• Claude Bennett (left), a member of the Royal Canadian Mint's board of directors, and Tim Pitsiulak, an artist, unveil the new quarters. (CNW Group/Royal Canadian Mint)

The concepts could be called two sides of a coin. In reality, however, the designs of the latest commemorative quarters are featured on two different coins in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first Canadian Arctic Expedition (CAE).

One of the coins represents a design by Inuit artist Tim Pitsiulak called “Life in the North” showing a trio of whales — two belugas and a bowhead. Pitsiulak says that Bowheads have always had a close relationship with the community around Cape Dorset, Nunavut where he lives. “I wanted to draw a design that I admire,” he says. “Seeing the whales migrate in huge numbers is something.”

The design of the coin represents a meshing of art styles spanning over continents and centuries of the planet’s north — some of which were inspired by archeological artifacts from the region’s past. A Thule ivory comb sits on the bowhead’s skull symbolizing the expansion of Inuit and their ancestors across Canada while other parts represent igloo construction and the patterns of hooded amauti parka worn by Inuit women. A Dorset culture mask on the dorsal section of the bowhead is an interpretation of the Tuniit people which first crossed the Bering Strait to the Americas from Siberia. A separate depiction on the coin includes a design along the rim showing the silhouette of a whale with a traditional whaling boat and kayaks in pursuit.

Pitsiulak says another reason he chose the bowhead was due to the fact that the whale is timeless — both in the fact that they have always inhabited the waters around his home as well as a nod to scientific uncertainty about the whales’ lifespan.

The other coin was designed by Bonnie Ross and specifically represents the 100-year anniversary of the CAE, despatched by Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden in 1913. The coin shows a depiction of three explorers that set out to map the northern islands of Canada’s Arctic along with a pack of dog sleds and a compass pointing north. Aside from mapping parts of the country, the expedition also focused on geology, ethnography and flora and fauna of the region and resulted in researchers bringing back a number of natural specimens and cultural artifacts.

"As one of the greatest adventures of the early 20th century, the Canadian Arctic Expedition sparked many discoveries about life in the North,” says Ian E. Bennett, President and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint. “We are pleased that our new circulation coins help Canadians learn even more about the Arctic's past and present, as well as its unique Aboriginal cultures."

The Mint began to release the 12.5 million of each new coin in late November.