12 Great Canadian Discoveries

Did you know – peanut butter, Hawaiian pizza, poutine, maple syrup, and coffee crisp chocolate all originated in Canada? Even the famous California roll, butter tarts, and Nanaimo bars belong to Canada. Besides culinary inventions, Canada has a number of other innovations of which to be proud. The Canadarm is one such example. The robotic arm was used for decades on NASA’s Space Shuttle Program to assist with the capture of and repairs to satellites. Other famous inventions include the game Trivial Pursuit, the goalie hockey mask, and even standard time. Interestingly, many of the nation’s innovations fall under three major categories: day-to-day items, sports, and medicine.

Canadians have come up with some very practical inventions used in daily life. One such invention is the garbage bag. Created in 1950 by Harry Wasylyk from Manitoba and Larry Hanson from Ontario, the first green garbage bags were sold for commercial use only (Bellis, 2019). The Winnipeg General Hospital was the first to purchase the bags. The invention was then sold to a company in Ontario which, in turn, sold the bags in stores under the name of Glad – which continues to sell them to this day (Bellis, 2019).  The modern zipper is another invention few people recognize as Canadian, albeit shared with America and Sweden. Swedish-born American engineer, Gideon Sundback, came up with the design in 1913 (King, 2012). He opened his own fastener company in St. Catharines, Canada in 1925 and started mass producing the modern zipper there (Cheevers, 2017). But perhaps the most famous Canadian invention is the telephone, although it too is considered a shared invention. Alexander Graham Bell, Scottish by birth, immigrated to Canada with his family after the death of two of his brothers in 1870 (Hochfelder, 2020). A year later, to pursue a teaching career, Bell moved to the United States. There he invented the technology for the telephone in 1876, patenting one of the world’s greatest inventions. Bell did not become a U.S. citizen until 1882 through marriage to an American woman, Mabel Hubbard (Phillipson, 2017). But he remained a Canadian through and through, passing away in his home in Nova Scotia in 1922.

Besides daily life, Canadian inventions have also significantly impacted the world of sports. Basketball, unbeknownst to many, is a Canadian invention. A Canadian physical education teacher by the name of James Naismith invented the team sport while teaching at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts (Butler, 2017). It had been a long, cold winter that year (1891), and Naismith needed a game to play indoors with his class. With a peach basket and a soccer ball, Naismith quickly invented one of Canada’s favourite sports – basketball. By 1930, the sport was being played internationally, becoming an official Olympic sport in 1936 (Olympic Games, 2020). Besides basketball, Canada is also known for its invention of the snowmobile. Joseph-Armand Bombardier, an entrepreneur and inventor who lived in rural Quebec, invented the snowmobile in reaction to a family tragedy back in 1935 (Yahri, 2017). When Bombardier was unable to get his two-year old son to a doctor in time due to the conditions on the ground, he created a new type of transport: the snowmobile. The vehicle came to market in 1939 with around 100 snowmobiles sold at the time, mainly to rural doctors and priests. Nowadays, there are 600,000 registered snowmobiles in Canada, mainly used for recreational sports purposes – with over a million in the United States (ISMA, n.d.).  Five pin bowling – a far cry from snowmobiling – was also invented in Canada. With 10 pin bowling popular in the United States but not catching on in Canada due to the heavy balls (16 pounds), five-pin bowling slowly came into being in Guelph, Ontario (Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, 2017). Tommy Ryan, the owner of a ten-pin bowling alley, decided to adapt the sport to make it easier to play. Hence, he created a lighter, smaller version of the game called five-pin bowling.

