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Great Canadian innovations: Read The Globe’s full coverage

Canada 150

Great Canadian innovations: Read The Globe's full coverage

July 1st marks the 150th anniversary of Canada's confederation. In a series, The Globe and Mail looks at the Canadians, products and discoveries that changed the world

People

Whether it was bringing portable power to the masses, reinventing the future of skiing or pioneering global standard time, Canadians have played important roles in innovation. Here's a look at notable individuals who changed the course of history through their innovative thinking.

Lewis Urry

A growing list of products – ranging from toys to household appliances – run on battery technology inspired by Lewis Urry's innovation. The Canadian inventor's alkaline cell he created in 1957 powered the consumer electronics revolution, and helped build a global market for household batteries that's worth about $4.5-billion (U.S.) a year.

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JP Auclair, JF Cusson and Vincent Dorion

By 1997, skiing had started to fade in popularity thanks to the rise of snowboarding. But a group of skiers in Whistler, B.C. – Quebeckers JP Auclair, JF Cusson and Vincent Dorion – began emulating snowboarders with the creation of twin-tip skis, and the sport was reinvented for a new era. The Canadian skiers created skis which curl up at the front and back, just like snowboards, allowing skiers to try cool tricks and ski in the halfpipe.

The Horstman Glacier on Blackcomb Mountain was a nexus. It was also open for skiing in the summer, with an array of jumps attracting pros and film crews. The pioneering skiers – Auclair, Cusson and others – were dubbed the New Canadian Air Force.

They 'changed everything about the way people skied or even thought about skiing,' wrote Leslie Anthony in his 2010 book White Planet, a chronicle of skiing. 'It was skiing's greatest-ever revolution.'

Sandford Fleming

Travelling around the world is a lot easier today thanks to Sandford Fleming. The Scottish-born engineer, an avid traveller and railway engineer, helped institute a global 24-hour clock after a train schedule mishap. But Fleming's proposal for 24 time zones, each representing 15 degrees of longitude and an hour of solar time, would become his most lasting legacy.

When Fleming read [the 1876 treatise] 'Terrestrial Time' to the Royal Canadian Institute in Toronto, the paper’s significance was recognized right away. According to Time Lord, the book by [Clark] Blaise, Canada’s Governor-General had the text translated in London and sent to the world’s top astronomers. From that point on, Fleming would be the global face of standard time, addressing the subject at conferences from Montreal to Venice.

Richard K. Downey

Before there was canola, there was rapeseed – canola's smelly, bad-for-you cousin – which was crushed for its oil and, for centuries, used for everything from cooking and lamp oil to lubricants in the steam engines and ships that powered the war effort. It wasn't until the 1960s, when Richard K. Downey, a plant breeder and federal government scientist from Saskatoon, transformed rapeseed into a healthful, edible crop by breeding out the nasty traits – the erucic acid (bad for the heart and other organs) and the glucosinolates (bad for the livestock that ate the crushed byproduct known as meal), to create a variation of what would eventually become canola. Today, canola is grown on 8.2-million hectares of Canadian farmland and found in doughnut deep-fryers, chicken feed and fine kitchens.

Canola crops used for making cooking oil sits in full bloom near Fort Macleod, Alta.

James Gosling

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Most Canadians have never heard of James Gosling. But the Alberta-born principal creator of Java – one of the most widely used and longest-lived programming languages in modern computing – is a hero in Silicon Valley. In places like India and China, it can be difficult for Gosling to get around without being mobbed by people excited to meet him.

Java is the foundational software behind Android, the operating system found on most mobile devices. By some measures, Java can be found on 97 per cent of enterprise computer systems, and the virtual-machine systems Gosling designed for Java are critical to cloud computing. For those who remember the Y2K computing crisis, Java was the main tool used to repair and replace the broken systems.

The goal was never just to, like, go off and build a programming language because it’s fun. I didn’t do programming language stuff in college at all. It was: ‘Here’s a set of problems. How can I fix them?’ It was a situation where the right answer was a programming language so that’s what I did.

The creators of Trivial Pursuit, Cirque du Soleil and five-pin bowling

Thanks to a bunch of Canadians, Trivial Pursuit, Cirque du Soleil and five-pin bowling made the world a more fun and leisurely place.

Montreal Gazette photographer Chris Haney and his friend Scott Abbott, a Canadian Press sports reporter, created Trivial Pursuit – the bestselling Canadian board game in history – when they went to play a game of Scrabble and discovered six tiles were missing.

Before the opulent multimillion-dollar touring productions, or the permanent productions in Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil was just a handful of misfits in the Quebec town of Baie-Saint-Paul, on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River. They were known as Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul, a band of musicians, jugglers and stilt-walkers founded by Gilles Ste-Croix. In 1984, Cirque du Soleil was born after Guy Laliberté – who had joined the group as a stilt-walking, fire-breathing accordionist in 1980 – saw an opportunity to take the production on tour around Quebec.

