The Greatest Canadian Invention

Greatest Canadian Invention: The Inventions and Their Inventors

[Each of the fifty inventions listed below, with one exception (number 41),
includes one or two recommended websites to serve as a starting point for
student research. The amount of information available varies considerably from
invention to invention. Students should be encouraged to explore other websites
and traditional resources as necessary.]

Click here for the CBC site to get started and look at the 50 inventions here

You can also check here for another list of websites for Canadian Inventors



(in alphabetical order)

1. Alkaline Long-lasting Battery, 1959 [Lewis Urry]

Long-lasting alkaline batteries were invented by Lewis Urry. One of his battery
prototypes is now displayed near Thomas Edison’s light bulb in the Smithsonian.
Corrosion Doctors:
“Lew Urry”

National Public Radio: “Lewis Urry, Alkaline Battery Innovator, Dies”


2. Ardox Spiral Nail, 1954 [Allan Dove]
Allan Dove really hit the nail right on the head with this invention. He created a
spiraled nail that? once nailed in ?held firmly in wood.
Canadian Home Workshop: “Ardox Nails”

3. Automatic Lubricating Cup, 1872 [Elijah McCoy]
Elijah McCoy was born in 1844 in Colchester, Ontario? the son of former slaves
who had fled along the Underground Railroad. His invention inspired the term
“The Real McCoy.” It was a device that fed oil to machine bearings and
revolutionized the mechanical industry. “Elijah McCoy”

4. Basketball, 1892 [James Naismith]
James Naismith was looking for something to keep his bored students occupied.
So he invented a game involving a ball and two open-bottomed peach baskets.
The rest is hoop history. “Basketball – James Naismith”

5. Birch bark Canoe [First Peoples]
Greatest Canadian Invention in the Classroom p. 6 of 24
The only canoe in the world made out of birch bark. This vessel was invented in
Canada? and its ingenious design has stayed afloat for centuries.
Canada’s SchoolNet: “Aboriginal Innovations in Arts, Science and Technology

6. Blackberry, 1999 [Mike Lazaridis]
The wireless hand-held phone with email is so addictive they call them
“crackberries”. In 1999, Mike Lazaridis invented this device that lets your thumbs
do the walking. “The Interview: Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion”

7. Bloody Caesar, 1969 [Walter Chell]
Walter Chell settled on a mixture of hand-mashed clams, tomato juice, vodka,
Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and a celery-stick for a garnish. Eureka!
EnRoute: “You Say Tomato, I Say Clamato”

8. CANADARM, 1975 [Spar Aerospace/NRC]
The robotic CANADARM lifts Canada’s technical wizardry to new heights…and
hasn’t malfunctioned once in 50 missions with NASA’s Space Shuttle.
CBC Archives: “Canadarm - A Technology Star”

IEEE Canada: “The Canadarm”

9. Caulking Gun, 1894 [Theodore Witte]
This inventor saw his “puttying tool” as a useful way to insulate windows. And it
all started when he was watching his local baker decorate a cake.
Canadian Home Workshop: “Caulking Gun”

10. Cobalt-60 “Bomb” Cancer Treatment, 1951 [Harold Johns]
No, it didn’t bomb countries—it destroyed cancer cells with radiation in a fast,
cheap, and powerful way.
Greatest Canadian Invention in the Classroom p. 7 of 24
CBC Archives: “Debut of the Cobalt Bomb”

11. CPR-Mannequin: “ACTAR 911”, 1989 [Dianne Croteau, Richard

Croteau and Brault invented a light and easily transportable life-size torso to
replace the heavy full-size ones being used for CPR training.
The Canadian Design Resource: “Actra 911 CPR Trainer”

12. Crash-Position Indicator-CPI, 1957 [Harry Stevinson]
While working at the NRC's National Aeronautical Establishment, Harry
Stevinson invented a special system for locating a crashed plane.
I EEE Canada: “The Crash Position Indicator Aviation Safety”

13. Electric Oven, 1882 [Thomas Ahearn]
Thomas Ahearn invited a skeptical group of electrical engineers for an elaborate
dinner. After they had eaten, he informed them, to their surprise and horror, that
it had been cooked by electricity? shocking news at the time. “Thomas Ahearn”

14. Electric Wheelchair, 1952 [George Klein]

One of the tragic legacies of World War II was the number of quadriplegic veterans returning to North America. Prolific inventor George Klein came up with a joystick-driven wheelchair to give them mobility. Sadly, no Canadian manufacturer stepped up to the plate to build them… so the design was handed over to the United States.

