CBC Digital Archives

1982: Canadians rebel against metric system

Depending on your perspective, it was either a sensible scientific shift, an annoying unnecessary change or a sinister communist plot. Canada's decision to go metric in 1970 definitely sparked some passionate debates. It even drove some Canadians to civil disobedience. CBC Archives explores the history of Canada's gradual and sometimes shaky transition to the metric system — a transition that, to this day, has yet to be fully completed.

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Throughout the 1970s, the move to metric had some opposition -- but that was nothing compared to the full-scale metric rebellion hitting the country by 1982. In this in-depth report, journalist Linden MacIntyre looks at the anger that metric is provoking across the country. At a public meeting in Thornhill, Ont., upset citizens blame Prime Minister Trudeau for shoving metric down their throats. "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore," says one woman.

The Toronto Sun is on the anti-metric bandwagon too. It recently ran a column calling metric "a Liberal plot to disorient people," and the paper has compiled a petition of approximately 60,000 readers who agree. In this clip, MacIntyre also interviews small grocers, small business owners and farmers who aren't happy about compulsory metrication. As 86-year-old Ontario cheese-maker Talmadge Stone explains, "I'm ready for a fight. Incarceration if necessary."
• According to several CBC news reports from 1982, public anger about metric really started to gain steam in the early 1980s because it was beginning to affect people's everyday lives more. Road signs were all in metric now,and groceries were beginning to be sold in metric.

• One of the most evident anger-provoking changes was the metrication of weigh scales in grocery stores. Because consumers were confused about how much they were buying and how much it would cost, they were afraid of getting ripped off by grocers. Meanwhile, small grocers opposed the costs involved with switching over all their equipment, and thought it was a hassle to constantly try to explain conversions to customers.

• Highly publicized metric mishaps such as the "Gimli Glider" incident may have also added fuel to the fire. In 1983, an Air Canada Boeing 767 plane ran out of fuel and had to glide into an emergency landing in Gimli, Man. The fuel problem had been the result of metric confusion -- the ground crew miscalculated the metric conversion of jet fuel, and as a result the plane had only half the amount of fuel it was supposed to. (See the clip "'Gimli Glider' lands without fuel".)

• Although the anti-metric stance dominated media reports in the early '80s, there were still many average Canadians who supported the move to metric. In an April 1981 letter to the editor in the Toronto Star, one reader wrote: "All Canadians will benefit from the simplicity of the metric system. Only present-day consumers have to cope with the inconvenience. Younger and future generations will grow up with the system, and our determination to switch can be a contribution to them and to Canada."
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: March 16, 1982
Guest(s): Ron Biggs, Thorold Duprey, Neil Fraser, John Gamble, Talmadge Stone, Peter Worthington
Host: Mary Lou Finlay, Barbara Frum
Reporter: Linden MacIntyre
Duration: 9:53

Last updated: January 25, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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