Oh Canada! 150 Years of Innovation
Can you imagine a world without Canada? There would be millions of sick patients without the help of insulin, no smartphones for your selfies without the start of Blackberry, millions of bones not properly healed without x-rays, no peace corps, batteries, hockey, poutine, Justin Bieber, or you.
Canada has played a big part in a world of innovators. It’s easy to take things like standard time for granted, but all of these inventions play a big part in our daily lives. Here we have 9 of the many Canadian innovations of our past, a few may even surprise you.
I think it’s safe to say ‘Go Canada! You’re the real MVP!’
1. 1876, Telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, Nova Scotia
No, not Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s hit single.
Bell discovered that the vibrations that come from sound travel in waves. Realizing this, he would speak to his deaf mother at a close range so she would be able to feel those vibrations. He also proposed to his deaf wife the same way.
Inspired by this, Bell took these same principals and applied them to communicating long distances. He translated these vibrations to electrical impulses, like the brain does, allowing sound to travel the distance. Leading to the first telephone!
Fun fact: At Bell’s funeral, no phone calls were allowed as a silent tribute.
Now that’s off the hook!
2. 1878, Standard Time, Sir Sanford Fleming, Nova Scotia
The land before time…standard time that is.
Before this invention, time was a jumbled mess. 12 pm in Kingston was 12 minutes later than 12 pm in Montreal and 13 minutes before 12 pm in Toronto.
If that doesn’t make your head hurt…
Before standard time, the sun was used as a tool to tell time. Fleming, a civil engineer, helped build the railway when he ended up missing his train. This started his idea of breaking the world into time zones. With each touching zone having a 1 hour difference.
Well the government didn’t think so. The idea was rejected for years, but persistence is key and standard time as we know it today came into effect as of January 1, 1885.
Fun fact: Ever hear of the Dingle? Located off Purcell’s Cove Road on the NorthWest Arm is the Dingle Tower, with the two large bronze lions at guard. The park was donated to Halifax in 1908 by Sir Sanford Fleming himself.
3. 1874, Incandescent Light Bulb, Mathew Evans and Henry Woodward, Toronto
Many people think of Thomas Edison as the father of the light bulb, but it was in fact two Canadians who first patented the familiar incandescent bulb back in 1874.
Henry Woodward, a medical student at the time, and Mathew Evans, a hotel keeper, created a glass tube in Toronto with a large piece of carbon connected to two wires and filled with inert nitrogen.
They sold their US patent to Thomas Edison, and he also obtained an exclusive license to the Canadian patent, before further developing the product for commercial use.
Though the principle of the incandescent bulb dates back a few more decades, this Canadian duo was the first to hold the patent.
4. 1906, AM Radio, Reginald Fessenden, Quebec
Sun’s out, top’s down, singing to the radio.
Yeah, you do that, don’t deny it.
Inspired by Alexander Graham Bell and working under Thomas Edison, this Canadian wanted to find a way to send sound without a wire.
December 23, 1906, Fessenden and his assistant were telegraphing back and forth when Fessenden adjusted his equipment and suddenly it was Fessenden’s voice that carried over the speaker.
December 24, 1906 was the first time voice travelled across the Atlantic Ocean without a wire and reached as far as Scotland. Fessenden held a Christmas special that night, singing hymns and playing the violin. He ended the broadcast by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
5. 1930, Pablum, Frederick F. Tisdall, M.D., T. G. H. Drake, M.B., Pearl Summerfeldt, M.B., and Alan Brown, M.B, Toronto
While it might not be all that appetizing, Pablum has been essential in ensuring child nutrition for decades. But did you know it was a group of Canadians at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto that invented it?
It was the first baby food to come precooked and dried, making it easy to prepare for busy parents, in an era when infant malnutrition was still a major problem.
The cereal is made from wheat, oatmeal, corn meal, bone meal, brewer’s yeast, alfalfa leaf, and fortified with iron. It is egg, lactose and nut free. Pablum provides an assortment of minerals and vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E, and easily digestible.
In 2005, the Pablum brand was acquired by the H.J. Heinz Company.
6. 1942, Walkie Talkie, Donald L. Hings, British Columbia
Donald Hings had the idea for the walkie talkie after getting lost in the British Columbia woods. He thought it would be handy to have a portable communication device that could fit in your hand. At the time, the technology for such a thing was about the size of a room, which wasn’t very handy to try to lug around.
Hings’ goal was to make a device that would fit in your hand. He took a prototype to Canada’s department of defense. During a demo, a soldier mentioned you can walk with it and talk with it, and the name walkie talkie was born and used amongst soldiers in WW II
Over and out!
7. 1955, Instant Replay, George Retzlaff, Winnipeg
“It’s hockey night in Canada!”
The Hockey Night in Canada producer also takes credit for creating the first instant replay. Retzlaff used a hot processor to produce a wet film replay of a goal within 30 seconds. Today, this technique is used in all sports, all across the globe.
8. 1968, IMAX, Graeme Ferguson, Toronto, Roman Kroitor, Saskatchewan, Robert Kerr, Ontario
The idea of IMAX started as a project put together for a competition at Expo ‘67 held in Montreal. The competition was to see who could create the first truly large screen film experience. These 3 Canadians entered by syncing 9 projectors together. Originally they wanted to keep IMAX designed for educational purposes, to be placed in museums, science centers, and historical architect.
Thank goodness these creators didn’t stop there!
Shortly after their original idea, they came up with IMAX 3D and partnered with Walt Disney to bring you all the crazy rides you can experience at Disney World.
Just think, without these inventors, no Harry Potter, Batman, Avatar, all big IMAX hits, and Disney World sure wouldn’t be what it is today.
9. 1995, Java, James Gosling, Calgary
No, not coffee. That’s Ethiopian.
Java, the worldwide language of computers.
A fairly new innovation, the planning started in 1991 as a way to connect different household appliances to get them to work together. A few years later the internet started popping up and becoming important. This is when Gosling and his team shifted their focus. Java was born and is now one of the fastest-growing tools for the web.
Fun fact: James Gosling was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2006. The Order of Canada recognizes outstanding lifetime achievement and contributions to society and the country.
10. Honorable Mentions
For number 10 we have some honourable mentions that we couldn’t skip over.
- Snowmobile – Joseph Bombardier, 1936, Quebec
- “Batteryless” radio – Edward S. Rogers, Sr, 1925, Toronto
- Electron Microscope – Eli Franklin Burton, James Hillier, Cecil Hall & Albert Prebus, 1938, Toronto
- Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) – Willard Boyle, 1969
- Music Synthesizer – Hugh Le Caine, 1945, Ottawa
- Artificial Pacemaker – John Hopps, 1950, Toronto
- Wireless Trans-Atlantic Radio Transmission – Guglielmo Marconi, 1902, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia
You could say we’re pretty lucky.
It’s obvious Canadian innovators have had a big impact on the world we live in today. Without their passion, talent, and perseverance, our day to day lives would be very different.
Here at Volta, we try to take over the world with our community’s ideas and to add to this amazing group of Canadian innovators.
Join our network and start your journey to startup success today!