National Research Council of Canada: “NRC Helps Welcome Home a Great Canadian Innovation: Original Electric Wheelchair Returns to Ottawa”

15. Electron Microscope, 1939 [James Hillier, Arthur Prebus]

Postgraduate students working in the Physics Department of the University of Toronto, James Hillier and Arthur Prebus developed the first ever high-resolution electron microscope for all types of samples.

16. Electronic Music Synthesizer, 1945 [Hugh Le Caine]

A scientist and musician with a wry sense of humour, he named his first instrument the “Electronic Sackbut”. It evolved into the synthesizer― without which disco music may never have been born. “Le Caine, an Inventor’s Notebook,” by Gayle Young

17. Explosives Vapour Detector, 1985 [Lorne Elias]

A chemistry professor from Carleton invented one of the first explosives vapour detectors that sniffs out hidden bombs. His portable devices keep people safe in airports worldwide.

Carleton University: “Explosives Expert Lorne Elias”

18. Five Pin Bowling, 1908 [Thomas E. Ryan]

Smaller bowling balls, half the pins, and… presto! Tommy Ryan invents a Canadian twist to an old game.

Canadian 5 Pin Bowlers Asociation: “History of 5 Pin Bowling”

19. Fog Horn, 1853 [Robert Foulis]

Robert Foulis was a land surveyor in New Brunswick. The foggy weather of Saint John inspired his invention of a coded series of steam whistles to warn ships that the shore was looming. It worked in a similar way to a teakettle.

20. Goalie Mask, 1959 [Jacques Plante]

Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante was sick and tired of having his face stitched up from flying pucks. So he and Fibreglass Canada developed the goalie mask and made hockey history.

Wikipedia: “Jacques Plante”


Library and Archives Canada: “1959 – Jacques Plante and the First Hockey Mask”

21. Green Garbage Bag, 1950 [Harry Wasylyk, Larry Hansen]

This one has it in the bag. Millions are in use every day. Raccoons everywhere can testify to their convenience. “Garbage Bag – Harry Wasylyk”


Library and Archives Canada: “Garbage Bag”

22. G- Suit, 1941 [Wilbur Rounding Franks]

No, it didn’t make you fly. But Dr. W.R. Franks’ invention of the Anti-Gravity Suit at the University of Toronto let jet pilots withstand higher centrifugal forces without passing out.

Banting Research Foundation: “Dr. Wilbur Franks”

23. Instant Mashed Potatoes, 1962 [Edward Asselbergs]

A gourmet’s worst nightmare: the instant mashed potato flake. Asselbergs invented a special technique that dehydrated a spud into flakes while working for the Department of Agriculture.

Wikipedia: “Instant Mashed Potato”


Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: “Potato Facts”

24. Instant Replay, 1955 [CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada]

In 1955, George Retzlaff at the CBC produced the first in-game replays. Sports broadcasting took a quantum leap into the future when the instant replay was born.

Museum of Broadcast Communications: “Hockey Night in Canada”

25. Insulin, Treatment for Diabetes 1921 [Frederik Banting, Charles Best]

It came to Banting in a dream one night― the Nobel-prize winning idea of how to treat diabetes with insulin. With the help of Charles Best, he finally isolated the compound that has changed the lives of millions of diabetics ever since.

Canada’s Digital Collections: “Insulin: Saving Millions of Lives Worldwide”

26. JAVA Programming Language, 1994 [James Arthur Gosling]

No, it’s not a mellow cup of coffee, but a multi-purpose, cross-platform, object-oriented programming language. It’s versatile enough to be used in a wide variety of applications… including the World Wide Web.

BusinessWeek Online: “The Man Who Brewed Up Java”

27. Key Frame Animation, 1970s [Nestor Burtnyk, Marcelli Wein]

Nestor Burtnyk and fellow scientist Marcelli Wein eliminated the need for animation artists to draw each and every frame. Their invention revolutionized the animation industry and earned them an Academy Award in 1997. “Retired NRC Scientists Burtnyk and Wein honoured as Fathers of Computer Animation Technology in Canada”

28. Lacrosse [First Peoples]

It used to be played with a hair-stuffed deerskin ball known as baggataway―meant to settle feuds among warriors. Now it’s one of our fastest-growing sports and the official Canadian game of summer.

