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Fewer than half of young Canadians can name the country's first prime minister and only one in four know the date of Confederation, according to a study to be released today.

Despite efforts to educate young people about Canadian history, the Dominion Institute report found that little has changed since 1997, the last time the survey was conducted - prompting the organization to call on provinces to organize a national citizenship exam that would be a requirement for high-school graduation.

"We've not done as much as we might have hoped in terms of turning around Canadians' generally poor knowledge of their country's history," said Rudyard Griffiths, co-founder of the institute.

"Politicians have to go beyond the obligatory speeches each Canada Day and Remembrance Day and actually put some of the machinery of government behind this problem and treat it just like any other challenge that we face as a country."

The national survey of 18- to 24-year-olds shows that only 46 per cent of respondents knew Sir John A. Macdonald was the first prime minister, down eight percentage points from a decade ago. And 38 per cent knew that Newfoundland was the last province to join Confederation, compared with 51 per cent in 1997.

But knowledge of military history appears to have increased: 37 per cent knew that Nov. 11 marks the end of the First World War, compared with 33 per cent who knew this fact 10 years ago.

In the study, 1,004 young people were asked 30 basic questions about Canada's past.

The respondents were also asked whether they support the recommendation that students should be required to take the citizenship exam given to newcomers. Seven in 10 agreed.

Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Quebec require high-school students to take a dedicated Canadian history course to graduate. The vast majority of respondents believe this should be mandatory in every province.

Mr. Griffiths said he has seen a decline in the amount of Canadian history being taught in schools. Ottawa lacks the tools and the will to take on this issue, he said, because it fears stepping on provincial toes.

"Both the major levels of government in our country, provincial and federal, have done little of any substance to tackle this issue in the last 10 years," he said.

But Ken Osborne, professor emeritus of education at the University of Manitoba, who taught high-school history in the 1960s and 1970s, said schools have started to seep Canadian history into parts of the curriculum. Graduates, however, tend to forget some of what they learn.

"Whatever the schools do or don't do, there's very little in everyday Canadian life that refers to or resonates with Canada's history," Prof. Osborne said. "You've only got to be in the United States for a day and a half to find all kinds of historical references leaping out at you."

While the survey results give pause, Prof. Osborne said it doesn't mean young Canadians are bad citizens or even that national unity is under threat. Americans, for example, know the Civil War took place, but many can't even place it in the right century, he said.

"It's gloom, but it's not doom."

The past dims

A study explores how many young Canadian adults, age 18 to 24 can pass a 30-question exam on this country's history identical to one given to the same age group 10 years ago.


(16 or more questions out of 30 answered correctly)

B.C. 15%
Alta. 22%
Man./Sask. 29%
Ontario 21%
Quebec 9%
Atlantic 13%
Male 24%
Female 12%


(16 or more questions out of 30 answered correctly)

2007: 18%

1997: 19%


Knew the year of Confederation

2007: 26%

1997: 36%

Knew the name of Canada's first Prime Minister

2007: 46%

1997: 54%


Knew that the Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought in the First World War

2007: 37%

1997: 31%

Knew that Nov. 11 marked the end of the First World War

2007: 37%

1997: 33%