Canada, the Great White North, land of the world’s finest maple syrup, home of the Rocky Mountains, with rich natural landscapes spanning from sea to shining sea, and a reputation as one of the kindest countries on Earth.
As Canadians, we have lots to be proud of including a long and impressive history of innovation and world-changing inventions. From insulin to peanut butter, generations of Canada’s most visionary thinkers have developed technologies that change the way we live at home and across the globe.
In honour of Canada’s biggest national holiday, we’re celebrating some of our nation’s most electric innovators. Join us on this journey of discovery and appreciation for Canadian innovations that use electricity to light up our lives, keep us connected, and get us where we need to be.
Alexander Graham Bell
One of Canada’s most well-known inventors, Bell developed an important technology that billions across the globe use each and every day: the telephone.
Raised by his mother, an accomplished pianist despite her deafness, and his father, a professor studying the field of human speech, Bell developed a deeply personal interest in sound technology. From a young age, his curiosity led to a handful of useful inventions including an automatic corn husker at the age of 12.
In the early 1870s, Bell became transfixed by the idea that it could be possible to transmit human voice over wires using electricity. Working together with his partner Thomas Watson, the team developed a working solution in 1875 and raced to the patent office, narrowly beating out rival inventors Meucci and Gray.
Granted his patent for the telephone in March 1876, Bell officially made the first ever phone call, instructing his partner, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”
Bell’s other notable inventions include the metal detector, graphophone, and audiometer.
John Joseph Wright
Born in Yarmouth, England, Wright first arrived in Canada as a millwright in the early 1870s before he began pursuing electrical experiments and inventions. Wright first began working on the development of improved electrical generators in the late 1870s which eventually led to the installation of North America’s first electric-arc street lamp.
Wright would eventually open Toronto’s first commercial power station and began providing electric lighting to businesses in the city before changing focus to his most famous invention: the very first electric streetcar.
Commissioned by the Toronto Industrial Exhibition in 1883 to install a demonstration electric railway, Wright’s original design failed to accomplish the task. Trying again in 1884, Wright was able to motorize a Grand Truck flatcar, successfully developing the first electric streetcar. To this day, electric streetcars remain an important mode of transportation throughout Toronto and in cities across the world.
A renowned Canadian inventor, born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1904, George Klein plied his trade as a mechanical engineer and designer for more than 40 years, contributing to countless innovations from wind tunnels, to space shuttles, and even nuclear reactors.
Despite his wide ranging contributions, Klein remained most proud of the “Klein Chair”, the world’s first mass-produced electric wheelchair. Klein’s invention was born in the aftermath of the Second World War and the revolutionary use of penicillin in modern medicine. As the use of penicillin became increasingly common in combating infection, the likelihood of surviving wartime spinal cord injuries had increased dramatically, leading to less fatalities but an increasing number of disabled war veterans.
Thanks to strong advocacy from Canadian veterans, including para- and quadriplegics who were dissatisfied with manual wheelchair solutions, Klein was commissioned to develop an alternative to help improve the quality of life for disabled veterans. By 1953, he had developed a working prototype and began mass-producing his chair. He would later grant patent-free rights to encourage production across North America and revolutionize mobility for disabled individuals across the world.
Henry Woodward & Mathew Evans
The inventors of one of the most revolutionary technologies in human history, Woodward and Evans are far from household names. In 1874, the pair were granted Canadian patent 3,738 for their invention – the electric light bulb.
Their design, considered at the time as fully effective and sufficiently promising for commercial development, is credited by many as the first example of an electric, incandescent light bulb in history. The bulb, consisting of a glass tube, two wires, and a carbon ‘filament’, was also patented in the United States. Despite its viability, the pair did not have sufficient resources to commercialize their invention and decided instead to sell their patents to an enterprising American inventor by the name of Thomas Edison.
Edison would go on to create an improved design based on the original Woodward & Evans bulb and the rest, as they say, is history…
When you wake up on Canada Day and turn on your lights or start a pot of coffee, just like every other day you can be sure that the electricity that powers your life will be there. Electricity can often be taken for granted, but contributes so much to improving the quality of our lives.
This Canada Day, whether you call your friends to make plans or take a streetcar into the city to celebrate, we urge you to remember the innovative Canadians that put the wonders of electricity to use to develop these revolutionary inventions that have made a difference in the lives of billions of people all across the globe.