1870 was the first year that silver 50 Cents pieces were exclusively minted for Canada as a “Dominion” in the British Empire. A “British Dominion” is a region within the British Commonwealth that has fully, or in part self-governing authority over the territory that’s within her assigned boundaries.
The British colonies of Upper and Lower Canada united in the “Dominion of Canada” on the 1st of July 1867. Territories like Newfoundland had their own 50 Cents pieces next to the Canada Dominion 50 Cents until they joined the Union on the 1st of April 1949.
It wasn’t until the 2nd of January 1908 at the opening of the Royal Mint in Ottawa that the first 50 Cents piece was struck in Canada itself by Governor General Earl Grey. Before this date coinage intended for circulation in the Dominion of Canada had to be imported.
The first Canadian 50 Cents were designed just like some of the common circulating silver quarters at the time : On the obverse the effigy was depicted of the ruling monarch, and on the reverse the denomination was shown together with two Maple boughs instead of the more common wreath.
The difference actually only being the denomination, weight and size.
From 1870 until 1919 the weight was set at 11,62 grams – 0.3736 ozt and the composition consisted of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
Between 1920 and 1967 the weight would increase to 11,6638 grams – 0.3749 ozt, all though being produced with a different composition (80% silver – 20% copper).
1967 was the last year that silver Canadian silver 50 Cents intended for circulation were minted. After that they would be produced in 99,9% nickel until 1999. From 2000 until the present day the Canadian 50 Cents are produced in a mixed alloy of steel (93,15%), copper (4,75%) and nickel (2,2%).
The effigy on the 1963 Canadian 50 Cents concerns the 1st portrait type of Queen Elizabeth the Second when she was 27 years old.