Archives

When Nova Scotia decided to go with both metric and Imperial

By 1983, Canada had driven well down the road toward metric conversion, but Nova Scotia tried to give its motorists the option of taking a slight detour.

Premier John Buchanan announced plan to put both measurements on some road signs in 1983

Metric? Imperial? Why not both?

38 years ago
1:36
In 1983, the Nova Scotia government had put up some signs with both metric and Imperial measurements. 1:36

By 1983, Canada had driven well down the road toward metric conversion, but one Maritime province tried to give its motorists the option of taking a slight detour.

Nova Scotia Premier John Buchanan announced that November that his province would put up a small number of road signs near provincial border crossings that listed distances in both miles and kilometres.

"What I'm doing is giving people the right that they should have in this country, the right that I believe they have under the law to have that option of either miles or kilometres," Buchanan said, explaining the rationale for slapping Imperial distances alongside metric measurements.

The premier said he believed most people opposed using metric measurements.

There was certainly an ongoing struggle with the shift to metric, as that same year polling found that more than two-thirds of Canadians had some difficulty using the metric system.

'What's wrong with having both?'

This driver said he approved of seeing Nova Scotia put up signs with both metric and Imperial measurements. "Now you know where you're going," he said. (The National/CBC Archives)

"What's wrong with having both systems?" Buchanan said.

The move seemed popular with drivers that the CBC's Michael Vaughan spoke to about the issue, when he reported on the new signs on The National on Nov. 22, 1983.

"Now you know where you're going," said one driver, referring to the Imperial listings on the new signs.

"It's easier as far as I'm concerned," the man added.

Winning political points with voters

Nova Scotia Premier John Buchanan felt there was no downside to listing both metric and Imperial measurements on some provincial highway signs. (The National/CBC Archives)

Vaughan ended his report by reminding viewers of the limited scale of the premier's experiment with a dual system.

"There's only four signs like this total, so far — John Buchanan's gesture of defiance," said Vaughan, winding up for a measurement-related political pun.

"Now he knows he can't take his province out of the metric system, but he has decided that down the road of politics, there are still more votes per mile than per kilometre."

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now