Frontlines

The deuces are wild

Suzanne Zwarun December 3 1979
Frontlines

The deuces are wild

Suzanne Zwarun December 3 1979

The deuces are wild

Frontlines

Alberta may not quite be Eldorado, but it’s the next best thing to thousands of Canadians moving there to moil for gold. And the newcomers are finding that although Albertans are turning oil, wheat, construction and other enterprises into bank accounts, there is one form of money they shy away from—the maligned $2 bill.

Prairie disuse of $2 bills has been traced to similar American sentiments,

to superstition and to the practical consideration that most older cash registers lack a fifth compartment to store something besides ones, fives, tens and twenties. But whatever the origin of the antipathy, it is being eroded as easterners move westward in search of their fortune—although the superstition is dying hard and very slowly.

In Calgary the Royal Bank reports brisk use of $2 bills now, while the Bank of Nova Scotia says “a few more” have come into circulation recently. Other banks say the bill is still highly unpopular. “Eastern girls who become tellers here soon stop ordering them because customers don’t want them,” says a spokesman at the Bank of Nova Scotia.

The Bank of Canada has always shipped fewer of the bills to the Prairies than to any other region or province, and store clerks have been known to refuse to take what they call “B.C. money” (because B.C. does not share the prejudice). A Lethbridge bank once ad-

mitted one of its tellers wouldn’t even keep them in her cash.

Calgary historian James Gray traces the aversion to early American immigrants to Alberta. There are various explanations for the American dislike. Some say “deuce” being a polite word for devil carried with it a connotation of bad luck. And some think the superstition began with prostitutes and led to miners refusing the bills in their pay packets because they weren’t spendable

in brothels. Even so, the $2 bill was a staple of U.S. currency for more than 100 years. By 1966, however, Americans were returning the bill to banks in such huge numbers that the U.S. treasury department pulled them off the market. A new $2 bill was circulated three years ago, and the treasury figured it could save about $4 million a year in printing costs by reducing production of $1 bills and printing $2 bills instead.

A Canadian explanation for the superstition is that the $2 bill, introduced in 1870, first pictured generals Montcalm and Wolfe, who both came to early ends, and later featured the Prince of Wales who later abdicated as Edward VII—a history of bad luck. One piece of misfortune is in the offing for anyone stuck with a $2 bill and seeking the traditional antidote—snipping off the top left-hand corner is supposed to let the bad luck out. But that is defacing a bill, and those unlucky enough to be caught could face a stiff fine.

Suzanne Zwarun