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Too few loonies in N.D....

It isn’t often that the Canadian dollar drops below 70 cents U.S., but it has in this new age of responding to a pandemic. And, as you might imagine, when the loonie goes under that benchmark, it evaporates like gas on a hot day. It’s now back up to 74 cents.

During the pandemic, people were hoarding toilet paper of all things. Why hoard toilet paper for a respiratory disease? Anyway, toilet paper, bread, baking supplies, hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol, all hoarded.

I like to hoard the Canadian dollar. A little here and a little there and the next thing you know, you have enough to pay for a weekend in Winnipeg or Regina. Unfortunately, times have changed, and the loonie is getting harder to find now that credit cards are used for so many purchases.

There was a time not so long ago when the Bank of North Dakota was a clearing house for the Canadian dollar in North Dakota. I don’t remember how I found out, but I discovered that BND had lots of loonies in its vaults. So, I started buying it from 70 to 73 cents on the U.S. dollar while I was a college student in Bismarck in the mid 1980s. You can imagine being in college, a person doesn’t have money to spend on something like another currency. I was in the National Guard so had a little money at my disposal, and I used it wisely by purchasing loonies at BND whenever I had the chance, and the price was right.

Over the two years I was at “Bismarck Junior College,” I managed to collect more than $2,300. It seemed easy because, yes, it is legal currency, but there really wasn’t anywhere to spend it without taking a big hit on each dollar spent. So I sat on it, and it accumulated. When I got to UND in the fall of 1986, going to school just got a whole lot more expensive, and I was too far away from making a Friday afternoon trip to the Bismarck bank, so the accumulation stopped.

As time went on, interest rates in Canadian banks were rising rapidly, so I decided to open an account at the Royal Bank of Canada in Winnipeg. At 70 cents, I was using the U.S. dollar to buy $1.30 Canadian. That $1.30 was deposited into a CD that earned 9.5 percent interest for seven years. When I opened the account, I was told I was the first person in Winnipeg to have a seven-year CD instead of five, at least in the Royal Bank system.

Little did anyone know that in 1991 a new tax in Canada called the Goods and Services Tax would cause Canadians to flood into North Dakota to spend their hard earned loonies. After Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced the GST was in force, every day Canadians must have been really mad, because they came to Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, Minot and many other places like Bottineau, Langdon and Devils Lake to spend their money on furniture, cars, clothing, food and even farm machinery. You could go to West Acres shopping mall in Fargo and swear you were at Polo Park in Winnipeg because of all the Manitoba license plates.

That meant a boom for the retail, hospitality and tourism industry in North Dakota, and many of those dollars were sent to the Bank of North Dakota after being converted locally. It meant millions of loonies flowing into the state, and there was a short time, the first quarter of 1991, in which the city of Fargo took in $30 million in Canadian currency. It was said that more than 90 percent of the people living in the city of Winnipeg visited Fargo at one time or another in 1991. Grand Forks has always had a strong Canadian dollar presence and because of it, holds numerous Canadian businesses including a major hotel called Canad Inns.

Minot must have plenty of money because it repeatedly rejected putting incentives in place to bring the Canadian dollar from Regina, Moose Jaw and Saskatoon. The loonie has always been just a trickle in Minot, and Manitoba license plates are about as rare as Puerto Rico or Hawaii.

These days you just don’t see the physical money floating around anywhere. It’s because credit cards have made it all digital so no actual money changes hands like the $30 million did in Fargo, and again, that was only three months in one year.

My money in the Royal Bank continued to accumulate, and when I moved to Langdon in 1996, I had plenty of money to pay for weekend trips to Winnipeg. That was a lot of fun.

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