OTTAWA — One in four Canadians can’t identify Sir John A. Macdonald as the first prime minister of Canada, according to a new poll commissioned by Historica Canada.
Sir John A. — whose 200th birthday is Sunday — isn’t the only gap in Canadians’ knowledge. The poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid, found 28% of Canadians don’t know the year of Confederation and 44% don’t know Canada turns 150 in 2017.
But Historica president Anthony Wilson-Smith said the results aren’t as discouraging as they might seem.
“We’ve found that Canadians might not necessarily be aware of specific dates, but when asked if they’ll attend a 150 year anniversary event, they’re very into the idea,” he said. “The passion is there, and the appreciation is there, and though the focus on dates isn’t necessarily there, what counts is the spirit behind it.”
In an interesting tidbit of data, Albertans and Ontarians beat the national average for knowing the year of Confederation, with 90 and 75% respectively. Only four provinces in the country have mandatory Canadian history classes in their curriculum, meaning there are large swaths of the country with very different takes on the same history.
“For example, Quebec teaches a lot of Quebec history, which is very different in focus than in other parts of the country,” said Mr. Wilson-Smith. “There is quite a lot of study into what they still call the ‘conquest’, when Britain defeated France in what was then called British North America.
“We don’t learn about national figures nationally.”
However, that’s not to say Canadians are totally lost when it comes to their history. In 2008, 42% of Canadians couldn’t identify Macdonald as Canada’s first PM.
Mr. Wilson-Smith attributed the rise in recognition to two heritage minute videos released this year on the subject, and the government’s focus on promoting Canadian history. He also noted these kinds of numbers tend to rise around an anniversary like Macdonald’s 200th birthday, and they don’t fall back down.
“Once you’re aware, you don’t forget it too much,” he said. “We’re building from a stronger base now, and in that regard, the numbers are encouraging.”