From peanut butter to the electric wheelchair, the stories behind numerous life-changing Canadian innovations are detailed in a new book.
Gov. Gen. David Johnston and Tom Jenkins, chair of the National Research Council and former CEO of OpenText, are the authors of Ingenious: How Canadian Innovators Made the World Smarter, Smaller, Kinder, Safer, Healthier, Wealthier and Happier. The authors hope their book reinforces and extends the culture of innovation in Canada.
“We started wanting to tell 50 stories of Canadian innovators, and what has amazed Tom and myself is how many there are,” Johnston told The Homestretch on Wednesday. The duo ultimately chronicled 297 innovations in the book, including the pacemaker, life jacket and chocolate bars.
“Innovations are not just technological, not just business, but they’re social innovations as well,” Johnston said.
Many of those innovations, and the stories behind them, are not well known.
“We’re sort of a humble people,” Jenkins said. “We’re pretty quiet. We don’t brag, we don’t talk about ourselves very much, and so we then lead ourselves to believe as a culture that we’re not really good inventors, the Americans are. And yet we knew that Canadians were actually great inventors and innovators.”
‘Opportunities and challenges’
For Johnston, his favourite story in the book is on the light bulb.
“It’s such a symbol of both our opportunities and challenges,” he said. “The light bulb was invented in Canada, not the United States. It was two inventors back in the 1870s that realized that if you passed an electric current through a resistant metal it would glow, and they patented that, but then they didn’t have the money to commercialize it.”
American inventor Thomas Edison went on to purchase that patent and made changes to the original design.
Johnston and Jenkins are also inviting readers to share their own innovation stories, on the book’s website.
“If Uncle Joe came up with something you think is amazing, you can put it up there,” Jenkins said.
The authors hope those submissions will help provide material for a second edition of the book.
With files from The Homestretch