Making a mint: Coin-collecting Richmond doc designs new toonie

Timothy Hsia won a Royal Canadian Mint competition and immediately dedicated the honour to his late grandfather

Next spring, when you get a toonie in your change at the checkout, take a closer look at it — there’s a serious Richmond connection to that little piece of metal.

For the coin, gloriously decorated by the Northern Lights dancing in the sky above two awestruck paddlers on a lake, was the creation of Richmond-born and raised Dr. Timothy Hsia as part of a nationwide, Royal Canadian Mint competition to mark the country’s 150th birthday.

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Last year, out of thousands of entries, Hsia’s design, called Dance of the Spirits, was chosen first as a finalist in the “Our Wonders” category by a panel of esteemed Canadians — including Rick Hansen — and then as the winner via a public, online vote.

But it was only a week or so ago that Hsia, 32, took a call around 5 p.m. to be told by the Mint that he had actually won.

“I assumed it was one of my patients (on the phone),” Hsia told the Richmond News, moments after unveiling his very own toonie at Richmond City Hall on Wednesday — one of five, simultaneous events across Canada to reveal all of the country’s 150th anniversary coins.

“I was absolutely ecstatic and was pretty much in shock.”

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Timothy Hsia, left, with his brother, Stephen, show off their entries for the Royal Canadian Mint competition more than a year ago outside the old Richmond News office - Alan Campbell/Richmond News

Hsia, who lives in south Richmond, admitted he thought his brother, Stephen, 30, a commercial litigation lawyer — who was also a finalist in a different category — would win as his younger sibling is a “very talented” artist and designer in his free time.

“When we were putting our designs together, we really wanted each other to win, so we quite often made suggestions to change this or change that in the design,” said Timothy.

“It was very much a team effort and this win is partly his.”

Aside from directing some of the praise onto his brother, Timothy — when officially accepting his newfound fame on stage at city hall this week — dedicated the commemorative toonie to his late grandfather, Philip Hsia, who passed away six years ago.

“I kind of got into collecting coins by accident,” explained Timothy, a Princeton University grad, as is Stephen.

“My grandfather gave myself and my brother a coin and, at the time, it was kind of like getting a coin in a Pirate Pak from White Spot.

“But our grandfather was our hero and our fascination of coins grew from there.

“Next year, during Canada’s 150th birthday, he would have turned 100, so I’d like to dedicate this coin to him.”

The brothers told the News last year how their “hero grandpa” grew up in poverty and ran away from home at age 11 with nothing but three coins that his mother entrusted with him. 

“Over his lifetime, he excelled academically, qualified for the Olympics in track and field, flew bombers in the Second World War with the Flying Tigers, and became a successful businessman in Hong Kong,” Stephen said at the time.

In 1968, their grandfather immigrated to Richmond, which he called home until his death in 2010, before which he was a strong advocate for giving back to the community and could be seen jogging around Minoru track in the early mornings.

When the brothers were growing up, their grandpa, an avid coin collector, would give each of his grandchildren a gold coin on their birthdays.

“We appreciated the gesture and, over time, realized that Grandpa had effectively made us coin collectors ourselves. We were inspired by the beautiful designs of Grandpa’s coins and we dedicate our coin designs to him.”

Timothy also acknowledged his Richmond resident parents for instilling his love of the arts at an early age, including taking himself and his brother to plays at the Gateway Theatre.

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Dr. Timothy Hsia unveils his winning toonie design with the Royal Canadian Mint’s Susan Dujmovic, left, and Mayor Malcolm Brodie - Alan Campbell/Richmond News

Before the unveiling on Wednesday, Mayor Malcolm Brodie congratulated Timothy and said the coin was “going to be a hot commodity in Richmond and across Canada.”

Susan Dujmovic, the Royal Canadian Mint Board’s vice-chair, told how, during her time with the Mint, a “couple of coins have stuck out for me; one during the Olympics…and this one today; this is a proud moment for Dr. Hsia.”

Talking about the inspiration behind his actual design, Timothy cited the Northern Lights as being a “true Canadian wonder…that all Canadians...appreciate and call their own.

“To me, this radiant light display embodies Canada’s unity and beauty. I titled my design Dance of the Spirits after how the Cree people attribute the northern lights to the special moment when the spirits manifest themselves, dancing, to the human eyes and minds below.”

 Asked what he might think when, next spring, he gets handed at the checkout for the first time his toonie, Timothy wasn’t too sure.

“I might say, ‘that’s my coin.’ I hope people will at least pause and take a look at it. If they don’t, I may have to point out it’s my coin.”

The Mint is launching a collector program to mark the anniversary. For more information, go online to Mint.ca.

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