The Canada Day Youth History Survey

Canadian Youth Score average 34% Correct Answers on Basic Canadian History Quiz

Monday, June 30, 1997

On average, Canadian youth — aged 18 to 24 — have "failed" their Canada Day History Survey. Overall, young Canadians scored 34%, a total of 10.2 out of 30 questions drawn up by a panel of seven distinguished Canadians comprising university academics, public and national opinion leaders (see list). Those with higher levels of education and income received better "marks", but all segments of the youth population "failed" the exam. However, only 11% believed that the questions were "too tough". Respondents were more likely to blame themselves for "not knowing as much as they should". Of note, those young Canadians who identified themselves as recent immigrants to Canada scored a similar range of average scores (32%) compared to the national average of those residents who have been here longer — "first generation" Canadians (37%) and "second generation plus" Canadians (34%). Men (38%) were more likely to answer correctly than women (30%).

These are some of the findings from a survey released today by The Dominion Institute, conducted by the Angus Reid Group. The telephone questionnaire involved a randomly selected and proportionately representative group of 1104 youth — aged 18-24 — from all regions of Canada. The study has a margin of error of ±2.9%, 19 times out of 20.

The Dominion Institute is a not-for-profit organization. It was founded in February of 1997 by a group of young Canadians concerned about Canada's declining sense of civic responsibility and its long-term implications for our traditions of civility, tolerance and decency. In particular, the Institute's founders wanted to address the cultural consequences of government downsizing, globalization and the unity issue by helping Canadians re-discover the links that exist between our history, civic traditions and common identity. To help fulfil this mandate, the Institute received a generous grant from the Donner Canadian Foundation. One of the Donner's priorities is to spark discussion on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship by engaging Canadians in a dialogue about the contributions of generations past.

The Canada Day Youth History Survey asked a total of 30 questions covering five areas: Canada's Political Past; Canada/US Relations; Ethnic and Cultural Diversity; Military History; and, Arts and Human Interests.

When asked to comment on their performance in taking the quiz, Canadian youth were more likely to mention that they should know more about Canadian history (40%). Only 11% felt the questions were too tough (11%).

In some cases, respondents were presented with multiple choice answers. For a full copy of the questions and answers, please refer to detailed Tables.


National averages

Overall, Canadian youth did not "pass" the history survey — of the 30 questions asked, youth answered, on average, 10.2 correct answers or, an average of 34% of the total history quiz. Average scores did not vary greatly between regions; however, the highest average score was in Alberta with 40% of the quiz answered correctly and the lowest score, found in Quebec, was 28%.

In terms of key demographics, respondents slightly older (22 to 24 years of age), those with higher household incomes and respondents with higher levels of education presented higher overall averages. However, differences remained small as the lowest score of all sub-groupings was 24% (those without a high school diploma) and the highest being 45% among the university educated. All variances fell within that 21 point spread. Those who indicated that they had followed a history class during their schooling boasted a higher average (35%), compared to those who did not follow such a class (29%).

Political Past

In total, nine questions were related to important events or political figures. In descending order of percentage of respondents who answered correctly: Sir Wilfrid Laurier was correctly identified by 67% of respondents as Canada's first francophone Prime Minister; 65% knew that Louis-Joseph Papineau was the leader of the 1837-38 Rebellion; 63% knew that Great Britain took control of Quebec from France following the battle of the Plains of Abraham; 54% knew that Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada's first Prime Minister; 51% knew that Newfoundland was the last province to join Confederation; 1921 was correctly identified by 42% of respondents as the year that Canadian women won the right to vote in federal elections; 36% named 1867 as the year of Confederation; 15% named 1982 as the year of the Patriation of the Canadian Constitution; and only 10% named the "Quiet Revolution" as the political movement that swept Quebec in the 1960s.

Looking more closely at each question, some observations can be made:

