150 years of innovation

Celebrating Canada’s continuing technological advancements


It’s no surprise that Canada has become one of the most influential countries for the innovation of technology. One could say that technological innovations are one of the great prides of Canadian culture. According to the Canadian encyclopedia, Canada continues to make new developments in the technological world and continues to remain the forefront of technological advances in areas of transportation, communication and energy.

This year marks Canada’s 150th anniversary, so Scribe dug into the country’s history in order to celebrate a few of its great inventions.

1. Telephone

Almost everyone carries a phone around now. It is hard to believe that these little communication devices once used to be attached to a wall. The world has Alexander Graham Bell to thank for that. He created the gateway to today’s telephone communication. The first telephone was used in Brantford, Ont. in 1876, says an article in the Canadian encyclopedia by Robert E. Babe. It is now nearly impossible to imagine life without the telephone, which puts into context just how important this invention was. A history professor at McMaster University, Michael Egan, considers Canada one of the world leaders in communication technology. He says that the telephone is amongst the country’s top inventions, and it has built a pathway to interconnecting the country, not just internally, but around the world. “One of the things that distinguishes Canada from just about every other country in the world, is that there are very few of us spread out across a huge amount of space, so it is not a surprise that Canadian communication technology has been at the forefront,” says Egan.

2. Instant replay

Used commonly on television, this particular invention is about as Canadian as they come. It is no surprise that the first use of instant replay was on Hockey Night in Canada on CBC in 1955 by George Retzalaff. He invented a wet film replay in order to play back a hockey play, which took place minutes prior. Sure, that is not exactly instant, but it was the first step to the almost immediate and slow motion replay enjoyed now.

 3. Snowmobile

Although, Canadians didn’t invent the automobile, they did invent the snowmobile, which was a much faster and independent way to travel on snow compared to dogsleds. Canada is known for its cold and snowy winters, so it is no surprise that Canadians invented a vehicle to travel on the white fluff. In 1922, Joseph-Armand Bombardier from Valcourt, Que. developed the first of many over-snow vehicles. The snowmobile later gained much of its popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s and it remains popular in North America today.

4. Canadarm

The Canadarm was a remote controlled mechanical arm that was deployed into space to capture and repair satellites. It also positioned astronauts, maintained equipment and moved cargo. Also known as the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System, the Canadarm had a 30-year career in the NASA Space Shuttle Program, says an article by Karl H. Doetsch and Garry Lindberg in the Canadian encyclopedia. Overall, the legacy of the Canadarm established Canada’s international reputation for robotics innovation.


Ontario Place was once a popular attraction for children in the early 2000s. Believe it or not, the first-ever permanent IMAX theatre opened in the Cinesphere at Ontario Place in Toronto, says an article by Charles Acland in the Canadian encyclopedia. Corporation co-founders Graeme Ferguson, Roman Kroitor and Robert Kerr developed a camera system that allowed for high-resolution images and enlarged projection, so they’re to thank for starting the journey to today’s ultimate movie experience.

5. Walkie talkie

This device, used both professionally and for fun, was created in 1938 by Alfred Gross. Gross named his first-ever prototype Aptly, for its ability to allow him to walk and talk at the same time. The military later caught a glimpse of his device and it was further developed by Donald. L. Hings for the Canadian military during World War II. This device was considered quite successful and is still used today.


7. Motorized wheelchair

George Klein is credited for inventing the motorized wheelchair while he was working with the National Research Council of Canada. He designed the chair to help war veterans of World War II. Although, now it has expanded to help people in need of all kinds of mobility support.

8. Trackball

The devices we know today as the mouse or track pad started off much more complex. Believe it or not, the invention was created using a Canadian bowling ball and air bearings to create a moveable ball that controlled the cursor on a computer screen. The trackball is what started the path to how computers are controlled now. The first trackball was invented by Tom Cranston and Fred Longstaff in 1952 for the Royal Canadian Navy. “The trackpad, trackball was a tremendous step forward,” says Joe Schneeweiss, president of jump+, a computer that sells Apple products. Schneeweiss has sold Apple products for more than 30 years and he started off with his own self made tech store. “When I started working on computers everything was done with a keyboard, where you were typing the line code for things. I think that when Apple came out with the mouse, that was an enormous step forward and a big change on how you interacted with a computer.”

