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Matters of fact Thumbnail

Matters of fact

Invented by Canadians. 

There have been many Canadian innovations over the years, but you might be surprised by these lesser-known inventions.

 The humble paint roller

In the 1930s, interior design became popular, and people often used paint to refresh their homes. In those days, the only way to paint was using a brush, which was time consuming and costly. In 1940, a Toronto man named Norman Breakey came up with a solution to help save time and money – attach a piece of fabric to a hand-held roller and roll the paint over the walls. Norman’s genius idea became a hit, but he never applied for a patent.

 Trusty garbage bags

In the 1950s, three Canadians designed a bag from a new form of plastic as a more sanitary way to get rid of garbage. Frank Plomp of Toronto and Winnipeggers Harry Wasylyk and Larry Hansen each created their own version of the polyethylene bag – but it was Harry’s product, bought by the Union Carbide Company in the 1960s and manufactured under the name Glad, that became a household staple. Unfortunately, the non-biodegradable bags are major contributors to global pollution, and even though compostable and biodegradable bags are now widely available, there’s still work to do.

 Ooey-gooey peanut butter

Some people believe that American agricultural pioneer and peanut enthusiast George Washington Carver invented peanut butter, but that invention can actually be attributed to a pharmacist in Montreal. Marcellus Gilmore Edson was looking for a substitute protein for people who weren’t able to eat solid foods. He ground roasted peanuts to make a thick, spreadable paste, then patented the recipe in 1884.

 The IMAX experience

Canadian filmmakers Graeme Ferguson and Roman Kroitor produced two films (In the Labyrinth and Polar Life) for Expo 67 in Montreal. The films were shown across multiple giant screens and the directors realized they needed different equipment to film. They invented a process to capture high-resolution images and project them onto ultra-large screens and went on to found IMAX (short for Image MAXimum) Corporation along with Robert Kerr and William C. Shaw. The first permanent IMAX theatre opened in 1971 – the Cinesphere at Toronto’s Ontario Place. In 1994, an American company bought IMAX and the rest is history.

 The pursuit of Trivial Pursuit

During a game of scrabble in 1979, two friends in Montreal, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott, devised their own version of a trivia board game. They managed to secure funding to create a prototype of the game and enlisted the help of 18-year-old illustrator, Michael Wurstlin, to design the artwork. Trivial Pursuit hit the stores in 1981 and was an instant hit. Over 100 million copies have been sold in 26 countries and 17 languages.

 A controversial goalie mask

Montreal Canadiens’ goalkeeper Jacques Plante was tired of getting hit in the face with a puck. In 1959, during a game between Montreal and New York, he was injured and required stitches. Jacques came back on the ice wearing a fibreglass face mask, custom-made by Bill Burchmore, who was a Canadiens fan and a fibreglass worker in Montreal. Jacques’ coach was furious, believing the mask would be a distraction, but Jacques refused to take it off. In fact, he refused to play again without the mask. And then the Habs went on an 18-game winning streak. Today the goalie mask is standard equipment.

 A light-bulb moment

Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb; he perfected it. A few inventors actually worked on versions of the light bulb over the years. Two of them, Toronto medical electrician Henry Woodward and his colleague Mathew Evans, filed a Canadian patent on July 24, 1874. They tried to commercialize their bulb but were unsuccessful in funding the high production costs. In 1876, Woodward filed for a U.S. patent, and three years later Edison, who was working to improve the bulb, paid him $5,000 for it.


Canadian innovations in space

Canada has long been a big player in space exploration. Here are a few ways Canada has contributed over the years:

July 20, 1969: The Apollo lunar module touches down on the moon. Canada’s Héroux-Devtek designed the landing system, and the hardware remains on the moon’s surface to this day.

November 13, 1981: The first Canadarm launches – one of Canada’s most famous robotic and technological achievements. Among other tasks, the Canadarm was key in the assembly of the International Space Station.

September 14, 1997: RADARSAT-1, the first Earth observation satellite operated by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), takes the first high-resolution satellite image of the South Pole.

April 22, 2001: During Canada’s first spacewalk, astronaut Chris Hadfield attaches Canadarm2 to the International Space Station.

March 11, 2008: Canada’s Dextre, one of the most sophisticated robots of the time, is launched to help maintain the International Space Station.

August 6, 2012: NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory lands on Mars carrying the Canadian Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer on the Mars rover Curiosity. The spectrometer determines the chemical makeup of Martian rocks and soils.

December 25, 2021: The James Webb Space Telescope, a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the CSA, successfully launches from French Guiana. The Canadian components, delivered in 2012, included the Fine Guidance Sensor, which directs the telescope precisely, and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph, which helps find the most distant, earliest objects in the universe.

April 3, 2023: The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne announces that Jeremy Hansen will be the first CSA astronaut to fly around the moon as part of NASA's Artemis program.

Sources: 5 Canadian space inventions (that aren't the Canadarm)Canadian space milestones | Canadian Space Agency (asc-csa.gc.ca)

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