  • Quebec respondents (79%) were more likely to identify Laurier correctly as Canada's first francophone Prime Minister (67% national average). Lowest scores were garnered in the Atlantic provinces (54%) and in Alberta (54%).
  • Quebec respondents (78%) were better at identifying Papineau as the 1837 Rebellion leader (65% national average). British Columbia (64%) and Ontario (60%) were second and third respectively, in correctly identifying Papineau.
  • Quebec respondents presented the highest percentage of correct answers (74%) in naming Great Britain (unaided question) as the country which took control of Quebec from France on the Plains of Abraham. Prairie respondents were more likely than any other region to name the United States (13%) and Canada (15%) as responsible for the British victory.
  • Quebec respondents presented the lowest percentage of correct answers (28%) to the question of "who was Canada's first Prime Minister?" (unaided question), while over 70% of Alberta and BC respondents could name Sir John A. Macdonald correctly (54% national average).
  • West of Ontario, percentages of correct answers were in the low forties when participants were asked to name the last province (Newfoundland) to join Confederation (unaided question). Nationally, 51% answered correctly compared to 67% of Atlantic Canada respondents.
  • When asked to determine from multiple dates as to when Canadian women became eligible to vote in federal elections, percentages varied little between regions from the national average of 42%, except in Quebec, where only 27% answered 1921. Almost 7 out of 10 (69%) of Quebec respondents preferred 1942.
  • Only one-third (36%) of Canadian youth could correctly name 1867 as the date of Confederation. (64% did not know the right answer.) Only in the Atlantic provinces (29%) did results vary from the national average. Added to the 36% who named 1867, another 19% gave a date which varied between 1851 to 1900.
  • Only 15% of youth could correctly identify 1982 as the date when the Canadian Constitution was patriated from Great Britain. Alberta (20%) and Quebec (19%) were the two provinces which presented results higher than the national average.
  • When asked to give the commonly used name referring to the social and political movement that swept Quebec society in the 1960s, only 10% of Canadian youth respondents named, on an unaided basis, the "Quiet Revolution". In comparison, only 24% of Quebec respondents identified the phrase correctly.

Canada/US Relations

A total of four historical questions dealt with Canada's relationship with its southern neighbour. In descending order, nationally 60% knew that Free Trade/FTA/Reciprocity was the dominant economic issue in the 1891, 1911 and 1988 federal election campaigns; another 30% named the American Civil War as the war which "helped convince Canadians and their political leaders to unite and form a federation in the North"; 26% named the War of 1812, the Revolutionary/War of Independence as "one of the wars during which Canada was invaded by the United States"; and, finally, only 23% of Canadian youth knew that "Loyalists" or "United Empire Loyalists" was the name given to the British subjects who fled to Canada from the U.S. during and after the American Revolution in order to remain faithful to the British Crown.

  • A full 6 out 10 (60%) of Canadian youth knew that trade was the dominant issue during the 1891, 1911 and 1988 Canadian federal election campaigns. 74% of Alberta respondents answered correctly compared to 48% of Quebec respondents.
  • Three out of 10 (30%) of youth identified the American Civil War as responsible for Canada uniting in a federation in the North, with best results in Alberta (40%) and lowest results in Quebec (14%).
  • Just over a quarter (26%) of Canadian youth identified either the War of 1812 or the Revolutionary/War of Independence as one of the wars during which Canada was invaded by the United States. 37% of Ontario respondents mentioned one of the two wars, with only 11% of Quebec respondents being able to do the same.
  • Close to a quarter of Canadian youth (23%) identified "United Empire Loyalists" or "Loyalists" as the British subjects who fled the American Revolution to Canada.

Ethnic and Cultural Diversity

In total, six questions addressed some of the important issues dealing with Canada's ethnic and cultural diversity. A bare majority (51%) were able to name the "Underground Railway" as the route to Canada taken by blacks escaping slavery in the United States; 43% named Japanese Canadians as the group of Canadians evacuated from the West Coast during World War II; 40% named Louis Riel as the Metis leader hanged by the Federal government in 1885; 32% said "Acadian" when asked to name the French speaking settlers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia who were resettled by the British government; and while 17% knew that Chinese Canadians once had to pay a head tax to immigrate to Canada, only 6% named the Beothuks as the native people from Newfoundland who were hunted to extinction by European settlers.

  • Ontario respondents (73%) were more likely to correctly identify the Underground Railway, while only 11% of Quebec respondents could do the same. Still, 38% of respondents answered "don't know" to that question.
  • Close to 7 out of 10 (69%) respondents in British Columbia and Alberta knew that Japanese Canadians were evacuated from the West Coast during WWII.
  • Prairie respondents were more likely to know about Louis Riel (74% correct responses in Saskatchewan and Manitoba), when compared to respondents east of Manitoba or west of Alberta. Still a majority of respondents (60%) simply said that they did not know the answer.
  • A bare majority (51%) of Atlantic Canada respondents knew that "Acadian" is the name of French speaking settlers of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia who were resettled by the British government. While 46% of Quebec respondents also answered correctly, knowledge of the Acadian "fact" was lower when moving west of Quebec.
  • British Columbians (37%), those from Newfoundland (25%), and Albertans (20%) were more likely to know about the fact that Chinese Canadians once had to pay a head tax to immigrate to Canada, when compared to respondents east of Alberta.
  • Fully a quarter (26%) of Atlantic Canada respondents knew about the Beothuks compared to the national average of 6%.

Military History

A total of five questions dealt with Canada's military history and more particularly with Canada's involvement in the two great wars. When asked to name two countries Canada fought against in WWI, only 11% of the total respondents could correctly identify two countries. [70% of respondents named Germany as one of the combatants, only 16% could name the second country (i.e. Austria, Hungary, Turkey, etc.).] A total of 35% of Canadian youth respondents knew the significance of "D Day". A third (33%) of respondents knew that Remembrance Day/Armistice Day or November 11 was the last day of WWI. Just below a third (31%) knew that the battle of Vimy Ridge was an important allied victory in WWI. Finally, only 14% of respondents identified Lester B. Pearson as the Nobel Prize recipient for his efforts to resolve the Suez Crisis peacefully and who went on to become Prime Minister of Canada.

