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O Canada! The incredible past & innovative future of Canadian tech

Where we came from & where we're headed

In honour of Canada Day long weekend, we’re taking a look at some of the most amazing inventions that you may or may not have known were from our “true north strong and free.”

And then we’ll take a glimpse at what’s in store as Canadians forge ahead into the ever-expanding world of new technology.

Canada’s incredibly inventive technological past

These are just some of the wonderful inventions that can give us some true patriot love.

  • Canola: The “can” part stands for Canada and “ola” stands for oil. This bright yellow crop was developed in the early 1970s at the University of Manitoba by Saskatoon’s Keith Downey and Vestfold, Manitoba’s Baldur R. Stefannson. The duo are both known as the “Father of Canola.”
  • Canadarm: In the late 1970s, a Canadian company called Spar Aerospace worked with NASA to develop this “remote manipulator system” that would be capable of working with payloads on Space Shuttles out in orbit. The design is said to have been inspired by the opening and closing of a camera’s iris.
  • Snowblower: Back in 1894, an 18-year-old inventor living on a dairy farm in Quebec, Arthur Sicard, came up with the concept of the snowblower. Almost 30 years later in 1927, his practical invention became reality when units began selling to the public. Although other Canadians also imagined and worked on snow removal machines, it is Sicard that is credited with the invention.

     Related: 10 Top-Secret Canadian Tech Innovations That Changed Your Life          

  • Instant Replay: The very first form of instant replay was created in 1955 for our beloved Hockey Night in Canada on CBC. The “instant” replay was actually aired several minutes after the fact, but even this had never been done before. It was achieved using “kinescope” — a fancy way of saying that they filmed what was being played on the television, now akin to using your smartphone to take a video of something you watch on YouTube.
  • Insulin: In 1921 and 1922, a team from the University of Toronto led by a young medical scientist and physician named Frederick Banting, uncovered a treatment for diabetes through the isolation of insulin. In 1923, Banting and one of his research partners, John James Rickard Macleod, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their extraordinary achievement.
  • Paint Roller: Not as widely known, the paint roller was first developed by Canadian, Norman Breakey. But Breakey’s invention didn’t gain him massive success and fortune, as he couldn’t produce rollers in large enough quantities. And what’s worse, he failed to secure a patent and couldn’t find any major investors. Sealing Breakey’s fate, an American man named Richard Croxton Adams who worked for the paint company Sherwinn-Williams, secured a U.S. patent for the paint roller—and the rest is history.

Canada’s innovative minds & future of technology

Now let’s look at what other Canadians have in store for innovations on the rise.

  • Fitness with emotion: With quite a unique spin on wearables, Montreal startup Sensaura is developing ways to connect devices with “affective computing”—a term describing when systems and devices know how humans are feeling. The applications can be wide-reaching. “Video games will know when you’re bored, advertisers will know when you’re swayed, and mental health professionals will know when you need a check-in.” Affective computing has relied heavily on facial expressions, but those can be deceiving. Instead, Sensaura uses heart-rate variability (basically, the fluctuations in your heartbeat) to give better emotional readings, and they’re attempting to get that ‘injected’ into your fitness trackers, similar to the Fitbit.
  • Growing ears on apples: Andrew Pelling, a biophysicist from the University of Ottawa, has found a way to grow human tissue on apples. In fact, his team has built cell structure on McIntosh apples (Canada’s national apple) that is capable of even having blood vessels grow within. Essentially, he carves the shape of a human ear from an apple and then cells can grow and develop around that shape. It’s astounding when you watch Pelling speak about the innovation with such ease and matter-of-factness, but there’s no doubting this could be scientifically and biologically incredible.

  • Picniic: There are millions of apps out there, and millions more to come that will change the way we communicate and interact. One is called Picniic, from a Vancouver-based startup whose leader was the creator behind Fit Brains—the world’s second-biggest mobile brain-training software. Picniic challenges the new norm of families with their heads down and looking at their devices rather than interacting with each other. It’s an app that families can download on all their devices to get organized on everything from grocery shopping to daily schedules. Even small apps can bring huge innovations in our daily lives.
  • Catalyst137: Currently just an old warehouse, this destination is going to be the largest Internet of Things innovation centre, not just in Canada, but in the entire world. Set for development in Kitchener-Waterloo by real estate developer Osmington (also the building owner for the MTS Centre), it is set to open in 2017. Although technically not an innovation in itself, the facility promises to be jam-packed with technology and will no doubt house some of the brightest minds in IT and tech. We’ll have to wait and see what incredible Canadian innovations come out of Catalyst137.
  • Carbon Engineering: This Calgary-based company is attempting to remove toxic greenhouse gas emissions from our atmosphere. David Keith is the passionate President of the company, and also a Harvard professor, who says we “need more tools in the carbon climate toolbox.” And his company is developing tech to take carbon dioxide directly out of the atmosphere in a feasible way to combat emissions from cars, trucks and airplanes. Trees can’t combat this air pollutant alone, so Carbon Engineering is stepping in. Time magazine has named Keith a “Hero of the Environment” — and it’s well deserved.

  • Your Innovation: Do you have the next big thing in Canadian innovation? Tell us about your innovation or what your business is working on in the comments section. We’re always happy to learn about new platforms, devices and technology, and will be working on future stories to profile creative Canadians.


Happy Canada Day!

Canada Flag

Tom Connon

Tom is a previous small business owner/operator and now has over 17 years of telecom experience. As a Portfolio Manager he specializes in product/service development, managing technical workforces and Customer/Segment Marketing. Outside of the office, Tom can be found shuttling his kids around from Lacrosse, hockey and ringette practices at a rink near you.

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