When people think of Canada, they picture a vast natural landscape populated by a few lumberjacks and fishermen living in wooden huts. Maybe they picture a beer-guzzling hockey-player idolizing Bob & Doug MacKenzie.
What people don’t think of are the highly-advanced cities and Universities and infrastructure and the free and liberal flow of ideas and information, all of which have led to some of the worlds’ great inventions.
Canada has a long history of great inventions that have added to the quality of life for people around the world. Some of these inventions are common household items that people don’t think about while others have saved thousands, if not millions, of lives across the globe. Many of these inventions are attributed to America but this list below will help set the record straight.
Created in the early 1970s by Keith Downey and Baldur R. Stefansson of the University of Manitoba as a disease and drought resistant seed for conversion to oil fit for human consumption and lubrication. Canola stands for “Canadian Oil, Low Acid” and has become one of the biggest cash crops in Canada, the USA, the European Union and Japan. Canada is by far the largest exporter of Canola, with over 800 million tonnes delivered to global markets in 2008.
The AM Radio
AM, or Amplitude Modulation, was invented by Reginald Fessenden, an inventor from East Bolton, Quebec in 1906. It improved upon the standard wireless radio at the time which required the use of Morse Code by allowing voice and sound waves to carry over vast distances. AM became the standard for radio and use rights were quickly purchased by radio outfits across Canada, the USA, Europe and Japan. Today AM is still a major broadcasting method for major media outlets.
Sir Sanford Fleming of Peterborough, Ontario invented the system of synchronizing world clocks into various time zones for exact coordination in 1876 after missing a steamship from Ireland to Canada. The problem before then was that every local community used it’s own “mean” time and the time zones from town to town across the world could be vastly different. Today Standard Time is the normal time-keeping method across the globe.
Although invented by an American, Alexander Graham Bell, and first patented in America, the invention actually happened in Canada. Alexander Graham Bell and his wife moved to Brantford, Ontario after he couldn’t get funding for his research in the US. There he translated the Mohawk language into English and received a grant from several Canadian Universities. He set up a workshop and continued his research on telephone technology where he managed to gain two business partners from Boston and one from Toronto. With this money he invented the telephone in 1875. He tried to have it patented in Britain but was denied, so he returned to the US in 1876 and had his new invention succesfully patented.
The Variable Pitch Propeller
Used on prop-driven aircraft to adjust engine power to differences in air pressure, wind gusts and air speeds, the VPP allows the engine to adjust the rotation of the propellers for maximum power efficiency. It was invented by Frank W. Caldwell of Hamilton, Ontario in 1933.
The little beeping gadget that allows people to stay in touch (before it was overtaken by cellphones) was invented in Toronto, Ontario by Alfred J. Gross in 1949. An employee and television pioneer for CBC, Alfred Gross created the pager as a means for technical crews to stay in touch when in the field. By 1980 the pager had gone mainstream around the world.
A little machine that can quickly take its passengers over snow-covered landscapes. Of course it’s Canadian! Invented by Joseph-Armand Bombardier of Valcourt, Quebec, in 1937, its patent and subsequent production allowed him to establish the Bombardier Company that now builds trains, aircraft, sea-doos and, of course, the ubiquitous snowmobile.
The Electric Wheelchair
Invented by George Klein of the National Research Council of Canada in Hamilton, Ontario, it was originally designed to help paralyzed veterans returning to Canada from the battlefields of the Second World War. The patent was quiclkly purchased by the United States, Great Britain and Australia and today allows disabled people to enjoy a mobile quality of life around the world.
When aircraft go into steep dives or tight turns, the resulting “G” (Gravity) forces often cause them to lose consciousness. During the dark days of World War II a Canadian cancer researcher from Toronto, Ontario invented the G-Suit in 1941. This suit, a standard for combat and stunt pilots around the world today, applies pressure to the legs and torso of the body to keep blood flowing to the brain when G-forces are present.
Reginald Fessenden, who invented the AM Radio, also invented SONAR in 1912 and succesfully tested it in Boston, Massachusettes. This device sends radio signals under water that bounce off objects and return to a receiver, thus allowing the operator to “see” what is there.
