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Funny money? Focus groups felt new $5 plastic notes too "cartoonish"

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OTTAWA - The Bank of Canada is set to unveil its latest plastic bank notes this week — but documents show some people found one of the new bills too "cartoonish" and the other too old-fashioned.

Focus groups consulted about the proposed images for the new bank note series thought the space motif of the new $5 bill looked childish.

"There is a perception that the note looks 'cartoonish' or too-child like," says a 2009 report commissioned by the bank from The Strategic Counsel, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

Others were left scratching their heads over the depiction of "Dextre," a Canadian robotic handyman on board the International Space Station. Some people wrongly assumed Dextre was the name of an astronaut shown on the bill, while others had no clue who the name referred to.

"Dextre is not recognized — although once explained, it is accepted as an element of Canada's contribution to space technology that should be kept," the report says.

"The image of the space station is not recognized. It is confused with a concept drawing."

But if some people were stumped by the space-age technology on the $5 bill, others complained the train on the new $10s looked too quaint.

"Significance of the image to Canada is immediately understood — participants acknowledge that the railway was the key to linking Canada and played an important role in the development of Canada as a nation," the report says.

"However, while the image is seen as attractive, many do not find it inspiring or motivating. It is seen as an archetypal image of Canada's past — standard or expected."

Under a section labelled "dislikes / concerns," the report adds the train "illustrates a mode of travel that many now find outdated or cost prohibitive."

The train also struck a nerve with focus groups in Atlantic Canada, where many rail lines have been decommissioned.

"The train no longer fully traverses Canada," the report says. "In particular, those in the East feel that it underscores that their railway links have been decommissioned."

There were also some who felt the train motif hearkened back to the treatment of Chinese labourers who helped build the trans-Canada railway.

"For a few, brings up human rights issues with the development of the railway."

The Bank of Canada declined comment on the focus group report.

The new $5 and $10 bills are scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday and will go into circulation later this year.

This is not the first time focus groups have raised concerns about images on the new polymer notes.

Outgoing Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney apologized last year after The Canadian Press reported that the image of an Asian woman was purged from the original design for new $100 bank notes after some focus groups raised questions about her ethnicity.

Other focus groups thought they saw some offbeat images on the polymer $50 and $100 bank notes that went into circulation in 2011.

One Vancouver group thought an image on the $100 of a researcher at a microscope and a depiction of the double-helix structure of DNA was a sex toy.

Other focus groups thought they saw religious iconography on the face of the Peace Tower clock.

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