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Summerland Review

Inching towards full metric conversion

When it comes to adopting the Metric system, Canada hasn’t measured up.

We began the switch in the mid-1970s, but we still haven’t fully made the transition. Sometimes, we use Metric, sometimes we use the Imperial system and sometimes we use both.

It’s a wonder we don’t all need slide rules, pocket calculators or conversion charts just to get through the day.

Temperatures are given in Celsius but a lot of home thermostats are in Fahrenheit. In summer, when the air conditioner is running, it could be a sweltering 38º day outside and a cool 72º in the house.

Highway signs are in kilometres, fuel is sold by the litre but a vehicle’s fuel economy is often listed in miles per gallon. (Because the old Imperial gallon is larger than the U.S. gallon, this figure can be confusing.)

If you want directions to the building supply store, you may be told how many kilometres to travel, but inside the store, lumber, plywood and other supplies are sold in inches, feet and pounds.

Most of us can list our height in feet and inches and our weight in pounds, but I’d hazard a guess that few of us know our height in centimetres or our weight in kilograms. Clothing is sized in inches, not centimetres.

At the grocery store, meat at the deli is priced by 100 grams while vegetables in the produce section are priced per pound and per kilogram. Around here, the prices per pound are often larger and more dominant than the prices per kilogram. A package of margarine may be 0.907 grams (which is the same as two pounds) or a jug of orange juice could be 3.785 litres (or one U.S. gallon.)

Cookbooks printed in Canada continue to list measurements by the cup, teaspoon, tablespoon or fluid ounce.

All this would be understandable if we were in the early stages of Metric conversion, but it’s been more than 30 years. Many of the changes came in the 1970s.

Metric has been around since before 1800 and since the second half of the 20th century, its use has become widespread. Today, only the United States, Libya and Myanmar have not officially switched.

So why are we so slow in converting?

Once in place, Metric is far easier to use than Imperial measurements. Everything is based on a decimal system. There are 1,000 millimetres in a metre and 1,000 metres in a kilometre. There are 1,000 millilitres in a litre, 1,000 grams in a kilogram and 100 degrees between the freezing point of water and the boiling point of water. The Imperial system had 12 inches in a foot, 5,280 feet in a mile, 16 ounces in a pound, 2,000 pounds in a ton and 180 degrees between the freezing point of water (at 32 Fahrenheit) and the boiling point of water (at 212 Fahrenheit.)

But the transition in Canada has been painfully slow. It’s an example of what can happen when a conversion project runs out of steam.

What’s the point of discussing Metric conversion so many years after the fact?

Put simply, we in Summerland are facing something similar. Instead of deciding what to do about the Metric system, we are now considering the future of our Old English theme — a theme which, after more than 20 years, has not been fully embraced.

If we abandon it now, will the result be as disjointed as our system of inches, kilometres, pounds, grams, gallons and litres?

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