Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thank You O’ Canada

The United States of America and Canada share the continent of North America. These two countries are divided by a land border to the northwest and to the south of the continent. Referred to as the International Boundary, this is the longest border in the whole world. Alaska, which belongs to the US, lies alone on the northwest corner of the continent. Thirteen US states share the International Boundary with 8 Canadian provinces/territories. Of the two countries, Canada is bigger than the US. In fact, it is the 2nd largest country in the world while the US ranks 3rd.

A federal state, Canada is under a parliamentary democracy. It is also under a constitutional monarchy with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as the current head of state. Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Although the US is still the most admired country among all countries across the globe (this according to the annual GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications report), there is much to be admired about Canada, which incidentally also made it to the top 10 list of admired nations. One of the things Americans probably wished they had in the US Canadian citizens enjoy is universal healthcare. President Barack Obama’s health care bill is yet to materialize in a concrete way.

The country, which sports a red maple leaf on its flag, is often the butt of jokes by comedians and entertainers in the US Americans who are not shy about poking fun at Canadians once in a while. What are never mentioned in their digs are the things that Canada has contributed to the world. To jog everyone’s memory, here are but a few Canadian contributions that the world now benefits from.


In 1937, Canadian Donald Lewes Hings debuted his “packset” which journalists eventually referred to as the walkie-talkie. Hings’ creation was a portable voice radio used by employees of his employer, Consolidated Mining, during trips into the wilderness. It was easy to find the communication device because it was a very bright yellow thing. It was also watertight and could float. With a folding antenna and a 130-mile range, the device proved useful for the company. When World War II came, his “packset” became an important means of communication for military personnel in the battlefield. Hings developed a newer model that was called the “Handy-Talkie.” This was used by the military in 1942. King George VI bestowed an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) on Hings after the war for his contribution and service to the British Empire.

Citizens' Band and pager
Like Hings, Al Gross is also Canadian. In 1938, he patented his own walkie-talkie soon after Hings developed his own in 1937. Aside from his version of the potable communication device, he also invented the CB or Citizens’ Band and the telephone pager. Gross, through his company, came up with a two-way communications system that could utilize the first radio frequencies that the FCC allocated for personal use. In 1948, the FCC approved his system and he sold thousands of units to different groups including the US Coast Guard. In 1949, he tweaked his two-way radio and produced a one-way remote telephonic signaling system. This turned out to be the original telephone pager system.

One of the most popular smartphones in the market is the BlackBerry. Not many owners of this brand of smartphones probably know that the BlackBerry was born in Canada, in a company called Research In Motion or RIM in 1999. Since its initial launch, the BlackBerry has captured the business market by storm. Even personal users swear by this hi-tech phone. This Canadian export has standard cellular features and then some. Its mobile e-mail and instant messaging capabilities are the most widely used features. RIM knows how to innovate; thus, it continues to give the competition a run for the smartphone users’ money. The BlackBerry will surely continue to be one of Canada’s best exports for many years.

Sports and Games

If you think that basketball was invented in the United States, you are right! But like lacrosse (Canada’s national sport), it was a Canadian that invented one of the most played sports in the world. This team sport, sometimes referred to as “hoops” or “b-ball,” was first played at Springfield College (Massachusetts), then known as the International Young Men's Christian Association Training School or YMCA, in December of 1891. Physical education professor Dr. James Naismith wanted his students to play an indoor game that would keep them active even during the cold winter months. After much thought and sifting through ideas, he came up with the beginnings of basketball. Naismith nailed a peach basket (with its bottom intact) to the wall and instructed players to throw balls into the basket. Because there was no hole in the basket, if a player was successful in shooting the ball into the basket, the ball had to be retrieved manually. In time, the bottom of the basket was removed. Naismith came up with very basic rules for the game and the rest was history.

Trivial Pursuit
In 1979, a sports editor and a photo editor, with the help of two other people, developed a game that soon became one of the most popular board games of all time. Chris Haney, the photo editor of The Gazette (Montreal) and Scott Abbott, the sports editor of The Canadian Press, came up with a game that required players to scour the depths of their brains for answers to questions under different categories such as general knowledge, science, history and literature. The game, created with Ed Werner’s and John Haney’s help, was released in Canada in 1982. Today, there are many different types of Trivial Pursuit games catering to a wide variety of players. Aside from the traditional board game style, online and mobile versions are also available. Trivial Pursuit is now produced by Parker Brothers, a subsidiary of Hasbro.

Science and Medicine

Electron microscope
In laboratories across the globe, electron microscopes are put to work day in and day out. Electron microscopes are largely used today for observing microscopic specimens like cells, microbes, large molecules, metals, crystals and other biological as well as inorganic specimens. This type of microscope uses electron beams to illuminate specimens in order to produce magnified images. Electron microscopes are more powerful than their light-powered optical cousins. A number of scientists are credited with the invention of the electron microscope. But the world has the following Canadians to thank for putting together a practical electron microscope back in 1938: Professor E. F. Burton, students James, Hillier, Cecil Hall, and Albert Prebus.

