Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2007

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Decimal System

[to 1948]

Decimal System, the name applied to any system of money, weights, or measures which has its standard unit divided into tenths, hundredths, etc., for parts below it, and multiplied by ten or powers of ten for parts above it in value.

The decimal system of coinage, with the dollar as the unit of account, was formally adopted in Canada in 1858, and after Confederation it was extended to the other provinces as they joined the union. In spite of various attempts of the British parliament, in the early half of the nineteenth century, to establish a uniform currency throughout the Empire, with the pound sterling as the standard unit of account, it was almost inevitable that the adoption of the decimal system in the United States should make a similar course, if not imperative, at least the only practical one for Canada, the growth and industry of which were necessarily based on ,commercial and financial intercourse with its neighbouring country.

The dollar, itself evolved from the old Spanish dollar, or piece of eight, was a familiar unit, and its parts corresponded very closely to the values of already known coins, such as the "pistreen" and the "bit", always a consideration in the establishment of a new coinage system. The simplicity of the coinage, with the additional facility in book-keeping and accounting, would have recommended it to a country where the discarded coins of many nations were in daily circulation. After the example of the United States, there were struck in Canada gold, silver, and copper coins, of which the issue has gradually baen reduced to the following parts:-five and ten-dollar gold pieces (discontinued after 1919); silver coins of the value of dollars, half-dollars, quarter-dollars, or ten-cent pieces, nickel five-cent pieces (replacing the smaller silver coins) ; and bronze cents of the value of one-hundredth of a dollar. Paper money has been issued in the denominations of one, two, five, ten, twenty, fifty, and one hundred dollar bills.

The decimal system, as applied to weights and measures, is known as the metric system, which is used almost universally, except in England, Canada, and the United States. In these countries the British foot and pôund are the units of length and mass, with slight variations as to terms and their values. The metric system was legalized in England in 1864, but it has never been adopted for general use except in scientific calculations.. Traces of its use may be found in parts of French Canada, where the habitant has clung to the ancient designations in measuring his farmlands, just as he hoarded his old French coins long after they were no longer legal tender.


Source: W. Stewart WALLACE, The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 191-192.

© 2007 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College