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Why we were still resisting metric measurement in 1983

Canada began the process of adapting to the metric system in 1973. Ten years later, only 28 per cent of Canadians said they found converting from Imperial "not at all difficult."

Poll revealed a reluctance to abandon buying gas by the gallon

Since being introduced in 1973, the metric system remains challenging for many Canadians. 2:03

Canada began the process of adapting to the metric system in the early 1970s.   

But by 1983, only 28 per cent of Canadians said they found converting from Imperial "not at all difficult."

That figure was identical to the proportion that said it was what they expected from metric conversion when polled in 1973.

"You'd think that after 10 years, we'd all be finding it just a bit easier," said Knowlton Nash, introducing a story about the poll on The National on Nov. 7, 1983.

Not so

A gas pump sign lets buyers know their gas will be dispensed in litres. (The National/CBC Archives)

For a decade Canadians had been told to weigh their meat in kilograms, gas up in litres, and talk about the weather in Celsius.

"But the poll shows most Canadians are having trouble making the adjustment," said reporter Alison Smith.

Before metric's official introduction, 31 per cent of us expected conversion to be tough. 

But once they were buying carpet by the metre, for example, 39 per cent of respondents found converting was indeed "very difficult." 

 In the "somewhat difficult" category, nothing had improved: 33 per cent of those polled had that expectation in 1973, and exactly that many found it that way in 1983.

Was it easier on kids?

A classroom gets a hands-on lesson in metric measurement. (The National/CBC Archives)

"Learning to measure in metric at school doesn't necessarily mean conversion is easy," said Smith.

Even a majority of the 18-29 age group, 62 per cent, admitted conversion was "a little difficult." 

A man Smith described as an "anti-metric crusader" said he took the results as proof that adopting the system had been a mistake.

"They don't like they way it was forced on them," said Jack Halpert, who was pumping gas at a station that displayed the price in gallons. "They've decided, 'I want to stick to the old measure.'"

But the government was resolved to complete the transition to metric, said Smith. 

"We see metric all around us, but we still see Imperial," said David Beckman of the country's metric commission. "We're really at the height of a transition phase."

Maybe not — 36 years later, Canadians still buy beer in pints and measure river levels in inches.