Metric or Imperial

Confusion ensued upon arrival in British Columbia from Alaska. Liz and I were traveling up the Skeena River when it began. It was the weekend and all the locals were out in campers and trucks scattered along the river. Fishing rods were set into gravel banks, tips bent from the weight of the lures. Folding chairs were placed together under shade with coolers of refreshments. Of course, I had to know what was going on. So I asked.

“Springs” was the reply.

“You mean King Salmon?” I responded.

“What’s that?” He said.

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We both looked at each other scratching our heads. The fellow called over his father which lead to more discussion at which point we both concluded that Springs are Chinook and Chinook are Kings. We kept talking for a bit and I asked what size was average for the area. “Oh, 15 to 20” was the reply. I converted that number from kilograms to pounds in my head. 35 to 45 pounds or so. That’s a really nice size Spring.

We continued to talk and at some point it dawned on me that he was telling me the weight in pounds not kilograms. Huh.

Further up the road we were drawn off the road again by a sign for Cherries. It was a private residence with a few trees out front. They were loaded with beautiful fruit. An older gentleman in a step ladder waved us under the cover of the trees. A pile of green grass was smoldering under the trees to create smoke. “It keeps the bears away” he said. “You should see em. They are good Canadian bears. They all queue up in line to eat my fruit.” We laughed and listened to a few more of his stories as he handed us fruit straight from the tree.  They were his “girls” each with a different personality. We agreed to buy some cherries for $5 a pound. Wait. What?

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I confronted him about this. Why per pound and not per kilogram? “Oh, I’ll never learn that. I learned pounds and gallons as a kid and that’s how it will stay til the day I die.” We thanked him for the fresh cherries and listened to a few more stories before saying good bye.

I’m struggling with this now. I thought Canada used the metric system. Canada used the imperial system until the 1970s. At that time the country underwent metrication, however, several items impeeded their progress.  I learned about a few of these on a train from Smithers to Prince George.

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While on the train we got to know the conductor quite well because of some severe delays. While stuck on a siding we started talking about distances between stations and the conductor responded in miles. Apparently all the markers on the railroad are in miles while all the markers on the road are in kilometers. The story goes, as told by the conductor, that during metrication a new passenger aircraft was delivered to Canada with metric gauges. The pilot who received the new plane made a mistake when loading the plane with fuel and took off with too little fuel, running out while at altitude.  Luckily, he was able to glide down safely and everyone walked off the plane alive. This came to be known as the Gimli Glidder.

Railroads had filed a lawsuit around the same time. The lawsuit essentially said the engineers on the trains needed their markers in miles as that is how they knew where the dangers were. In the end, they were allowed to keep the mile markers as the railroad was not a public system and only the engineers used the markers. Canadian railroads still use miles. Old timers still use the imperial system. Children are learning metric in school and think a yard is where you play, not a means of measure.

All photos by Elizabeth Ellis.

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5 thoughts on “Metric or Imperial

    • I wouldn’t be so quick to say that. Canada and the USA had similar programs to go metric during the 70s. It’s one reason the Canadians went forward with the process. The USA defunded is metrication program in the 80s and left Canada on its own. A Canadian will be quick to point their finger at the USA for many issues they have had with conversion.

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