The first cardiac pacemaker is credited to Canadian John Hopps. While he was with the National Research Council of Canada back in 1941, he discovered through his research on hypothermia that if the human heart ceased beating because of cooling, it can be artificially stimulated to restart again via electrical or mechanical means. The device he invented was an external pacemaker because it was too big to be placed inside the body. Hopps invented a device that has literally saved and continue to save many lives.

Motorized wheelchair
Many engineers from around the world attempted to create an electric or motorized wheelchair. But the motorized wheelchairs that many of these engineers made were too dangerous to use or they were impractical. Fortunately for Canada, the one who succeeded in giving wheelchair-bound people a new lease on life was George Klein, who, like Hopps, was with the National Research Council. Klein, together with his team, invented the first-ever practical motorized wheelchair in 1952. World War II veterans who were paralyzed from injuries sustained during the war were able to benefit from the improvements that Klein’s team made on the earlier designs of motorized wheelchairs. To this day, motorized wheelchairs continue to improve the quality of like of many people across the globe.

Everyday Things

The first patent for a snowmobile was given in 1927 to an American from Wisconsin named Carl. J. Eliason. His machine was called a “snowmachine” and not a snowmobile. Other inventors also contributed to the genesis of the snowmobile in its various forms and stages. But it was Canadian Joseph-Armand Bombardier, a Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Famer, who was bestowed the title of Father of Snowmobiling. He developed the type of snowmobile that is mostly in use today.

Electric oven
A number of historians give credit to Canadian Thomas Ahearn for the invention of the electric oven. This was in 1882. Working with Warren Soper, his business partner, their electric oven was put to use 10 years after. According to newspapers reports back then, Ahearn’s electric oven, which was made of bricks, was “hot enough to roast an ox.”

For women who value their body image, they have a Canadian to thank for named Louise Poirier. The Wonderbra has been around for many years before it exploded in the market in the 1990s. It was reintroduced to the American market in 1994 by Sara Lee Corporation, which redesigned the inner garment for the current market. A Canadian lingerie company called Canadelle developed this innovative brassiere in Canada. The company’s Wonderbra Model 1330, which came out in the 60s, is almost identical to the Wonderbra of today.

Canadians on the Big and the Small Screen

Singers and musicians
Canadians know how to make music. A number of well-known singers and musicians hail from Canada and many of them have won music awards in and outside of Canada. A few even bagged multiple Grammy Awards, the most sought-after awards in the music industry. Different generations of music lovers have their own favorite Canadian singers, songwriters and all around musicians. A few of the Canadians that made it big from different eras are: Paul Anka, David Foster, Paul Shafer, Neil Young, Celine Dion, Byran Adams, Joni Mitchell, Shanai Twain, Alanis Morissette, Michael Bublé, Avril Lavigne and of course, Justin Beiber. Some of the popular music groups and bands from Canada are Barenaked Ladies, Simple Plan, and Crash Test Dummies.

Many thespians born in Canada have made their mark in Hollywood and around the globe. A number of them have won acting awards from prestigious award giving bodies including but not limited to the Oscars, the Emmy’s, and the Tony’s. Generations of moviegoers have enjoyed the performances of Canadians Raymond Burr, Glenn Ford, Christopher Plummer, Donald Sutherland, Keifer Sutherland, William Shatner, Anna Paquin, Sandra Oh, Keanu Reeves, Matt Frewer, Eric McCormack, Nathan Fillion, Kim Catrall, Tom Cavanagh, Michael Cera, Rachel McAdams, Dean McDermott, and Ellen Page

Funny and entertaining comedians
No one can say that Canadians don’t have a sense of humor. Canadians can surely make other people laugh, and more importantly, they know how to laugh at themselves. Many mainstream Hollywood comedians hail from Canada and among them are Dan Akroyd, John Candy, Martin Short, Leslie Nielsen, Rick Moranis, Howie Mandell, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Michael J. Fox, Will Arnet, Seth Rogan, and Catherine O’Hara.

Eye candies
Women swoon when they hear the names Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds. Both are Canadians but only Ryan Reynolds has been bestowed the title Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine. This was back in 2010. For this year’s list, a controversy has broken out. Fans are demanding to know why Ryan Gosling was not given the honor. Instead, this year’s Sexiest Man Alive according to People Magazine is Bradley Cooper. A video of Cooper speaking fluent French in an interview (which incidentally went viral) may have something to do with his earning the title because many female hearts melted when they saw the video. Maybe the persons behind the annual list do not know that Gosling also speaks French.

Journalists and hosts
Canadian journalists have managed to penetrate the American news scene. The biggest name is Peter Jennings who was ABC’s news anchor since 1965 up to his death in 2005. He was part of the triumvirate of great news anchors on American television. The two others were Dan Rather of CBS and Tom Brokaw of NBC.

The name Alex Trebek is synonymous to the game show Jeopardy. No one can host that cerebral game show better than Trebek. He has been with the show since 1984.

Canada’s history in terms of inventions, innovations and contributions is long and hard. Canadians take credit for many other inventions like the zipper, the Robertson screw, the telephone, IMAX, the process of making kerosene, five pin bowling, and the goalie mask. To this day, Canada’s brightest and most talented citizens are still hard at work to make like easier, safer, more entertaining and happier not just for their fellow citizens but for everyone on the planet.


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