CBC Archives: “Lacrosse: A History of Canada’s Game”

29. Light bulb, 1874 [Henry Woodward, Mathew Evans]

In 1874, Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans patented the first electric light bulb; after having tested it successfully in Toronto. Then he sold the patent to Thomas Edison. Bad move.

Mysteries of Canada: “The First Electric Light Bulb”

30. Marine Screw Propeller, 1833 [John Patch]

John Patch installed a screw propulsion system on a schooner in the Bay of Fundy in 1834, moving a large ship forward without wind power― and astonishing local onlookers. Tragically, Patch was denied a US patent when he went to Washington, and he later died as an inmate of the Yarmouth poorhouse.

Canada’s Digital Collections: “John Patch: Propeller of Ships 1781-1861”

31. Marquis Wheat, 1908 [Sir Charles Saunders]

The wheat that won the west. In 1908, Dr. Charles Saunders developed a coldweather resistant grain that turned Canada into one of the great breadbaskets of the world.

Canadian Grain Commission: “Marquis Wheat: King Wheat is 100 Years Old”

32. Pablum, 1930 [Alan Brown, Theodore Drake, Frederick Tisdall]

The original breakfast of champions. Three doctors from the Hospital for Sick Children came up with the perfect baby cereal that is still used today.

SickKids: “Alan Brown”

33. Pacemaker, 1950 [John Hopps, Wilfred Bigelow, John Callahan]

Can an ailing heart be jolted into working? John Hopps thought so, and, in 1950, he developed the first pacemaker.

CBC Archives: “First Pacemaker Implanted in Human”

34. Paint roller, 1940 [Norman Breakey]

Who could paint a ceiling without it? Norman Breakey invented the device that changed the world of home renovations forever.

Canadian Home Workshop: “Paint Roller”

35. Plexiglas, 1931 [William Chalmers]

You can stomp on it, protect your eyes with it, and see right through it. A grad student in chemistry at McGill perfected a technique for making transparent polymerized methyl methacrylate― more commonly known by the name “Plexiglas”.

McGill News: “Unknown Inventor”


Canadian Home Workshop: “Polymerized Methy Methacrylate”

36. Poutine, 1957 [Fernand Lachance]

In his small restaurant in Quebec, Fernand Lachance answered a trucker’s hurried request for fries and cheese curds by putting them all in a paper bag and saying it would make “a bloody mess.” That “mess”― poutine― has gone on to become a culinary classic unlike any other.

CBC Archives: “Vive la Poutine!”

37. Radio Voice Transmission, 1900 [Reginald Fessenden]

Many feel that Reginald Fessenden― not Marconi ―should be considered the true “Father of Radio”. Fessenden transmitted history’s first wireless voice message in 1900. Then in the year 1906, on Christmas Eve, he made the first radio voice broadcast― singing a carol to ships in the Atlantic and as far away as the Caribbean.

IEEE Canada: “An Unsung Hero: Reginald Fessenden, the Canadian Inventor of Radio Telephony”

38. Retractable Beer Carton Handle, 1957 [Steve Pasjack]

The sacred two-four deserves the perfect carton. In 1957 Steve Pasjack came up with a nifty way to carry your beers with a retractable handle on the case.

The Canadian Design Resource: “Scarborough Suitcase”

39. Robertson Screw, 1908 [Peter Robertson]

He called it the biggest little invention of the 20th century. Peter Lymburner Robertson of Milton, Ontario, invented a square-headed screw. The little screw that carries his name is now an essential part of the construction business

Mysteries of Canada: “Robertson Screws”

40. Self-propelled Combine Harvester, 1937 [Thomas Carroll]

In The Great Depression, Thomas Carroll rolled all stages of wheat harvesting― binding, stooking, threshing and cleaning― into one operation. During WWII, his invention was doing the work of hundreds to make up for a shortage of farm labour.

Australian Dictionary of Biography: “Carroll, Thomas (Tom) (1888-1968)”

41. Separable Baggage Check, 1882 [John Mitchell Lyons]

While waiting in airports, tired travelers might sit and ponder who invented the separable baggage check tag. Well… they might be startled awake to know it was an inventor from Canada’s Maritimes. And the inventive idea still travels well.

