Viola Desmond has appeared on newly printed $10 bills for nearly two years, but only 29 per cent of Canadians are familiar with the civil rights crusader and how she challenged racial segregation in the 1940s.
Ahead of Canada Day – in a year that has quickly become one of reckoning for systemic racism – Historica Canada has released quiz results shedding light on just how little Canadians know about Indigenous, Black and other Canadians of colour who helped transform this country for the better.
Only 16 per cent of the 1,000 adult respondents surveyed were able to pass the quiz, which included 24 questions on a variety of topics from notable figured to innovations and health.
Forty-nine per cent of respondents knew that Canadian contributions were key to the development of the polio vaccine in the 1950s, while 35 per cent recognized Clara Hughes – a decorated Olympian who has championed mental health awareness.
But when it came to marginalized people, few knew who they were or their achievements, the poll results show.
Only six per cent of those surveyed recognized Indigenous filmmaker and activist Alanis Obomsawin. Five per cent were familiar with Baltej Dhillon, the first RCMP officer to wear a turban, although recognition increased to 12 per cent among British Columbian respondents.
Sixteen per cent recognized Willie O’Ree, the first Black NHL player born in 1935 in Fredericton, N.B.
Canada’s youngest adults were more likely than their older counterparts to correctly identify that 15-year-old Autumn Peltier was named “chief water commissioner” by the Anishinabek Nation in 2019, while Boomers were more likely to know that Chief Dan George was the first Indigenous actor to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Anthony Wilson-Smith, president and CEO of Historica Canada, said the intent of the poll was to draw attention to Canadians “who made a lasting mark on Canada and the world” by fighting against racism and contributing to medicine and health.
“Those are areas where there isn’t great awareness of Canadian achievements,” Wilson-Smith said in a statement.
“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.”
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