How much do you know about Atlantic Canadian inventions? Do a little bit of digging, and you’ll discover that we’re pretty resourceful people. It makes sense, since necessity is the mother of invention and as a region, we’ve had our fair share of challenges to overcome. Here are 25 ways we’ve done that.
1. The world’s first crossword board game
Move over Scrabble—Edward R. McDonald’s crossword puzzle game is the one to beat. Invented in Shediac, N.B., McDonald’s game was played 12 years before Scrabble was patented.
We can give at least partial credit to Newfoundland’s Dr. Maxwell House for making it possible to remotely diagnose and treat illnesses. Dr. House started Memorial University’s telemedicine program in the mid-1970s.
3. The vortex flushing toilet
In 1907, Thomas MacAvity Stewart of Saint John, N.B. patented his idea for a vortex flushing toilet, making that whole toilet business a little less, uh, crappy.
4. The first wheelchair accessible bus
The first wheelchair is Ontario’s, but in 1947 Walter Callow of Parrsboro, N.S. found another way to help people with physical disabilities get around with the “Callow wheelchair coach.”
5. The odometer
In 1854, the man from Mabou (Nova Scotia’s Samuel McKeen) invented the first modern odometer by attaching gear plates to the frame of a carriage and connecting them to a pinion on the carriage’s wheel.
6. Quick frozen food
Clarence Birdseye was working in Labrador when he discovered he could keep seafood fresher by freezing it almost immediately after catching it. Credit for showing Birdseye how to ice fish in the first place belongs to Labrador Inuit.
7. Dairy dispenser
Love a reliable shot of double cream in your morning coffee? You can thank Michael Duck of Lower Sackville, N.S. for that. The founder of SureShot Dispensing systems invented the first portion control dairy dispenser in 1985.
8. N. Viropotter
Invented by Rhondalynn Clements of Montague, P.E.I. in 1998, the N. Viropotter is a wooden device that lets gardeners create their own biodegradable starter pots from newspaper.
9. The pre-snowblower
Robert Carr Harris of Dalhousie, N.B. invented an early version of the snowblower in 1870, called the Railway Screw Snow Excavator.
10. Surgery anesthetic
Dr. Enid Johnson MacLeod of Jacksonville, N.B. didn’t invent curare (muscle relaxant)—First Nations people have hunted with it for centuries. But she was the first anesthetist to use it during surgery in 1942.
11. Corn Borer Crusher
Dr. Christine Noronha of Charlottetown, P.E.I. recently invented the Corn Borer Crusher, which crushes potato stems, killing the European corn borer larvae inside.
12. The dump truck
In 1920, Robert T. Mawhinney of Saint John, N.B. created the world’s first dump truck by attaching a box to the back of a truck, complete with a mast, cable, and winch.
13. HIV rapid testing kit
Dr. Abdullah Kirumira of Windsor, N.S. made a major breakthrough when he invented a diagnostic platform testing kit that could diagnose HIV in just two minutes.
14. The variable pitch propeller
Aeronautical engineer Wallace Rupert Turnbull made aviation a little safer when he invented the variable pitch propeller in his Rothesay, N.B. lab in the late 1920s.
15. Portable water bacteria removal system
Last year, 14-year-old Bedford, N.S. inventor Rachel Brouwer came up with a way to pasteurize and remove large particles from water using pop bottles, plumbing materials, and a wax indicator.
16. The metal detector
The first metal detector was pieced together by Alexander Graham Bell (who lived in Baddeck, N.S. for over 30 years) during an attempt to extract a bullet from President Garfield’s body in 1881.
In 1846, Parrsboro, N.S.-born Abraham Gesner discovered “albertite,” a flammable rock that led to the invention of kerosene.
18. The gas mask
It was called the Hypo Helmet, and Newfoundlander Cluny Macpherson invented it in response to WWI’s first gas attack on April 22, 1915.
19. The hockey stick
The earliest version of our commercial hockey sticks were created in the mid-1800s by Mi’kmaq carvers in Nova Scotia. Generally the sticks were carved from hornbeam wood.
20. Portable electric turbine
Andrew Cook of St. John’s, N.L. is the co-founder of Seaformatics Systems Inc. Their product, the Waterlily, is a portable electric turbine that uses wind or water power to recharge electronic devices.
21. Standardized time
Before Sir Sandford Fleming proposed the idea of standardized time in 1879, travelling by train was, at best, an exercise in guesstimation. At the time, clocks were set based on local astronomical observations.
22. Sea cucumber processing machine
Sea cucumbers are remarkably difficult to process because, well, they’re really squishy. Earlier this year, Memorial University engineers Joe Singleton, Mark Ingerman, and Stephen King (not that Stephen King) received their second patent for a new machine that can handle the slippery creatures.
23. Wood-based paper
As early as 1941, Lower Sackville, N.S. inventor Charles Fenerty starting using wood to make paper after a local paper mill had trouble sourcing the rags they needed to make good paper. Unfortunately, Fenerty never patented his discovery.
24. The Virtual Assistant
We’re talking about a new on-set visual communication tool created by the team at PEI’s Onset Communication Inc. What’s the big deal, you ask? It’s the first wireless collaboration tool for the film industry.
25. Ocean wave energy
The former Parsons Ocean Power Plant in Herring Cove, N.S. (incorporated in 1922) was the first commercial plant to convert the power of the ocean into energy. The Parsons in question was Petitcodiac, N.B.-native Osborne Havelock Parsons.
Did we miss your favorite Atlantic Canada invention? Tell us about it, and we’ll list it in our January 2017 edition.