Converting a Country

Early on in my school years Canada changed its weights and measures system from Imperial to Metric. Overnight quarts became litres, yards became meters and pounds became kilos. There was chaos in my household, my father ranting about government intervention in his life and my mother trying to figure out how many litres of water to boil to make macaroni.


Out on the streets you could see the changes as well. Gasoline price signs had changed from a whopping 68 cents to only 19c!! I didn’t drive then but I knew that like golf scores, lower gas numbers were good. Even my father seemed happy about this one government intervention until he had to pay and damn if it didn’t cost him more to fill up than it had when the price on the sign was 68c… so much for happy dad. Things didn’t improve for my father when they started to change the speed and distance signs on the road. Sure the speed limits appeared to increase but so too did the distance between towns.  As a 10 year-old I had no idea how the metric system had made Ottawa move farther away from Toronto, but the sign we had passed many times before on the highway said it had.


I was for the most part unaffected by the changes happening around me. Since grade five our math classes had included something called conversion. It taught us how to take one unit of measure and convert it to another, grams to ounces or pounds, kilometers and meters to miles and feet, and the reverse. I think they taught us this so we could aid our parents and hopefully avoid violent outbursts by a confused adult population. “No dad, that sign is 100 KILOMETERS per hour… that’s only 60 miles per hour… you need to slow down…  they haven’t installed seatbelts in cars yet!!!”


Things weren’t much better for mom when she would go grocery shopping. Posted prices in stores had gone up, not down like at the gas pumps. Now my mother had to ask for grams of meat instead of pounds and the prices posted for even ‘regular’ ground beef were more than double. Package sizes changed to reflect the new weight system, so my mother constantly had to decide if the new package amount (grams) would be enough for her old recipe (ounces). My mother always left the grocery store with a headache.


Converting our country from the Imperial system to the Metric system was a massive undertaking. It took years to totally implement and caused plenty of backlash from consumers in the marketplace.  The government of the time weathered that storm and just when the roar of displeasure was quieting down the implemented the ‘official languages act’ which recognized French as one of the two official languages of Canada. Now all labeling on packages were required to in two languages, French and English.


My father ranted on about this move until the day he died. He took tax increases better than bilingualism! My mother, who worked for the federal government, had to take night courses to learn French so she could keep her job. Once again the country was thrown into chaos and once again there was backlash for the government, but after a short stint in power by the opposition, they were forgiven and put back in charge of the country. The masterminds of all this change was the Liberal Party of Canada, led by Pierre Trudeau. That’s right, the father of our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


Pierre Trudeau’s legacy lives on through the children of our country. They have no idea what a quart is and that there are four of them in a gallon. They all recognize the French language as part of our culture and even if they are not bilingual they know when they’re reading French cooking instructions on the side of the frozen pizza box. The Trudeau government of the 70’s was responsible for some of the most wide-spread changes in this country and even though they may not have intended it, also managed to separate Canada from the United States in the eyes of the world. The difference in official language and the measurement systems distinguish us canucks from the yanks and let’s be honest, who wants to be tied to that ship right about now.


Our geographical proximity will never allow us to be completely separate from the Americans, they are a major trading partner and the monetary investment by both countries in each other runs deep. But thanks to Trudeau 1.0 we are a distinct nation, one defined by more than a border. Now we have Trudeau 2.0 and even though nothing major has happened in this country yet there is change on the horizon. By this time next year, marijuana use for recreational purposes will become legal in Canada and a whole new chapter in this country will begin. Will there be chaos? Well when there’s a Trudeau involved there usually is.








1 Comment

  1. Good for you! Finely written and a superb analysis. When King 1.0 died, the majesty of what he represented for Canada died too. Now we have Prince 2.0 in power and change is once again on the horizon. I think I see a little bit of smoke too.

    Well done.

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