9. Standard time

Sandford Fleming, a railway surveyor decided in 1876 to make a change when he missed his train due to a confusing timetable. Back then, each city set its clocks by the noonday sun, which differed by a minute per 18 km, which grew later as you travelled east. Fleming devised a universal time system, creating 24 global time zones, each equal to 15 degrees of longitude and one hour. His idea later gained worldwide support and International Standard Time became official on Jan. 1, 1885.


10. Lightbulb

Many people believe that Thomas Edison created the electric lightbulb. However, he got his bright idea from a couple of Canadians. Medical student Henry Woodward and hotelier neighbour Mathew Evans filed a patent for the first electric lightbulb. The bulb was a carbon filament in a glass filled with nitrogen and it burned too fast to mass produce. This later inspired Edison to purchase their patent for $5,000 and produce a longer lasting bulb with a vacuum chamber. Whales must have been relieved when the new light was developed before that people burned whale oil lamps to light their homes.



11. Battery

All the portable electronic devices used today were made possible through the efforts of Ontario chemical engineer Lewis Urry. While he was working at the Eveready Battery Company in the 1950s, he was charged with making standard zinc-carbon batteries last longer. So, he developed something newer and better instead, an alkaline battery that could deliver more energy for much longer. Today more than 80 per cent of batteries are based off Urry’s original designs. Urry’s alkaline prototype later developed the name Energizer battery.

12. Oscillator

The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 began a new quest in innovation. Reginald Fessenden developed an oscillator that detected lurking icebergs by reflecting radio signals off them. An early form of sonar, the Fessenden Oscillator was used during World War I to detect enemy submarines and underwater mines.

13. Pacemaker

The first pacemaker, which stayed at the hospital, was built by electrical engineer John Hopps in 1949. For those that are unaware of what a pacemaker is, it is a little device placed in chest or abdomen to help control heart rhythms. Various testing and improvements by Hopps and many others over the years led to implantable pacemakers. Hopps himself needed a pacemaker in 1984.



14. Hollow flashlight

High school student inventor Ann Makosinski wanted to help her friend in the Philippines, who didn’t have a light source to study at night. After tons of research and various testing, Makosinski developed the “hollow flashlight”, which is a handheld device using body heat instead of batteries to generate light. “Using four Peltier tiles and the temperature difference between the palm of the hand and ambient air, I designed a flashlight that provides bright light without batteries or moving parts,” Makosinski said at the Google science fair in 2013. “My design is ergonomic, thermodynamically efficient, and only needs a five-degree temperature difference to work.” Makosinski has impacted a lot of young science lovers across the nation, including Ontario Science Centre host, Roshelle Filart, who guides guests through the Canada 150 Discovery Way exhibit: “My favourite story in terms of the process of innovation goes to a young lady by the name of Ann Makosinski.”

15. Tongue-controlled computer mouse invention

Emma Mogus was the winner of the 2016 Weston Youth Innovation Award for her tongue-controlled computer mouse, which consists of a sports’ mouth guard equipped with five buttons that can be pressed with the tongue. The mouth guard is connected by ethernet cable to a circuit board which, in turn, plugs into a computer with a USB cord. Mogus, a high school senior, hopes to provide those with communication deficiencies and physical limitations the opportunity to participate fully in society.


~ Video made by the Sun News Network

** All photos featured for telephone, pager, snowmobile, walkie talkie, wheelchair, IMAX, light bulb, battery and oscillator are displayed at the Ontario Science Centre in the Canada 150 Discovery Way exhibit. Photos were taken and edited by Ryann Kahler.**

** All photos featured for pacemarker, standard time, trackball, instant replay, canadarm and hollow flashlight, were images taken with no copyright restrictions. Photos were modified and edited by Ryann Kahler**

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