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Five-pin bowling came to fruition when Thomas F. Ryan adapted the game for members at his bowling alley – the first in Canada – who complained that the 16-pound bowling balls with a 27-inch circumference were too cumbersome to hold, and unwieldy to throw. Ryan, who opened Canada's first ten-pin bowling lanes in 1905 in a Toronto club above a downtown jewellery store, believed a few modifications were needed in order to make the game popular in Canada.



Products

From the pacemaker to the maple syrup can to the Wonderbra, these are Canadian products that have changed the way people around the world live.

Northern telecom innovations

Over the past 150 years, developments in the telecommunications industry have been remarkable and relatively numerous. Many names dot Canada's history of innovation in telecom: Bell and the telephone, Rogers and the battery-less radio, the Canadian Marconi Company and advancements in radar, Nortel and digital switching equipment and, of course, Research In Motion and the BlackBerry.

Wonderbra and jockstraps

Of all Canadian inventions and innovations, there are two that changed the foundations of this country in the most intimate ways. To this day, whether buried in a lingerie drawer or shoved into a hockey bag, one thing is nakedly apparent: The world would not be the same without the Wonderbra and the hard-shell jockstrap.

It showed that Canada can be as important as other countries in innovation and fashion and making a superior product.

It is Canada's cocktail, a drink that has been described as both "a national treasure" and "a fixture of Canadian life," and it stands atop the bar as red and bold as the maple leaf itself. The Bloody Caesar is Canada's most enduringly patriotic cocktail, its creation in Calgary part of our national story.

Like many legends, there are holes in the narrative – certain ingredients that just don’t combine, and questions that linger like celery salt around the rim. But the story often told of the drink’s creator and its origins focuses on a man named Walter Chell, who immigrated to Canada from Italy.

Cheers to Walter Chell who first mixed a Caesar, this popular cocktail, at The Calgary Inn in 1969

Maple syrup can

No single person invented Canadian maple syrup, but many people can justifiably claim a piece of the prize for turning it into liquid gold.

The classic maple syrup can is a snapshot of our outdoorsy selves, and evidence that Canada has put its stamp on maple syrup like few foods around.


Maple syrup cans are seen at a sugar shack in Oka, Quebec.

Pacemaker

The pacemakers cardiologists implant today all have their roots in a Canadian invention that acted as the starting point for decades of development in cardiac pacing.

The world’s first artificial pacemaker, about the size and shape of a four-slice toaster, was built by a Winnipeg-born engineer named John “Jack” Hopps, whose work using radio-frequency to heat food would grab the attention of two surgeons at the University of Toronto – Wilfred Bigelow and his young research fellow, John Callaghan.

The doctors’ research on hypothermia, making open-heart surgery possible, would eventually lead to Hopps joining the duo and building a prototype of an external pacemaker stimulator that would jump-start the heart and keep it beating during surgery.


Dr. Wilfred Bigelow, centre, explains the workings of the first pacemaker, which he co-invented at the University of Toronto’s Banting Institute in 1950, to two pacemaker users in October, 1982.

Snowmobile

One of Canada’s best-known inventions was born out of the grit and emotional distress of a Quebecker looking for a way out of winter’s isolation.

In 1936, Joseph-Armand Bombardier introduced the B7 snowmobile, selling eight of them during his first winter of production, and a year later, he received a patent confirmation for his devices from the Canadian government. The machines were subsequently used by doctors, priests, police, and for mail delivery; even as school transportation.

From those humble-but-tenacious beginnings, the plane and train maker we know today as Bombardier Inc. was built.


Joseph-Armand Bombardier, designer of the Bombardier snowmobile, stands beside the latest model of the machine on the production line of his Valcourt, Que. factory in this 1960 photo.



Discoveries

From the Canadarm to the world's first exchange-traded fund to the discovery of stem cells, these are just some of the discoveries that have made Canada a leader in innovation.

Canadarm

More than 20 years ago, when engineers were dreaming up how a robotic system to service the International Space Station would work, no one yet foresaw just how much work there would be for it to do. "As with the first generation of Canadarms that flew on the space shuttle, the key to the system's success would prove to be its ability to take on new roles as the needs and priorities of the space program changed."

Inside the Canadarm

For three decades, Canadarm was the versatile workhorse of the space shuttle program, ideal for handling large payloads, for reaching around to look at the underside of the shuttle and for serving as a platform for space walkers. A key feature in the original design was the “end effector,” which made it possible for the arm to firmly grasp anything that was outfitted with a standard metal grapple fixture. The innovative design allowed an astronaut to direct the arm close enough to its target to snare it without sending it tumbling.

End effector grip

First, the end effector approaches the grapple with its three snare cables forming an open triangle to give the arm’s operator a reasonable margin to work with. Once the end of the grapple fixture is within the triangle, the cables are rotated to close around it.

Next, the inner part of the end effector retracts, pulling the grapple fixture tight to make a solid connection. On Canadarm2, the end effector includes connections for power and data lines so that the arm is able to detach at either end.

End effector grip
End effector grip
MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: MDA CORPORATION; CANADIAN SPACE AGENCY

Exchange-traded fund

In 1990, the Toronto Stock Exchange introduced the world's first successful exchange-traded fund (ETF), the Toronto 35 Index Participation Fund, known as TIPs, changing the way the world invests.

