POLITICS

John A. Macdonald Who? One In Four Canadians Clueless About First Prime Minister

01/10/2015 08:49 EST | Updated 01/12/2015 03:59 EST
Harold M. Daly/Library and Archives Canada

A surprising number of Canadians are clueless when it comes to being able to name the country’s founding father, a recent Ipsos Reid poll suggests.

Commissioned by Historica Canada, the poll found 26 per cent of respondents could not correctly answer that Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada's first prime minister.

Twenty-eight per cent were also at a loss over the year of Confederation. And only 56 per cent of those polled knew 2017 is the year Canada marks its 150th birthday.

They’re slips on “basic” facts that suggest Canadians are due for history refreshers, according to Ipsos Reid vice president Sean Simpson.

“The results of the poll aren’t so much surprising as disheartening,” he told The Huffington Post Canada. “The fact that roughly one quarter of Canadians don’t know the year of Confederation, or the first prime minister’s name, suggests we’re dropping the ball somewhere.”

“These are pretty soft-ball questions that Canadians – new or old – should know,” Simpson said, adding some schools may not be pulling their weight compared to American history curriculums.

One person who most certainly hasn’t forgotten the Scottish immigrant’s role in Canada’s founding is Stephen Harper. The prime minister reflected on Macdonald's reputation in a piece posted by Postmedia on Friday, praising the first PM as “someone of great vision and foresight.” This Sunday marks Macdonald's 200th birthday.

In Harper’s 1,385-word defence, he made zero reference to Macdonald’s character as a loose-lipped, heavy drinker who had the proclivity to make racist remarks – which made for strained aboriginal relations.

But narrowing on those dark spots in the famed Father of Confederation’s life are vacuous attempts to defame a man who died 124 years ago, says author and columnist Richard Gwyn.

Still, despite the rousing debate over a dead man’s legacy, Canadians still voted Macdonald to be No. 8 on a ranking of the country’s greatest heroes. It’s quite the change from poll results 14 years ago.

In 2001, when Canadians were asked to identify Macdonald as the country’s first prime minister – a whopping 49 per cent failed to do so.

That number improved slightly in 2008 when 42 per cent of Canadians weren’t able to successfully name him.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story stated 49 per cent of those polled in 2008 could not identify Canada's first prime minister. The year was actually 2001. This version has been updated to reflect that change.