20 Things You Had No Idea Were Invented in Canada
O Canada! For the country’s national holiday, Canada Day on July 1, let’s celebrate these cool inventions by our friends from the north. Our lives would be so much different without them, eh?
Although American agricultural pioneer George Washington Carver is often credited for inventing peanut butter, the first patent for the spreadable substance was actually given to Montreal, Canada’s Marcellus Gilmore Edson in 1884. He came up with the process of milling roasted peanuts to create “a consistency like that of butter,” which he promoted as a protein substitute for those who couldn’t have solid food. Schoolchildren everywhere are forever grateful. Find out where peanut butter and jelly sandwiches came from.
You can thank Canada for that awesome IMAX viewing of Avengers: Endgame. Canadian filmmakers Graeme Ferguson and Roman Kroitor first pioneered the technology of high-resolution images on huge screens at Montreal’s Expo ’67. With businessman Robert Kerr and engineer William Shaw, they founded Multi-Screen Corporation, which later became IMAX (short for “Image Maximum”). The first permanent IMAX theater, the Cinesphere, opened in Toronto’s Ontario Place in 1971. Originally used for science films and documentaries, IMAX was bought in 1994 by an American company, who turned it into a Hollywood powerhouse. Its headquarters remain in Toronto. Did you know Ontario also has the tallest dive roller coaster in the world?
Hockey itself may have actually originated in England. But the hockey mask, which has helped keep many a goaltender’s face intact, was first worn regularly by Montreal Canadiens player Jaques Plante in 1959. He was at first mocked for wearing the mask, and his coach didn’t like it because he thought it would be a distraction. But once Plante donned the mask, the Canadiens went on to an 18-game winning streak, proving players could perform just as well—if not better—without the threat of a puck to the face. Plante’s equipment innovation is now standard gear for professional and amateur hockey players.
Global time zones
You know those clocks that tell you what time it is in cities all around the world? They wouldn’t be possible without Canadian railroad engineer Sandford Fleming. In centuries past, local times were based on the sun, making them all slightly different from place to place. This didn’t matter much until rail travel made a standard system of keeping time across distances much more important. After missing his train and getting stuck on a railway platform due to non-synchronized clocks, Fleming came up with the idea of creating 24 time zones across the entire globe, which would form “international standard time.” In 1884 at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C., he presented his ideas, which were eventually adopted worldwide.
We can thank two Canadian journalists for setting off the quiz trend that’s still going strong today (think of how many online trivia quizzes you’ve taken!). In 1979, Montreal Gazette picture editor Chris Haney and sports journalist Scott Abbott came up with their own game while playing Scrabble. They scraped together a few investors, and after a slow start, Trivial Pursuit became “the biggest phenomenon in game history,” Time magazine reportedly said. Here are some fun facts you never knew about Trivial Pursuit: Over 100 million copies of the game have been sold, and 50 special editions have been created. Sadly, Haney died in 2010 at the age of 59.
Rotary snowplow, or “snowblower”
If there’s one thing Canadians know about, it’s snow. Winters in the True North can bring huge amounts of the white stuff, and eventually, people invented ways to deal with it—especially as it became necessary to clear railroad tracks of snow. So, the first rotary snowplow, which used a spinning mechanism to lift snow and shoot it away, was invented by J.W. Elliott, a Toronto dentist, in 1869. Soon after, Canadian Orange Jull improved the design with a new patent, with that machine first utilized in 1887, pushed by locomotives to clear snow along railways. In 1925, the blower was adapted for trucks by Canadian Arthur Sicard, a milkman tired of climbing over snow to make his deliveries. He called his invention the “Sicard Snow Remover Snowblower.”
Along with clearing snow, Canadians have sought ways to travel over it. Mechanic, inventor, and entrepreneur Joseph-Armand Bombardier sought for years to make the remote areas of Canada, including his isolated hometown of Valcourt, Quebec, more accessible in winter. He actually started working on his project as a teen, making it one of the 14 coolest things invented by kids; but he hadn’t yet perfected his machine so it would really work. Unfortunately, the problem of winter isolation hit very close to home for Bombardier in 1934, when his two-year-old son died from illness because he couldn’t get to a hospital. Bombardier doubled down on his efforts and in 1937 developed the first working snowmobile, which could hold seven people. When rural roads started being cleared more effectively, he switched “gears,” literally, to create a miniature, recreational snowmobile in 1959 he called the Ski-Doo—the same ones outdoor enthusiasts continue to use today.
The next time you have to take out the trash, blame Canada. In the 1950s, Winnipeg’s Harry Wasylyk used the flexible plastic polyethylene to create the first garbage bag, at the request of a local hospital looking for a sanitary way to dispose of waste. At the same time, a couple of other Canadians, Frank Plomp and Larry Hansen, were working on their own version of the plastic garbage bag. But it was Wasylyk’s that came up on top when Union Carbide Company bought his product and manufactured it for home use under the name Glad in the 1960s. In 1971, University of Toronto chemist James Guillet created a more eco-friendly, biodegradable version.
This is one of those accidental discoveries that changed the world. Maybe the phrase should be, “as Canadian as apple pie,” since that’s where the beloved McIntosh apple originated. In the early 1800s, farmer John McIntosh of Dundela, Ontario, came across apple seedlings growing in an area he was clearing; he replanted them in his garden and all but one died. Recognizing that the taste of the fruit the lone tree bore was something special, he learned how to graft the tree to reproduce the same variety. His son, Allan, began selling them, and a fruit phenomenon was born. The apple variety became so popular that a computer scientist at Apple named their new machine “Macintosh” after it—changing the spelling for copyright reasons. To this day, every single McIntosh apple is descended from that one tree, which fell in 1910. Interested in owning a piece of Canadian history? The original McIntosh farm, now in disrepair, was put up for sale last fall.
Yukon Gold potatoes
A much later agricultural creation that also came out of Canada was the Yukon Gold potato, developed by researcher Gary Johnston in 1966 at the University of Guelph, and sold beginning in 1980. The attractive yellow tubers, with thin, edible skin and a moist, buttery texture (even without the butter), were immediately appealing as an alternative to the basic white potato. Johnston and colleagues named the variety “Yukon Gold” after the Yukon River in Canada, with “gold” referencing both the potato’s color and Canada’s gold-rush history.