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Canadians and our measuring systems

I’ve noticed Canadians often like to chastise Americans for not adopting the metric system of measurement. It’s a common joke made on TV shows, movies and comedy routines, and I’ve also seen it happen plenty of times in real-life interactions between citizens of the two countries.

But I’ve also noticed that, although Canada officially adopted the metric system in the early 1970s, most Canadians only use it intermittently.

While Canadians are pretty good at deciphering litres, kilometres and degrees Celsius, for other units, we still tend to resort to using the imperial system. For a bit of fun, I recently started referring to my height and weight in metres and kilograms. Most people stared at me blankly when I did so, because they – like nearly every Canadian – still use feet and pounds in this regard.

I saw a funny post on Facebook that poked fun at the way Canadians switch back and forth between measuring systems. The post showed a flowchart demonstrating which units Canadians use for various measurements. For example, we tend to use degrees Celsius when talking about the weather, but we use degrees Fahrenheit when cooking something in the oven, or for measuring the temperature of pools and hot tubs.

In the comments under that post, someone suggested that only in Canada would the sentence, “A six-foot-tall, 180-pound man walked one kilometre to buy a litre of milk and a cup of sugar,” be so easily accepted.

My parents tend to use non-metric units more often. I suppose that makes sense, given those were the systems taught to them when they were kids. My mom seems much more familiar with miles and yards than she is with kilometres and metres, and whenever she gives me a cooking recipe, the measurements are in ounces and cups rather than grams and milliliters. It means I sometimes have to do some mental calculations to determine what the metric measurements would be, because that’s the system I learned in school and am more comfortable with.

And it’s curious that Canadian football, which prides itself on its differences from the American game, uses yards. I’ve always thought it would be neat if the CFL did away with that and started painting its field lines by the metre, instead.

One thing I noticed when I was living in Germany was that no one used the imperial system for anything, including for height and weight. It was all metric, all the time. At some point, I hope Canadians fully accept the metric system like Europe seems to have done – it’s much more logical and easy to teach.


Scott Strasser

About the Author: Scott Strasser

Scott Strasser, sports/RCMP reporter
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