Like the telephone, Americans argue that it is their invention. Like the telephone, Canadians argue it is their invention. For the sake of argument, we can say that both the telephone and basketball belongs to both nations. Invented by Canadian Jaimes Naismaith of Ailmonte, Ontario while teaching at the International Young Men’s Christian Association School in Springfield, Massachusettes. The first game was played in 1891.
Hockey (or Ice Hockey) was in development in Canada for thousands of years. Originally a stick-and-ball game played on the ice by Canada’s First Nations people, it was later adapted by British and French settlers. In 1799 the term “Hockey” first appears for this sport, and by 1825 it was fast becoming a national sport. In 1883 the first game of hockey using modern rules was played in Montreal, Quebec and by 1888 the first professional hockey league was founded by Governor-General Lord Stanley (whom the Stanley Cup hockey championship is named after). In 1892 the game spread to the United States and by 1912 it was being played in Europe and Russia.
In 1922 Canadian Frederick Banting of Alistair, Ontario invented the drug that has since saved millions of diabetes sufferers around the world. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1930 and knighted in 1934, although he always maintained that his discovery was a result of previous work done by German researchers Paul Langerhans and Oscar Minowski.
Unlike basketball and the telephone, peanut butter cannot claim a shared heritage. A US patent for peanut butter was awarded to Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Montreal, Quebec in 1884, who had decided to apply for a US patent instead of a British one (the British patent office refused most patents from “colonials” in the 19th Century). Had there been a Canadian patent office in those days, he probably would have gone there first.
The Plastic Garbage Bag
Who would have thought that this was actually invented by somebody? Harry Wasylyk, Larry Hansen and Frank Plomp, three friends who worked for a plastic company in Winnipeg, Manitoba, invented the useful plastic bag in 1950 which the world today uses to throw trash into.
The Electric Cooking Range (or Stove)
Invented in 1882 in Ottawa, Ontario by Thomas Ahearn and first showcased at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, it had by the 1930s replaced most gas stoves in kitchens around North America and Europe.
These massive theatres that offer a surreal intimate experience for the viewer was created in 1967 by the Canadian IMAX Corporation, which today still owns all the world’s IMAX theatres and the rights to all IMAX films.
Java Programming Language
James Gosling, of Calgary, Alberta, created the world’s most common programming language while working for Sun Microsystems in Silicone Valley, California in 1994.
Created by Charles Fenerty of Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1844, he made the discovery that wood pulp could cheaply make a non-archival type of paper for mass production. Until then newspapers were using normal heavy paper, but in 1845 the Acadian Reporter, Halifax’s top newspaper, published the first edition in the new Newsprint format which has gone on to be the standard material for newspapers across the globe today.
The board game that has broken up marriages, caused fights and come close to starting wars, Trivial Pursuit was created in 1979 by Scott Adams and Chris Haney of Montreal, Quebec while working for the Montreal Gazette newspaper.
When regional conflicts break out around the world, United Nations soldiers in blue helmets arrive to help civilians in the conflict zones get to safety, eat, and have access to drinking water. They also try to keep the combatants apart so that the war can be resolved diplomatically. This process was invented by Canadian Prime-Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1957 when he presented a formal way to the United Nations Security Council to keep the Egyptians and Isrealis from fighting over the Suez Canal. Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his initiative.
To set the record straight about some absurd claims by ultra-patriotic (but not well-informed) Canadians, here is a list of some things NOT invented by Canadians or in Canada.
Baseball: This is very obviously an American sport and Canada had nothing to do with its creation.
Apple Pie: It wasn’t invented in Canada. It wasn’t even invented in America! It’s German!
Penicillin: Scottish-born Sir Alexander Fleming, although he spent some time living in Nova Scotia and invented some other things there, invented Penicillin in England.
The Zipper: Invented and patented and first produced in America.
Velcro: Invented in Switzerland by a Swiss.
Superman: Created by Jerry Seigel of Ohio and Joe Shuster of Toronto, who changed his citizenship to American and thus does not qualify as a Canadian creator of the legendary superhero.