a bi-metal design—similar to the now-familiar two-dollar Canadian coin.
Mr. Belanger said he was saddened when the coins stopped being produced, but he understands why. “I guess they just became too expensive to have them made and sell,” he said.
The collection will likely be loaned out to the Little Current Lions for display purposes at coming events, so folks will be able to see a great example of Island history that has touched so many hearts and minds over the course of its 40-year run.