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A little piece of history in our city

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THE saying "penny-wise, pound foolish" lost its value Friday as Canada's last foolish one-cent coin was pounded into extinction in a move most have hailed as wise.

After announcing the demise of the one-cent coin in his budget earlier this year, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty struck the last penny at Winnipeg's Royal Canadian Mint on Friday.

They'll take 'em

Before old pennies go out of circulation, some non-profit groups are hoping Manitobans will donate the soon-to-be-obsolete coins to charity.

In a news release on Friday, the Salvation Army unveiled its Dignity Makes Cents campaign. The campaign aims to collect one million pennies -- or $10,000 -- to help support the Salvation Army's Weetamah Centre, which serves up more than 1,000 nutritious meals each week to kids in homework clubs in Winnipeg's core area.

Meanwhile, Hannon Bell, a real estate agent and the co-founder of the Manitoba Real Estate Association's Shelter Foundation, decided to promote the idea to agents across Winnipeg. In coming weeks, Bell said agents will be collecting pennies through jars at real estate agent offices, the WinnipegRealtors office and the MREA office on Inkster Boulevard.

The pennies will go to the Shelter Foundation, which was founded in 2007 and distributes as much as $50,000 a year to non-profits such as Siloam Mission and Habitat for Humanity.

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Flaherty pressed the button that produced Canada's last copper-coloured coin that cost more to make than it's worth.

Mint workers, officials, security and visitors applauded the historic moment at the facility on Lagimodiere Boulevard.

No workers will lose their jobs as a result of the Canadian penny's extinction. The mint makes coins for half the countries in the world, said Flaherty. On Friday morning, the mint got an order from Ghana for 40 million coins.

Friday's penny ceremony marked Flaherty's first visit to the Winnipeg coin factory. He called it a "modern, vibrant" facility that has been able to innovate and stay competitive.

Canada's first penny was struck in Ottawa in 1908 by Lady Grey, the wife of Lord Earl Grey, of Grey Cup fame, and a penny was really worth something back then, said Flaherty.

"The humble one-cent coin was the workhorse of Canadian commerce," said Flaherty. Now it's seen as more of a nuisance that costs 1.6 cents to make.

"Over time, inflation has eroded the purchasing power of the penny," Flaherty said before the last cent was struck. "The time has come."

Flaherty and Winnipeg MP Shelly Glover, the parliamentary secretary for finance, called on Canadians to gather their pennies and donate them to charity.

Finn Gregoire is hanging on to his.

"I like pennies," said the Grade 1 student who was at the mint's gift shop with his dad. Mike Gregoire said he pulled his son out of school for the historic moment to see the last penny made. The engineer grew up close to the mint and tossed many pennies in the fountains outside the facility. The end of the penny is the end of an era, and a bittersweet time for the father and son.

"We've been talking a lot about pennies," said Mike.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2012 A3

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