I love Thanksgiving. In Canada, it represents a shift in seasons, the inevitable coming of winter, and a glorious display of the artistry of nature as green leaves turn brilliant colours. For me, it's also a time to reflect on all for which I have to be thankful.
One Thanksgiving I found myself travelling to work on an innovation project in Israel. (For readers outside of Canada, Thanksgiving Day is the first Monday of October.) As I was landing in Tel Aviv, I found myself musing about the dinner I had missed with cherished family and friends, the fact that I wouldn't get to eat turkey leftovers, and wondering, how had Canadian innovators contributed to our traditional experience of the holiday.
So, to answer the question "why is innovation important for society?", it's important because, without innovation, we wouldn't advance, evolve and improve our way of living, or grow our economy. And when it came to celebrating Thanksgiving, we'd be eating cold Thanksgiving dinner, in the dark, and sending a lot of used plastic wrap to landfill after we'd finished with the leftovers.
This Thanksgiving, here are five things for which you can thank Canadian innovators. Gleaned from Ingenious: How Canadian Innovators Made the World Smarter, Smaller, Kinder, Safer, Healthier, Wealthier, and Happier, and written by David Johnson and Tom Jenkins to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, Ingenious pulls together a volume of Canadian innovations that have made the world a better place. Liven up your dinner time conversation by sharing these tidbits with the family and friends around your Thanksgiving table.
Why am I including the lightbulb in a list of Canadian innovations? While Thomas Edison gets all the credit, the lightbulb was actually invented by two gentlemen from Toronto in 1874: medical student Howard Woodward and hotelkeeper Mathew Evans. Although their invention was met with much ridicule and doubt over the need for it, Woodward and Evans filed a patent for their lightbulb on July 24, 1874. In 1875, Woodward filed a patent in the United States. Edison thought the invention important enough that he bought the US patent and a share of the Canadian patent as well. And the rest is history. As we sit around the Thanksgiving table this year, let’s be thankful that Woodward and Evans took the risk and didn’t listen to their critics!
Canada produces 80% of the world’smaple syrup. The Algonquin people of eastern Ontario were the first to discover the dietary value of maple syrup; in addition to being a sweet treat that is now an integral part of Canada’s identity, each serving of maple syrup contains a healthy dose of zinc, potassium, calcium and magnesium. European settlers learned how to turn the sap into maple sugar, which became a staple in their households.
Since that time, we’ve been looking for ways to speed up the process of extracting the sap, processing it and putting it into bottles. Most recent innovations include tube systems that connect the trees directly to the evaporating house where the sap is processed, saving the farmers a lot of time. If you visit a maple syrup farm next spring, you’re more likely to see plastic tubing than the traditional sap buckets!
A Food Wrap Made Out of Beeswax
Struggling to put plastic wrap on the leftovers is a holiday tradition in many households. The only thing it seems to stick to is itself, and then the plastic wrap goes in the garbage after one use. Abeego to the rescue. Abeego is a reusable, breathable food wrap made out of beeswax. Invented by Canadian Toni Desrosiers in 2008, it uses the heat of your hands to mould to and stick to the food being wrapped. Let’s all be thankful for leftovers kept fresh by this Canadian innovation!
The Electric Range
Do you like your turkey cooked? Me too! And we can thank Thomas Ahearn, an electrical engineer from Ottawa, who invented the electric range in the 1870s. His range, which he introduced to some dinner guests one evening in 1882, used resistance coils to turn electricity into heat. Although most electric ranges today have a flat ceramic stove top, most of us can remember the electric coils on the stove.
Unfortunately, Ahearn’s dinner guests were horrified at the idea of their meal being cooked with electricity, and his innovation was slow to catch on; it was ten years before the first oven was installed in Ottawa’s Windsor Hotel. The electric range began to replace gas ranges in the 1930s, as more and more homes were wired for electricity. Although we are now seeing a return to gas ranges thanks to the installation of natural gas lines, we can thank Ahearn for many years of hot meals.
Instant Mashed Potatoes
Who hasn’t cheated at least once by using instant mashed potatoes? Canadian Edward Asselbergs is responsible for this time-saving innovation. He invented a way to turn potatoes into potato flakes in 1960 while working as a chemist for Agriculture Canada in Ottawa, and his product reached the market two years later. So, even if you prefer your mashed potatoes made from fresh potatoes rather than dehydrated, you can thank Asselbergs for all those instant mashed potatoes served by your mom as you were growing up and for a great convenience food today.
By Janice Francisco, Founder, Principal Innovation Consultant, BridgePoint Effect; Advisor and Past Chair to the Conference Board of Canada’s Council on Innovation and Commercialization.
About BridgePoint Effect
BridgePoint Effect is an organizational development and innovation strategy firm dedicated to helping organizations thrive through change and innovate to create value. We serve courageous leaders who want to inspire and equip their teams to change, innovate, collaborate and think better together. Our goal is to make it easier for individuals and teams to contribute results for their organization.