While half of Canadians know their country contributed to eradicating polio, most don’t know the face on their $10 bill

June 26, 2020

While half of Canadians know their country contributed to eradicating polio, most don’t know the face on their $10 bill

TORONTO – June 26, 2020 – True or false: Canadian psychiatrist Brock Chisholm was the first director-general of the World Health Organization. He also came up with the name for the organization and defined ‘health’ for WHO’s constitution.


If you said true, you’re right – and part of the 18% of Canadians who can correctly answer that question. With Canada Day approaching, a new Historica Canada poll conducted by Ipsos presented Canadians with 24 questions about Canadian facts and figures. Sixteen per cent of surveyed respondents received a passing grade of at least 13 questions correct.


Questions fell into 3 categories: notable figures, innovations, and medicine and health. Forty-nine per cent of respondents knew that Canadian contributions were key to the development of the polio vaccine in the 1950s (the most correctly answered question on the quiz).  Twenty-five per cent knew modern crime scene investigation methods (forensic pathology) first appeared on the Canadian Prairie.


Many Canadians were fooled by the false statements included. Only 9% correctly identified that David Suzuki never hosted a children’s show titled “Dr. Dave’s Junior Science Club,” and only 16% of Canadians recognized that a statement identifying Bachman-Turner Overdrive as the originator of Electronica was incorrect.


When provided with a list of notable figures, the most widely-known figure was Olympian and mental health advocate Clara Hughes, with 35% indicating familiarity.


“We wanted to draw attention to Canadians who have fought against racism, contributed to medicine and health and made a lasting mark on Canada and the world.” said Anthony Wilson-Smith, President and CEO of Historica Canada. “Those are areas where there isn’t great awareness of Canadian achievements. Only four per cent of respondents, for example, know that Mary Two-Axe Earley achieved constitutional change for women marginalized by the Indian Act. We don’t expect Canadians to know all of these stories –but we hope they take time to learn them.”


Other findings include:

  • Canadians registered low familiarity with figures of Indigenous or racialized backgrounds. Only 6% indicated recognition of renowned filmmaker and activist Alanis Obomsawin, a member of the Abenaki Nation, while only 5% were familiar with Baltej Dhillon, the first RCMP officer to wear a turban.
  • Canadians are more familiar with facts about their own generations.
    • Young adults are  more likely than older counterparts to correctly identify that 15-year-old Autumn Peltier was named "chief water commissioner" by the Anishinabek Nation in 2019 (34% Gen Z vs. 18% Boomer).
    • Boomers are more likely to correctly identify that Chief Dan George was the first Indigenous actor nominated for an Academy Award and an outspoken advocate for Indigenous rights in the 1960s and 70s (53% Boomers vs. 23% Gen Z).
    • Recognition of famous figures varied by generation.
      • Gen Z was more likely to recognize minority ethnic figures including businessman and philanthropist Denham Jolly (16% Gen Z vs. 6% Gen X, 4% Boomers).
      • Boomers demonstrated stronger familiarity with public figures like former general and senator Roméo Dallaire (37% Boomers vs. 27% Gen X, 17% Gen Z).
      • Canadians recognize their homegrown heroes.
        • Atlantic Canada showed stronger familiarity with New Brunswick sports star Willie O’Ree (36% ATL vs. 21% AB, 15% BC, 14% ON, 13% QC, 11% SK/MB).
        • Quebecers were more likely to identify Montreal-raised Dallaire (41% QC vs. 23% ON, 21% AB, 18% BC, 15% SK/MB).


Full survey results available here.

Historica Canada offers programs you can use to explore, learn, and reflect on our history and what it means to be Canadian.  

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between June 12-15, 2020, on behalf of Historica Canada. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18 years and over was interviewed. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ±3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.