Canada celebrated its 145th birthday this weekend. As I reflect on it, I think of some of the great accomplishments my country has achieved. Some may be amusing more than Earth-shattering—five-pin bowling comes to mind—but this country has actually achieved some great firsts in the realm of scientific innovation as well. Since this is a day to toot Canada’s horn, a think a little boasting is in order. These came from a website dedicated to scientific firsts:
1874 Henry Woodward patented the first incandescent lamp with a light bulb and then sold a share of the patent to Thomas Edison a year later.
1876 Alexander Graham Bell makes the first long-distance telephone call.
1879 Sir Sandford Fleming invented Standard Time, the idea of dividing the world into 24 time zones. Before that, every town set their clocks differently, designating 12 noon as the time when the sun was directly overhead. Standard Time began to be adopted worldwide in 1885 with the establishment of Greenwich Mean Time.
1900 Reginald Fessenden transmits the world’s first wireless voice message.
1901 Guglielmo Marconi receives the first transatlantic wireless message. The message originated in Cornwall, England and was received in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
1921 Sir Fredrick Banting and Charles Best discover insulin and make it available worldwide in 1922, relieving millions of people of the symptoms of diabetes.
1948 First Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) aircraft developed by deHavilland Canada. The Beaver can take off or land in only 600 meters and is still in wide use today. It’s successor, the Dash-7 is also still in wide use, worldwide.
1951 First cancer radiation therapy: the “Cobalt Bomb” in Ontario and a similar device by Harold Johns in Saskatchewan.
1962 Roger Tomlinson develops the world’s first Geographic Information System (GIS) the foremost method of mapping relations between humans and the environment.
1963 Phil Gold discovers the first identifiable cancer tumor antigen and first blood test for cancer is made available in 1970.
1963 James Till and Ernest McCulloch publish a landmark paper cementing the stem cell theory, the idea that some cells in the body can self renew as well as form other, more specialized tissue types. Doctors now routinely use bone marrow transplants—the first type of stem cell therapy—to treat cancer, and stem cells are now being investigated to combat diabetes, blindness, spinal cord injury and a wide range of other diseases.
1969 Willard Boyle invents the first camcorder, the CCD (Charge Coupled Device) which is at the heart of most digital cameras, camcorders, and telescope imaging systems.
1972 First domestic geostationary satellite in the world, Anik-1, launched by Telesat Canada to provide national telecommunications, including TV broadcasts.
1974 Richard Keith Downey working with Baldur Stefansson developed Canola (stands for CANadian Oil Low Acid), which was done by conventional plant breeding to produce a plant that yielded an edible oil low in erucic acid, now one of the leading oil crops in the world.
1978 Kenneth Hill discovered “photosensitivity” in light transmitting fibres, a key concept in the field of fibre-optics. Today it is used in “wavelength division multiplexing” to increase the transmission capacity of fibre-optic telecommunication cables.
1992 British Columbia professor William Rees develops the concept of the Ecological Footprint or carbon footprint, the measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems.
1993 The world’s first genetically engineered animal vaccine was launched by BIOSTAR, a Saskatchewan pharmaceutical company, now owned by Novartis Animal Health Canada Inc.
1995 Launch of Radarsat-1 the most powerful and first commercial synthetic aperture radar Earth observation satellite. Images can be taken through clouds and show objects 10m in size.
1997 Worlds’s first commercial therapeutic application of nanotechnology. Dr. Robert Burrell at the University of Alberta invented Acticoat antimicrobial wound dressings. The nanocrystalline silver-coated dressings are used in clinical practice in over 40 countries around the world to prevent life threatening infections and promote wound healing.
2008 Capture of the first-ever images of planets circling a star other than Earth’s Sun. Dr. Christian Marois of the National Research Council of Canada used the Gemini North and Keck telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii to capture infrared images of the planets. The images were then confirmed using advanced instrumentation and image-processing technology, allowing the team to identify three planets larger than Jupiter orbiting a star known as HR 8799 130 light years from Earth.
These are things that we as Canadians can all be proud of. My sincere hope as I reflect on this great country and this important day is that Canada will continue to make great scientific advancements that will benefit the country and the world the way those listed above have. Particularly I would like to see Canada lead the world in moving away from fossil fuels and developing renewable sources of energy so that it can lead by example for other nations to follow. We have some of the planet’s most precious natural resources with beautiful boreal forests and vast amounts of fresh water.
I know we have the capability. Now we need the leadership and the political will. Happy Birthday Canada. I hope that when you celebrate your bicentennial a little more than a half century from now, the world will be a much nicer place. And that you will have played a major part in it.