The appeal was clear: The units traded throughout the day, they provided instant diversification to Canadian blue-chip stocks, and management fees were zero.

Institutional investors loved the ETF because they could use it to move money in and out of the market easily. But small investors eventually discovered that the ETF gave them the chance to invest like big-shot pension funds, with access to a basket of stocks for little more than a one-time commission on a stock trade.

The success of the first ETF in Canada – now known as the iShares S&P/TSX 60 index ETF, and owned by BlackRock Inc. – helped spawn a global industry that numbers thousands of funds worldwide, giving investors access to emerging market stocks, gold, corporate bonds and just about every other asset class you can think of.

The success of the first ETF in Canada – now known as the iShares S&P/TSX 60 index ETF, and owned by BlackRock Inc. – helped spawn a global industry that numbers thousands of funds worldwide, giving investors access to emerging market stocks, gold, corporate bonds and just about every other asset class you can think of.

Stem cells

Two Canadians, biophysicist James Till and cellular biologist Ernest McCulloch, discovered stem cells in 1961. They published a series of studies redefining the hallmark properties of stem cells, namely an ability to renew themselves and repair and replace tissue in the body, and showing they were transplantable. Their research laid the foundation for regenerative medicine and fuelled the emergence of the biomedical industry, particularly in Canada.


Glow in the dark coins

Deep inside a Winnipeg factory, past the pumping presses, past the gurgling acid baths and past the tumbling vats of corn-cob grit, there’s a room where the Royal Canadian Mint is crafting its latest weapon in the global race to make money: making the coins glow in the dark.

It’s the first time the Mint has added fluorescence to a circulation coin and it’s the institution’s latest innovation in a global chase for security, durability and profit.


The freshly painted two dollar glow in the dark coin is inspected by production operator Rene Tetrault at the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg Tuesday, April 4, 2017. The Mint in Winnipeg is responsible for the production of all Canadian coins that are put into circulation.


Insulin

Before insulin, children with juvenile diabetes (now called Type 1) lived only 1.4 years on average after diagnosis. Adults fared only slightly better: One in five lived 10 years after diagnosis, but with severe complications such as blindness, kidney failure, stroke, heart attack and the necessity to amputate limbs.

Insulin forever changed the lives of people with diabetes. It’s one of the great medical discoveries of all times, a Canadian innovation that has saved millions of lives.


1

People with Type 1 diabetes

have a total lack of insulin.

Without insulin, cells cannot

absorb glucose, which they

need to produce energy. They

can suffer from dangerously

low blood glucose.

LOW

BLOOD

GLUCOSE

Glycogen released

by alpha cells

of pancreas

Raises

blood sugar

LIVER

glucose*

glycogen*

PANCREAS

Insulin

released by

beta cells

of pancreas

Tissues

take up

glucose

from blood

Lowers

blood

sugar

People with Type 2 diabetes

cannot use insulin effectively.

They tend to have high levels of

blood glucose, which causes

damage to blood vessels and a

host of complications.

2

HIGH

BLOOD

GLUCOSE

 

*Insulin stimulates the liver to remove glucose from the blood and stores it as glycogen.

Glucagon stimulates the conversion of stored

glycogen in the liver into glucose.

CARRIE COCKBURN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: THE SCIENTIST

1

People with Type 1 diabetes have a

total lack of insulin. Without insulin,

cells cannot absorb glucose, which

they need to produce energy. They

can suffer from dangerously low

blood glucose.

LOW BLOOD

GLUCOSE

Raises blood

sugar

Glycogen released

by alpha cells of

pancreas

glucose*

LIVER

glycogen*

PANCREAS

Insulin

released by

beta cells

of pancreas

Tissues

take up

glucose

from blood

Lowers

blood

sugar

People with Type 2 diabetes cannot

use insulin effectively. They tend to

have high levels of blood glucose,

which causes damage to blood vessels

and a host of complications.

 

2

HIGH

BLOOD

GLUCOSE

 

*Insulin stimulates the liver to remove glucose from the blood and stores it as glycogen.

Glucagon stimulates the conversion of stored

glycogen in the liver into glucose.

CARRIE COCKBURN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: THE SCIENTIST

People with Type 1 diabetes have a total lack of

insulin. Without insulin, cells cannot absorb

glucose, which they need to produce energy. They

can suffer from dangerously low blood glucose.

1

LOW BLOOD GLUCOSE

Raises

blood sugar

Glycogen released

by alpha cells of

pancreas

Insulin

stimulates

the liver to remove

glucose from the blood and stores it as glycogen

LIVER

glucose

glycogen

Glucagon stimulates the conversion of stored

glycogen in the liver into glucose

PANCREAS

Insulin released

by beta cells

of pancreas

Tissues take up

glucose from

blood

Lowers

blood sugar

People with Type 2 diabetes cannot use

insulin effectively. They tend to have high levels

of blood glucose, which causes damage to blood

vessels and a host of complications.

 

2

HIGH BLOOD GLUCOSE

 

CARRIE COCKBURN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: THE SCIENTIST


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