Canada is home to some great sports teams, scenic locales and, of course, wonderful people. And the country has also been home to some prolific tech innovations that have truly helped change the course of the world.
In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday this year, here's a roundup of some of the most influential tech innovations that you may or may not know originated by Canadians, and in Canada.
The radio/human voice transmission
Yes, it was actually a Canadian, Quebec-born Reginald Aubrey Fassenden, who was the first to transmit the sound of a human voice to another location without the use of wires in the early 1900s. His first broadcast was that of a Christmas concert to a series of ship crews that were sailing in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. And the first message using a human voice and transmitted via electromagnetic waves: "one, two, three four. Is it snowing where you are, Mr. Thiessen? If it is, telegraph back and let me know." Fassenden went on to acquire more than 500 patents, including ones for sonar and radio technologies.
Of course everyone knows that this communications device and technology that changed the way we conversed with one another was invented by Alexandar Graham Bell way back in 1877. The Scottish-born entrepreneur lived in Brantford, ON when he used his interests in speech and hearing with the deaf to further his studies in sound transmission. He then went on to found Bell Telephone Co., which exists today as Canada's largest technology company BCE Inc. Had it not been for Bell and his telephone, the smartphone that we have come to rely so heavily on today may never have seen the light of day.
The artificial pacemaker
One of the tech inventions Canadians can be most proud about is that of the life-saving pacemaker, which was developed by John Hopps, an electrical engineer from Winnipeg. Basing his device on research from Dr. Wilfred G. Bigelow and Dr. John C. Callaghan from Toronto's Banting Institute, he developed the first cardiac pacemaker in 1950. Through the research, the team discovered that a heart could be restarted artificially if it stopped because of cooling. The device has been saving plenty of lives since the first version was implanted into a human in 1958.
National Research Council of Canada
Do you enjoy going to the movies and watching a film in IMAX? You have three Canadian filmmakers to thank for that - Grahame Ferguson, Roman Kroitor, and Robert Kerr - who built an art installation for Expo 67 in Montreal back in 1967. Based in Mississauga, ON, they developed a projector that could really make films come alive, displaying a movie 10-times large than was possible using traditional 35mm frames, while still maintaining stellar quality. Several years later, the first IMAX movie was introduced, and the rest is history.
Chemical engineer Lewis Urry invented both the alkaline and lithium battery in 1954, while he was working for the Eveready Battery company. Born in Pontypool in eastern Ontario, he was tasked with figuring out a way to extend the life of zinc-carbon batteries, and took it upon himself to find a more cost-effective solution than trying to reinvent the old technology. He figured out a way to combat issues of power and cost, and today, morn alkaline batteries can last significantly longer than they did in the old days. Urry's first prototype battery, and the first commercially-produced cylindrical battery, are on display at the Smithsonian Institution - conveniently located in the same room as Edison's light bulb.
The BlackBerry was not the first handheld telephone device. Yet it still innovated in that category once then parent company Research in Motion (RIM) invented the tiny device that become your computer in a pocket. The invention that really changed the face of mobile communications, however, was the BlackBerry Messaging service, which allowed users of the phones to engage in text-based conversations with one another, in real-time. No cumbersome short messaging service (SMS), i.e. texting, but the ability to have a true line-by-line, encrypted conversation. Sadly, BlackBerry's unwillingness to license the service to other companies led to the development of competing services, including Kik, WhatsApp, and Apple's iMessage. And while you can now download BlackBerry Messenger to virtually any smartphone, the service is now only a blip in the real-time, instant messaging market. Still, it was BBM that started it all. And we should all be thankful to this Canadian company for the invention.
When it comes to appliances, Canada is, not surprisingly, a leader in the outdoor world. Particularly when it comes to combating the mountains of snow we can get in many provinces and regions. So it's no surprise that it was a Canadian, Arthur Sicard of Montreal, who first came up with the idea for a snowblower. He invented the machine, which helps easily shift snow way back in 1925, saving many a Canadians' back and arms from the terrible task of manually shovelling. Later, another Canadian , Joseph-Armand Bombardier, invented the snowmobile in 1937 to add some fun into the mix.
Photo courtesy of the US National Park Service, Historic Photograph Collection.
Canadians are clearly innovators in the communications space with yet another great invention from the Great White North: the walkie-talkie. While he was actually born in England, Donald L. Hings, who invented the two-way communications device for the Canadian military during World War II, was raised in Canada. The devices, known then as a "packset," made back and forth communication, in real-time, simple and convenient. Today, much-improved walkie-talkies are still widely used by the military, businesses, and adventurers; and you can get walkie-talkie functioning through apps like Voxer. The walkie-talkie is also a pretty common toy for kids.
You know when you see an awesome play in the hockey game, and wish you could see it again? Thanks to the instant replay, you can. And that technology was actually developed by a Canadian - CBC producer George Retzlaff - and later went on to first appear during a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast way back in 1955. How did they do it? Simply by using a telerecording replay several minutes after the original clip aired live. The development of the instant reply than let to the idea of slow-motion replay, making every sports fan at home a referee as they watched the replay of an event in slow motion to determine the appropriate call. Today, of course, every TV and remote inclues features like pause and rewind. And we have Retzlaff to thank for that.
How did we ever navigate through a computer screen without a trackball? Sure, while today's computers include trackpads and touch screens, back in the early days, we needed a convenient way to navigate. In 1949, Canadian engineers Tom Cranston and Fred Longstaff, along with British colleague Kenyon Taylor, developed the first trackball using, what else, but a five-pin bowling ball. While the original idea was to develop something that could be used for radar following World War II, and was called the DATAR, trackballs are now found in everything from our computer mice to other gadgets and gizmos.
Wheelchairs have been lifesavers for those with mobility issues. But the electric wheelchair? Well, that was a game-changer when George Klein of Hamilton, ON invented in back in the 1950s. As yet another invention meant to serve veterans who fought in World War II, today, electric wheelchairs help all kinds of people who require mobility assistance.
Photo: National Research Council Canada
George Klein has another major invention to his name: the Canadarm, a robotic arm, also known as the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS), that was used on NASA's Space Shuttle in 1981. Measuring 15 metres long, it was built in Brampton, ON by MDA Space Missions, and flew on 91 shuttle missions over a span of 30 years, helping to capture and repair satellites, position astronauts, maintain equipment, and move cargo. Other credits to his name include the invention of the microsurgical staple gun and the ZEEP nuclear reactor. It's no surprise given his stellar resume and contributions to society that Klein was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1968, and posthumously inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 1995.
Happy 150th, Canada!