Failing grade on Canadian history quiz — but most do want to learn more

The annual Canada Day quiz by the Domnion Institute and TD Bank Financial Group revealled that the average Canadian could only correctly answer eight of 20 questions on the economic history of the nation — the highest failure rate in the seven-year history of the quiz.

The quiz, conducted in the form of a telephone survey of 1,000 randomly-

selected Canadians, was by the Innovative Research Group.

While the survey finds that Canadians’ knowledge of their history is poor, respondents overwhelmingly agree that knowing our nation’s history, especially key economic events, is important, and they want to learn more.

British Columbia and Ontario residents at 40 per cent scored best, while at 33 per cent Quebec residents performed the most poorly. 

No region answered more than nine  questions correctly on average, and Canadians generally did much worse on history not of their region.

Significantly, only one of the 1,000 persons who took the quiz correctly answered all 20 questions — an individual from British Columbia.

Almost all Canadians (94 per cent) agreed that it is at least somewhat important for their fellow citizens to know their country’s history, and more than eight in 10 indicated that they are personally interested in learning more about Canadian history.

 However, 11 per cent of Canadians believe that, while it is generally important to know the country’s history, they themselves are not interested in learning more.

 “The standard rationale for studying history is to avoid repeating the errors of the past,” said Don Drummond, senior vice-president and chief economist at TD Bank Financial Group. “In fact, there’s much more to it than that. 

“For the economy, in particular, knowing more about how it has responded to various circumstances in the past — good and bad — enables us to make better policy choices for the future.”

“If there is a silver lining, it is that Canadians indicated that they have a keen interest in learning more about key economic events in our history,” said Rudyard Griffths, director of the Dominion Institute

The Dominion Institute is a national charity dedicated to the promotion of Canadian history and shared citizenship. TD Bank economists helped draft the quiz questions and helped fund the 


Only three Canadians in 100 answered 15 or more questions correctly. Thirty-two per cent answered between 10 and 14 questions correctly, while most Canadians (46 per cent) answered between one-quarter and one-half of all the questions correctly. One in five Canadians knew the answers to four questions or less. 

• Canadians scored highest (78 per cent) in identifying the Second World War as the major world event that brought more than one-million Canadian women into the workforce. 

• Three out of four Canadians (74 per cent) knew that Eaton’s was the Canadian company that launched a catalogue business based on its founder’s hope that, “This catalogue is destined to go wherever the maple leaf grows.” 

• Two-thirds of Canadians (67 per cent) also knew that the Hudson’s Bay Company got its start from the fur 


• Six of ten Canadians (64 per cent) could identify NAFTA as the trade agreement signed in 1994 between Canada, the United States and Mexico. 

• Four out of 10 (41 per cent) knew that the TD Bank is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

• More than half (54 per cent) could identify the Canadian Pacific Railway as the engineering feat that was completed in 1885 with the hammering of the Last Spike. 

• The same percentage knew that Joseph Armand Bombardier created the first commercially viable snowmobile.

• Only one Canadian in 20 could name the Pacific Scandal as the event that brought down the government of John A. MacDonald in 1873. 

• Canadians also struggled to identify the National Energy Program as the “major Canadian economic policy of Pierre Trudeau’s government (that) sparked the creation of a bumper sticker proclaiming, “Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark!” Just eight per cent could name this program. 

• Just one Canadian in 10 knew that Wilfrid Laurier’s support for reciprocity, or free trade with the United States, cost the Liberals the 1911 federal election. 

• Only one Canadian in five could identify pemmican as the combination of dried meat and berries the Metis people produced to feed the fur traders. 

• A similar number (21 per cent) were able to identify Caisse Populaire Desjardins as the co-operative financial institution that got its start in Levis, Quebec in 1900.

Middle-aged Canadians (45-64) performed best on the test. Their average score of 8.7 correct answers out of 20 is statistically higher than the average of Canadians aged 65 and older (eight per cent), Canadians aged 35-44 (7.4 ) and Canadians aged 18-34 (7.5 correct).

University graduates achieved the highest average score at 9.5, while respondents with a high school education or less performed the most poorly, scoring an average of 6.9 correct answers. Results also differed by gender, with men scoring 8.7 on average, and women 7.3. This difference is stable even after adjusting for differences in education and age.

When asked, “How important do you think it is for Canadians to know the history of their country?” 23 per cent of respondents say it is extremely important, 44 per cent believe it is very important, and 26 per cent state it is somewhat important. Only four per cent say it is not very important, while only one Canadian in 100 says it is not important at all.

When asked, “How interested are you in learning more about the history of Canada?” 84 per cent of Canadians responded in the afffirmative. Among this group, curiosity varies by topic. The 

subject that rated the highest (79 per cent) was key economic events. And, while early European settlement attracted the least interest, 67 per cent of Canadians still expressed a desire to learn more about this subject. Canadians also showed an interest in learning more about aboriginal history (75 per cent), political history (70 per cent), and our participation in major conflicts (68 per cent).

Interest in learning more does not vary by age. Men and women are equally interested in expanding their knowledge of Canadian history — whether general or specific — though men have a keener interest in learning more about Canada’s participation in major military conflicts.

Despite this generally widespread desire to learn more, Canadians who expressed the greatest interest in becoming better informed about their country’s history are also those who already seem to know the most. Among those who answered half or more of the questions in the quiz correctly, 58 per cent were very or extremely interested in learning more about Canadian history. Only 40 per cent of those who correctly answered less than half of the questions were equally interested.

Furthermore, a small group of Canadians is not interested in learning more about Canadian history, despite saying that it is important. Eleven per cent of Canadians said that it is somewhat, very  or extremely important to know our country’s history, but are not very interested or not at all interested themselves in learning about it. This group consists mainly of people who were unable to answer most of the questions in the survey. 

More than one in 10 (14 per cent) of the respondents who performed most poorly (zero to four correct responses) said that it was important to know Canadian history, but that they were not interested in learning more. Thirteen per cent of those who correctly answered five to nine  questions held the same position. 

Not only do many Canadians have a limited knowledge of their country’s history, but, more alarmingly, those who need to learn it the most are the least inclined to do so.