A Mexican Coin in Ontario

Mexican '8 Reales' Coin (Obverse)
Mexican ‘8 Reales’ Coin (Obverse)

Coins and root cellars often go hand-in-hand in the archaeological world but a very special coin found in a root cellar last summer by John Sleath and crew had everyone scratching their heads.

Crew member Simon Belanger announced he had recovered a “Mexican coin” that day outside Orono, Ontario which raised a few eyebrows but that is exactly what it turned out to be, recovered right there in the Nelson Powers family root cellar dating back to the mid 1830s.

The silver coin, a Mexican “8 Reales”, was minted in Mexico City in 1833 and packs a heavy historic punch despite its diminutive size. The coin was minted during a period of political upheaval in Mexico during a series of democratic elections and coups centering around General Santa Anna. The location where the coin finally came to rest also had its share of political and societal drama. According to ASI’s Katie Hull there was a currency shortage in Upper Canada and the rest of British North America during that time (for several reasons) and “foreign coins” such as Mexican and Spanish Reales were widely used as tender, and often preferred.

Mexican '8 Reales' 1833 Coin (Reverse)
Mexican ‘8 Reales’ 1833 Coin (Reverse)

To further deepen the mystery is the presence of two drilled holes in the coin thus turning it into a pendant.

For what reasons would someone turn a valuable coin into a pendant during a time when hard currency was tough to come by? Had Nelson Powers participated in Mexico’s turbulent days before becoming an Ontario farmer, keeping the coin as a memento?

As all archaeologists know, some mysteries may never be solved. Maybe it’s best that way… let the imagination run!

Written by: Douglas Todd


2005, Bank of Canada. “History of the Canadian Dollar” ed. James Powell. Accessed on February 17: http://www.bankofcanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/dollar_book.pdf

2015, Numista. 8 Reales. Accessed on February 17: http://coinquest.com/cgi-bin/cq/coins?main_coin=533.

2015, Wikipedia. History of Mexico, Mexican Empire. Accessed on February 17: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Mexico#Mexican_Empire.