42. Ski-Doo, 1922 [Armand Bombardier]

Talk about teenage ingenuity. Joseph-Armand Bombardier, a 15 year-old kid from Quebec, took the motor of an old Ford, somehow attached it to a sleigh, and changed winter transport forever.

J.Armand Bombardier Museum: “J. Armand Bombardier”

43. Snowblower, 1925 [Arthur Sicard]

He was considered oddly optimistic for trying to conquer winter. But in 1925, Arthur Sicard’s contraption quickly cleared Montreal’s roads, and got the city moving after a snowstorm.

Suite 101: “Snowblower”

44. Standard time, 1878 [Sandford Fleming]

If you want to make sure the trains run on time, you better have all your clocks ticking in unison. Sir Sandford Fleming, one of the architects of the CPR, did just that.

CBC Archives: “Sir Sanford Fleming Delivers ‘the World on Time’”

45. Telephone, 1876 [Alexander Graham Bell]

Canada’s most famous inventor started to experiment with sound when he was just a teenager. After years of tinkering he figured out how to send sound-waves through wire, and the first―now famous―spoken words: “Mr. Watson, come here, I need you,” were transmitted on March 10, 1876. “Alexander Graham Bell”

46. UV Degradable Plastics, 1971 [James Guillet]

This Toronto chemistry professor discovered a new plastic that, eventually, turns to dust when continually exposed to sunlight.

University of Toronto: “James Guillet, Chemist and Teacher: 1927-2005” (under Alumni News)

47. Walkie-Talkie, 1942 [Donald L. Hings]

In 1942, Donald Hings invented the walkie-talkie for the Canadian military. Over 60 years later it’s an essential tool for soldiers everywhere.

HyperStealth Biotechnology Corporation: “Donald Lewes Hings”

48. WEEVAC 6, 1980s [Wendy Murphy]

It’s got six sturdy warm pockets to carry newborn babies to safety. The WEEVAC 6 is a first in stretchers ― it can fit half a dozen tiny patients at once.

Inventive Women: Inventive Women Biographies: “Wendy Murphy”

49. Wonderbra, 1964 [Louise Poirier]

“Plunge and push” is the secret technology designed to maximize cleavage in this gravity-defying invention. Louise Poirier, a designer working for a Montreal-based lingerie company, developed the revolutionary bra.

University of Michigan Business School: “Sara Lee: Wonderbra”

50. Zipper, 1913 [Gideon Sundback]

Can you imagine a world of just buttons and buckles? Do you know how long it would take to get dressed in the morning? Thanks to Gideon Sundback, that part of our lives became a lot easier. “The History of the Zipper”

Suggested Additional Web Resources

Canadian Inventors and Inventions
“Canadian Inventors – All About Canadian Inventors and Inventions.”, 2006. (

“Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame.” Canada Science and
Technology Museum, 2006.

“Inventive Women.” Inventive Women, 2006.

Greatest Canadian Invention in the Classroom p. 15 of 24

McGaghran, Terry. “50 Canadian Innovations That Changed Our Lives.”

Northeastern Ontario Communications Network, 2004. (www.operationdialogue.

National Research Council Canada. “Canadian Innovations and Innovators.”

National Research Council Canada, 2006. (www.nrccnrc.

Library and Archives Canada - Made in Canada: Patents of Invention and
the Story of Canadian Innovation

Intellectual Property and Patents
Bellis, Mary. “Lessons on Turning a New Invention Idea Into Money.”,
2006. ( [Note that some
information is specific to the United States]

Canadian Intellectual Property Office. “Patents.” Strategis, 2006.

CBC News. “Protecting Your Ideas in Canada.” Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation, 2006. (

I ntellectual Property Institute of Canada. “About Patents.” IPIC, 2006.
“Patent (Consumer Tips – Legal).” Better Business Bureau of Southern Alberta,

Invention As a Process
“Inventions.” Pitsco Ideas and Solutions, 2006.

National Research Council Canada. “A Day in the Life…” National Research
Council Canada, 2006. ( e.html)

Smithsonian National Museum of American History. “Inventors at Play.”
Smithsonian, 2002.