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10 Top-Secret Canadian Tech Innovations That Changed Your Life

Bet you didn’t know these were Canadian!

You may already know that the world can thank Canadians for the invention of Nanaimo bars and Robertson screwdrivers. And it’s not a huge surprise that Canucks are also credited with the original creation of snowmobiles, hockey goalie masks and instant replay (developed by producers at CBC TV’s Hockey Night in Canada, naturally).

We’re a nation of serious innovation when it comes to high technology, too. Here’s our nod to Canadian tech inventions, from the 1800s all to the way to the startup scene taking root in this country today.

Telephone

Debate continues to this day about whether the phone can be called a Canadian invention because of Alexander Graham Bell’s various connections. He was born in Scotland and eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Still, Bell moved to Canada at age 23, maintained a home here starting in 1890 and died here in 1922.

BlackBerry

In the 1990s we had cell phones. We also had PDAs. (For Millennials out there, that’s a personal digital assistant, not a public display of affection). When Research In Motion’s BlackBerry brought email to the cell phone in 1999, however, it changed communication forever.

Walkie talkie

Don Hings created the first two-way portable radios in 1937 for bush pilots flying between mining sites in remote parts of Canada. When WWII broke out in 1939, the Canadian government whisked him to Ottawa to adapt his invention for the battlefield. For his wartime efforts, Hings was made a Member of the British Empire by King George VI in 1946.

IMAX

Graeme Ferguson, Robert Kerr and Roman Kroitor developed a camera and projection system to show hi-res images on massive screens at Expo 67 in Montreal. Impressed Fuji executives commissioned them to produce the first IMAX film for Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan. IMAX went on to win two technical achievement Oscars and install over 800 IMAX theatres in 57 countries.

Cellphone

Marty Cooper gets the first Manitoba shout-out on our list. Cooper was born in Chicago but lived in Winnipeg from the ages of one to seven. During his heyday at Motorola, Cooper made the world’s first cellphone call from a Manhattan street in 1973. But he learned to read and write at I.L. Peretz Folk School in the ‘Peg.

56K modem

Although Cooper sold all his patents to his former Motorola bosses for just $1, Brent Townshend has sued Intel, Cisco and others over hundreds of millions of dollars in allegedly unpaid licensing fees for his 56K modem technology. Toronto-born Townshend is humble, however, not even giving his 1993 invention a mention on his LinkedIn profile.

JAVA

What do you do after creating the JAVA programming language used in millions of cellphones around the world? If you’re Calgary-born James Gosling, you spend 26 years at Sun Microsystems, defect to Google, then quit the Big G after just five months to work for a firm that makes solar-powered underwater robots. Of course.

Light bulb

Thomas Edison is burned into our collective consciousness as the inventor of the light bulb. Sadly, few of us realize that two Torontonians, medical student Henry Woodward and hotel doorman Matthew Evans, received a U.S. light bulb patent in 1876. After failing to find investors, the discouraged Canadians sold their patent to Edison in 1879. Edison finally received his own light bulb patent a year later in 1880. The rest is … you know.

Keyframe animation

Nestor Burtnyk gets our second Manitoba mention. Born in Ethelbert, Burtnyk and his fellow Canadian, Marceli Wein, revolutionized animation by melding emerging computer technology with traditional hand-drawn artistry. The duo won the Cannes jury prize in 1974 and a technical achievement Oscar in 1997.

Mirage Mirror

We’re wrapping this up with our final dose of Manitoba content, Winnipeg startup Advolve Media. The firm’s interactive Mirage Mirror contains sensors that project ads onto the glass surface when someone stands in front of it. The mirror also collects data on user engagement, like how many times (and how long) the ad is triggered by each user.

These are just some of the hundreds of tech inventions that had their origins here in Canada. The next time you find yourself in desperate need of some inspiration (with a dash of patriotism), just reread this, then regroup.

What did we miss from this list? Tell us your favourite Canadian invention in the comment section.

Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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