  • A total of 70% of respondents correctly identified Germany as one of the Allied forces' opponents during WWI. However, only 12% named Austria, while 2% named the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1% identified Turkey and still 1% mentioned Hungary. In addition, 23% believed Canada was at war with Russia during WWI, while 10% said France, 6% Great Britain and 3% the United States.
  • A third of youth (35%) respondents knew that D Day signaled the invasion of France (Normandy) by the Allied forces in WWII. This level of knowledge was higher for both Alberta (44%) and British Columbia (42%), while it was lowest in the Atlantic provinces (27%) and Ontario and Manitoba (31%). In total, 11% of respondents believed that D Day stood for the "end of the war".
  • One-third of youth (33%) knew that Remembrance Day, falling on November 11, signaled the last day of WWI, while a strong majority (57%) of respondents thought that it was the last day of WWII. While most regions showed equal or better results, Quebec was an anomaly with only 20% of respondents answering correctly.
  • Finally, only 14% of youth identified Lester B. Pearson as the Canadian who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his efforts to resolve the Suez Crisis peacefully and who then went on to become Prime Minister. Many former prime ministers were believed to be the recipient of this award: 3% thought it was Mackenzie King, 13% said Pierre Elliott Trudeau, another 5% said John Diefenbaker, and former Prime Minister Mulroney and current Prime Minister Chrétien each received 1%.

Arts and Human Interests

When asked to identify the two Canadians from a list of six writers and artists, 68% correctly named Emily Carr and 27% named Robert Service. However, 30% believed Norman Rockwell was Canadian, another 20% believed Allen Ginsberg was Canadian, and 17% said the same about Tennessee Williams and another 17% again for Andy Warhol.

British Columbians (94%) were the most likely to identify Emily Carr, the painter, as Canadian, while only 31% of Quebec respondents knew about Ms. Carr. As for Robert Service, the poet was less recognized as a Canadian in Quebec (19%) and Ontario (26%), while most recognized in Western Canada (British Columbia with 38% and Alberta 33%).

Five other questions related to Canadian cultural history and were asked at the end of the survey. In total, 64% of youth correctly answered the "Depression" or "Great Depression" as the name given to the severe economic hardships of the thirties; 38% named Halifax as the city severely damaged by an explosion in its harbour in 1917; only 17% could name the "Coureurs des bois" or "voyageurs" as the early French fur traders in Canada; and while only 16% could name Marc Garneau as the first Canadian in space, only 11% of youth named either Banting or Collip or MacCloud as the Nobel Prize winners for the discovery of insulin.

  • A total of 73% of Atlantic Canadians remembered the 1917 explosion in Halifax, while only 24% of Quebec respondents answered the same.
  • The "Coureurs des Bois" or "voyageurs" did not get wider recognition in any specific region (including Quebec) versus the national average (17%) and were almost unknown in the Atlantic provinces (5%) and most often named in Manitoba and Saskatchewan (24% combined total).
  • A total of 16% of youth knew that Marc Garneau was the first Canadian in space, while 10% thought that it was Neil Armstrong. Another popular answer given was Roberta Bondar (4%). M. Garneau's recognition was highest in Quebec with 36% and 10% or less in all other provinces.

General Comments about the Quiz

At the end of the quiz, respondents were asked to say how they felt about the questions they had just gone through — respondents had up to two comments they could make. The most often heard comment was "I do not know as much as I should" or "I should know more" with 40% of total responses indicating such.

Final Comments

Mr. Rudyard Griffiths, Director of The Dominion Institute, said on the results of the survey, that the "Dominion Institute is offering among others, the following policy recommendations to broaden youth's understanding of Canada's past:

  • A National History Framework should be implemented by the Council of Ministers in Education. The Framework would set out a minimal list of people and events to be worked into provincial history curricula. This would help fulfil the CME's stated commitment to produce national education achievement indicators.
  • Mandatory History Classes in provinces with no history requirements (Alberta, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland). In every province, students should be required to take as many history courses as Math, Science or English to graduate from high school.
  • Two-Minute Silence on November 11 to promote national awareness of the sacrifices of Canadian war dead and veterans. The two-minute silence should take the form of a Parliamentary Proclamation modeled on commemorations successfully implemented in Britain and Israel."

For More Information, contact:

Rudyard Griffiths
The Dominion Institute
(416) 368-9627

John Wright
Senior Vice President
Public Affairs
Angus Reid Group
(416) 324-2900

The Canada Day Youth History Survey

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