As you go through your old change, it is possible, but quite unlikely you will stumble upon a 50 cent coin. What used to be an important part of daily commerce is now relegated to history, and the cabinets of coin collectors.
Back in 1870, when the relatively new Dominion of Canada planned its first issue of coinage, this was included at the largest denomination (25c, 10c, 5c being the others). Minted in sterling silver, and weighing over 11 grams, it was impressive in size. The obverse featured a crowned image of Queen Victoria. Consider that back in the late 1800’s, 50 cents would likely have had the purchasing power of around $30-$50 today, it was a coin that was frequently used. This is proven by the surviving examples, which are almost always worn.
In 1902 the coin was changed, with the crowned portrait of the new King Edward VII, and changed again in 1911 with that of King George V. The front of the coin remained the same for 66 years (1870-1936), with the simple legend “50 Cents Canada”, and the date, along with a crown on top, with sweet maple leaves tied at the bottom with a bow at the bottom.
The new King George VI, in 1937, created a major redesign of all of Canadian coinage. Unlike his predecessors, the new king had his portrait uncrowned. The other side was changed to a coat of arms with two lions, one with a union jack, the other with a flag of fleur de lis. This reverse design, with little modification continues to this day.
As of 1968, Canadian coins were no longer made of silver, and much of the coinage from the 1940’s though 1960’s that was in circulation at the time, was hoarded. Even today 46+ years later, it is quite easy to find these coins in quantity.
Since the use of these coins declined dramatically in the 1970’s and 1980’s, by 2002 the mint decided to no longer produce them for general circulation. It would be unusual to find one in change, and certainly most cashiers in stores would not recognized them today. Fortunately for collectors, the 50 cent piece is still minted each year, and available by buying them in rolls at the mint boutique in Ottawa.