Although sports inventions feature dominantly in Canadian history, medical inventions have also received global recognition. One major Canadian medical breakthrough occurred with the invention of insulin by a group of doctors and researchers in 1922, although only two of these were honoured with the Nobel Prize the following year – Banting and Macleod (Bliss, 2018). Millions of diabetes patients around the world were – and continue to be – grateful for this miraculous invention. People with heart disease have also benefited from Canadian genius. The current implantable cardiac pacemaker is thanks to the original work of John Hopps, Canada’s father of biomedical engineering (Bains, 2017). Today, around 3 million people in the world have pacemakers with an additional 600,000 receiving implants annually thanks to Hopp (Wood & Ellenbogen, 2002). Clearly many people have benefitted from this invention, but Canada’s electric wheelchair rivals the pacemaker in terms of societal impact. Invented in 1953 by mechanical engineer George Klein, the electric wheelchair rose out of the need to help disabled soldiers injured in World War II (Bourgeois-Doyle, 2017).  A few years later, the chair was produced on masse to help disabled people around the world, not just soldiers. Today, millions of people around the world enjoy a better quality of life due to the electric wheelchair, with researchers citing studies of increased self-esteem and greater social involvement as a result of the invention (Kairy et al., 2014).

More than a million patented inventions have been registered in Canada – with a good number of these falling into the three main categories of daily use, sports, and medicine. These include the notable inventions of the garbage bag, zipper, and telephone as well as sports-related inventions such as the sport of basketball, the snowmobile, and five-pin bowling. In the medical field, insulin, the pacemaker, and the electric wheelchair are representative of some of Canada’s life-altering creations. As we speak, thousands of engineers and scientists are hard at work across Canada experimenting with different ideas to make the world a better place. If our past successes at inventions are any indication, our future is sure to be in good hands.



Bains, P. (2017). John Hopps and the pacemaker: A history and detailed overview of devices, indications, and complications. BC Medical Journal, 59(1), 22-28.

Bellis, M. (2019). Who invented the green garbage bag? Retrieved February 13, 2020 from https://www.thoughtco.com/who-invented-the-green-garbage-bag-1991843

Bliss, M. (2018). The discovery of insulin. Retrieved February 14, 2020 from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-discovery-of-insulin

Bourgeois-Doyle, D. (2017). The maker: George Klein and the first electric wheelchair. Retrieved February 14, 2020 from https://news.engineering.utoronto.ca/maker-george-klein-first-electric-wheelchair/

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. (2017). Five pin bowling.Retrieved February 14, 2020 from http://canadasports150.ca/en/five-sports-invented-in-canada/five-pin-bowling/149

Cheever, M. (2017). Canadian, eh? Famous Canuck inventions, including some with Niagara ties. Retrieved February 14, 2020 from https://www.niagarathisweek.com/community-story/7388090-canadian-eh-/

Hochfelder, D. (2020). Alexander Graham Bell. Retrieved February 14, 2020 from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-Graham-Bell

ISMA. (n.d.). Snowmobiling statistics and facts. Retrieved February 14, 2020 from http://www.snowmobile.org/snowmobiling-statistics-and-facts.html

Kairy, D., Rushton, P., Archambault, P., Pituch, E., Torkia, C., El Fathi, A., Stone, P., Routhier, F., Forget, R., Demers, L., Pineau, J., & Gourdeau, R. (2014). Exploring powered wheelchair users and their caregivers’ perspectives on potential intelligent power wheelchair use: A qualitative study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health11(2), 2244–2261. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph110202244

King, R. (2012). Gideon Sundbück – the inventor of the zipper – celebrated with a Google doodle. Retrieved February 14, 2020 from https://nationalpost.com/news/gideon-sundback-the-inventor-of-the-zipper-celebrated-with-a-google-doodle

Olympic Games. (2021). Basketball equipment and history. Retrieved February 14, 2020 from https://www.olympic.org/basketball-equipment-and-history

Phillipson, D. (2017). Alexander Graham Bell. Retrieved February 14, 2020 from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/alexander-graham-bell

Wood, M., & Ellenbogen, K. (2002). Cardiac pacemakers from the patient’s perspective. Circulation, 105(18), 2136-2138.

Yahri, E. (2017). Joseph-Armand Bombardier. Retrieved February 14, 2020 from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/joseph-armand-bombardier


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