Happy 150th Canada: The Technologies

-June 27, 2017

We previously looked at some of Canada’s more famous engineers. Continuing my very subjective survey, here’s a short list of technologies, not all electronic, that hail from the Great White North.


Diabetes was a death sentence for millions until Frederick Banting and Charles Best isolated insulin and developed production methods in 1921-22 (with help from other team members like Macleod & Collip; the story is somewhat complicated and messy).


Banting & Best laboratory (source: University of Toronto)



The first cardiac pacemaker was tested in 1950, developed by doctors Wilfred Bigelow and John Callaghan of the University of Toronto’s Banting and Best Institute, and engineer John Hopps of the National Research Council. It was an external unit, unlike the implanted ones of today.


Wilder Penfield (source: Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons. Transfer was stated to be made by User:YUL89YYZ., Public Domain, Link)
Neurological research

Canada became a significant centre for brain research largely due to the efforts of Wilder Penfield. Born in the US in 1891, Penfield studied and worked widely, landing in Montréal in 1928. In 1934, he founded the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University, and was famously known for electrical stimulation of the brain of conscious patients prior to operating. The Canadian Encyclopedia explains,“Epilepsy became Penfield's great inspiration. His surgical studies yielded reports on brain tumours, the pial circulation, the mechanisms of headache, the localization of motor, sensory and speech functions, and the role of the hippocampus in memory mechanisms.”



Robertson screw head (source: By User:Saforrest - Taken by User:Saforrest on 9 October 2007, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link)
Robertson screws

Go to any hardware store in Canada, and 90% of the screws there will have square-socket Robertson heads. We don’t really give it a second thought. Presented with the fact that such screws are uncommon outside the country, we can only shake our collective heads in wonder – that such an obviously and demonstrably superior technology has not been embraced everywhere. What can you do, eh?

Robertsons come in four main, colour-coded socket sizes, don’t easily slip when driving, and can be started by placing a screw on the driver – no magnetics required. What are you waiting for? Equip yourself Robertsonianally before your next project.





The “Packset”, a.k.a., Walkie-Talkie, was invented by Don Hings in 1937. Interestingly, another Canadian-born engineer, Alfred Gross, took up work on the walkie-talkie too.

IR Remote control

Though remote controls, wired and wireless, have been around since at least the time of Nikola Tesla, it wasn’t until 1980 that Canadian company Viewstar started manufacturing a cable TV box that used an infrared remote, the technology used by virtually all remotes today. Interestingly, it was ca. 1977 that this author built a one-way, IR-based voice communication system into a pair of old flashlight shells.


Flip-disc displays

Developed by Ferranti-Packard around 1960, magnetically-actuated flip-disc displays are still occasionally found in airports and other public spaces, as bus & train displays, etc.

Flip-disc display (source: By ŠJů, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link)


Coin & bill tech

Over the 2011-2013 period, Canadian banknotes transitioned to polymer technology. One of the advanced features is a diffraction grating which spells out the note’s denomination when point-illuminated. Here’s one of my favourite YouTube science people, Steve Mould, demonstrating this:


Also interesting, our infamous Loonie $1 coin (so nicknamed because of the Loon featured on the reverse) is an 11-sided rounded polygon of constant width. Again, Steve Mould:


Odds & ends

Thank you to Mental Floss for doing what they do so well – a list/summary – of more things you can Blame…thank Canada for:

  • Peanut Butter
  • Wonderbra
  • Odometer
  • Egg Carton
  • Foghorn
  • Paint Roller
  • Electric Wheelchair
  • Snowmobile
  • Snowblower

Read the complete series:

Michael Dunn is Editor in Chief at EDN with several decades of electronic design experience in various areas.

Follow Michael Dunn on and EDN on Instagram

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