Canada has long been a fertile ground for great inventions. With a robust university system and a strong industrial base, Canadian inventors have thrived in the areas of agriculture, telecommunications, electronics, and medicine. Here are several noteworthy inventions that originated in the land of the Maple Leaf.
In the late 1930s, a man named Donald L. Hings was working for the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company. The company used "bush pilots" to fly between its remote mining outposts, and those pilots needed a lightweight radio to communicate with remote ground towers to get current weather and ground conditions.
Hings designed and built what he called a "two-way field radio" that was light enough for aviation use, and had sufficient battery power to allow the pilots to access the vital information they needed.
In 1939, Canada declared war on Germany, and the Canadian military recognized the importance of two-way field radios. They sought out Consolidated Mining and Smelting who lent Don Hinds to Canada's Department of National Defense. There, he further developed and refined his two-way field radios for military use, and his radios were used not only by the Canadian military, but by all the allied forces.
The term "Walkie-Talkie" was never used in military parlance, it was coined by reporters during World War II.
IMAX Movie System
In the 1960s, Canadian filmmaker Graeme Ferguson pioneered a new format for his documentary film, "Polar Life". Rather than being projected on one screen, it was projected on several screens at once, creating an immersive and larger-than-life experience for viewers.
Working with his production partners, Roman Kroitor, Robert Kerr and William Shaw, they expanded on this new format, creating what is today known as IMAX.
To create the IMAX experience, Ferguson and his partners needed a new type of film, and the film they designed came to be called the "15/70 film format." It is sized at 70 millimeters high and 15 film perforations in width, which works out to be 10 times larger than standard 35-millimeter film!
To project this new film, a totally new projector had to be invented. The film reels that hold 15/70 film are so heavy that the film needs to run through the projector horizontally, while conventional projectors feed film in from the top. The IMAX team also created a new type of vacuum system that forces each image to be placed perfectly in front of the projector lens for a super-clear image.
Projecting these ultra clear images onto screens that are 16 meters high and 22 meters wide, along with advanced 6-channel surround sound, creates an immersive experience for movie goers that is both spectacular and often overwhelming.
The Electric Wheelchair
Though not as well known as Alexander Graham Bell, Canadian George Klein and his inventions helped to shape the twentieth century. His fertile mind created innovations in aviation, defense systems and space technology, among others. Klein is perhaps most well known for inventing the electric wheelchair.
The second world war resulted in many soldiers returning home from the front with spinal injuries. Klein, working as a mechanical engineer at the National Research Council of Canada, set about designing an electric wheelchair that would increase the veterans' mobility and make their lives easier.
His electric wheelchairs utilized separate wheel drives for a tighter turning radius, and joystick controls for easy operation, systems that are still in use today. Klein believed that this project was the most rewarding of his long career.
No story about Canadian inventions would be complete without a mention of Alexander Graham Bell and one of the world's most important inventions – the telephone.
Although born in Scotland, Bell's family relocated to Brantford, Ontario when Bell was in his early twenties. Fascinated by electricity and sound, Bell modified a type of pump organ known as a "Melodeon" to transmit sounds over a distance using electricity.
Bell also had a lifelong interest in the human voice and human communication. In 1875, he would merge his knowledge of both of these fields to produce the first telephone.
Working on an invention called the "harmonic telegraph" that used metal reeds to create and reproduce tones, Bell realized that the human voice could theoretically be recorded and reproduced using a metal reed system, but he hadn't built a machine to test his theory. With his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, Bell began constructing prototypes to transmit audio tones over wire.
Bell and Watson changed the world when Bell struck one of the metal reeds, and through a wire at a distance, Watson could hear the sound of the reed being struck. Bell and Watson continued to improve their tone over wire invention, and on March 10, 1876, Bell spoke these words into his transmitter:
"Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you."
Thomas Watson, on the other end of the wire, heard the words clearly.