Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach are vaguely familiar, but it is Kandahar that really rings a bell, especially among younger Canadians.
As Remembrance Day approaches, a new poll from The Historica-Dominion Institute suggests Canadians know the most about the war in Afghanistan, with young people leading the way.
The Ipsos Reid survey, provided exclusively to The Canadian Press, tested Canadians on their knowledge of the country's involvement in Afghanistan and the two world wars.
While ongoing war in Afghanistan received the most correct responses (an average score of 69 per cent), young adults aged 18 to 34 were the most knowledgeable on country's latest combat role.
“I think there's good and bad in this. I do think it's unfortunate that young people do not know enough about our military past. But it is encouraging that at least they seem to be following Afghanistan,” said Andrew Cohen, president of institute that seeks to promote Canadian history, identity and citizenship.
When questioned on the Afghan mission, young people scored an average of 72 per cent, compared to 69 per cent among middle-aged Canucks and 66 per cent among those over the age of 55.
The ability of the younger generation to thrive in the age of the iPad, Twitter and constantly updated RSS feeds might have something to do those figures.
“Maybe young people are more tuned in to current events,” said Mr. Cohen. “Maybe because they're more connected.”
The currency of the Afghan mission could also explain why 83 per cent of those surveyed knew that in 2005 Canadian Forces undertook a renewed combat mission in Kandahar, but just 62 per cent correctly identified Juno Beach as the code name of the beach that Canadian soldiers took on D-Day, the Allied invasion of France.
When it came to the older conflicts, the younger generation in particular seemed to falter.
Young Canadians scored the lowest on questions about the First World War — an average of 59 per cent, compared to 72 per cent racked up by older Canucks.
A similar trend appeared with questions on the Second World War. Older Canadians scored 71 per cent while young adults scored 57 per cent.
“It makes sense to me,” said Mr. Cohen. “There is more awareness of Canada's military past than there was, but by and large we live in a country in which Canadian history is not taught.”
He added that Canadians over 55 were likely to know more about the two world wars because the conflicts were more of a reality.
“If you're of a certain age, you're more likely to have grown up with a knowledge of it, because you would have been closer to it.”
The data collected also revealed an interesting gender gap. When it came to the older wars, men scored higher than women. That difference was almost negligible when it came to the current mission in Afghanistan.
The involvement of both sexes in the discussion of Canada's combat role overseas, as well as the rising numbers of female soldiers might have something to do with it, said Mr. Cohen.
“Maybe we've come to a place in society in which the role of women in the military is fully acknowledged and they're fully engaged.”
The online poll, conducted between November 1 to 5, surveyed 1,015 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
It also found more Canadians planned to attend an official Remembrance Day ceremony than in the past two years, but most of the attendees were expected to be older Canadians.
That isn't surprising said David MacKenzie, a history professor at Ryerson University.
“As you get older you might have more reflection on what it means, what they were fighting for,” he said, adding that younger people might find it harder to get time off during a working day to attend an official ceremony.
With the attendance at Remembrance Day ceremonies seemingly rising — 22 per cent of respondents plan to attend this year, compared to 16 per cent two years ago — Mr. MacKenzie said the day and what it represents is gaining traction.
“There is a public sense that this is something we need to respect and honour and the more we do that, the more people are going to show up.”
Mr. MacKenzie added that Remembrance Day should be less an examination of Canadian historical knowledge and more an issue of public sensibility.
“It doesn't concern me a lot that people don't know the names of battles,” he said. “It's about remembering something, and paying a public honour, or service to people who sacrificed their lives.”
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