Famous Canadian Engineers, Scientists, and Inventors

Mike Grossman
Professional Engineer
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Minute Read
January 1, 2022
Famous Canadian Engineers, Scientists, and Inventors

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Engineers, scientists, and inventors have taken us out of the cave, into space, and beyond. Advancements in biotech, infrastructure, aerospace, geology, medicine, communications, technology, sports, and the environment contribute to making our lives easier, more productive, safer, healthier, and more interesting.

This is due in no small part to the technical professionals who knew no boundaries or limits, and made a difference.

Famous engineering inventors

Sir Sanford Fleming

Sir Sandford Fleming (1827 – 1915) was a dynamic (Scottish-born) Canadian engineer and inventor whose most well-noted accomplishment is the standard time zone, or, Universal Standard Time.

He also created Canada's first postage stamp, telegraph communication, and quite a lucrative compilation of surveys and maps. Sir Sandford Fleming is also credited with engineering a major portion of the Intercolonial and Canadian Pacific railways.

Fleming helped establish the Royal Canadian Institute in Toronto which was intended to operate as a professional surveyors and engineers establishment. However, it became a general scientific society instead.

Lewis Frederick Urry

Lewis Frederick Urry (1927 - 2004), was a Canadian chemical engineer and inventor from Ontario province. Urry invented the alkaline and lithium batteries during the time he worked for the Eveready Battery Company. Urry invented the alkaline battery while trying to find a way to extend the life of the currently used carbon-zinc battery.

Lewis Urry discovered when manganese dioxide and zinc powder were combined with an alkaline substance the new battery outlasted the current carbon-zinc battery. He further discovered when lithium was used as the battery anode, the lithium battery produced higher voltages and lasted longer than the alkaline battery.

James Gosling, Ph. D.

Calgary native, James Gosling, Ph.D (1955 - ) created the Java programming language in 1994 during his time working for Sun Microsystems. Gosling is probably better known as, The Father of the Java Programming Language.

He based Java’s original design and implementation of Java’s original compiler and virtual machine on a p-code (pseudo code) virtual machine to run Pascal programs on his college lab’s DEC VAX computer. While at Sun Microsystems, Gosling determined the architecture-neutral execution for widely distributed programs could be achieved the same way.

In addition to his Officer of the Order of Canada award, Gosling was also elected to Foreign Associate member of the US National Academy of Engineering.

Famous science inventors

Cluny MacPherson

Cluny MacPherson (1879 - 1966) was a WWI medical officer credited with inventing the gas mask. The MacPherson respirator was the first general issue protection against poison gas used by the British Army.

MacPherson returned to St. John’s, Newfoundland and served as the director of the military medical service, President of the St. John's Clinical Society, and Newfoundland Medical Association after the war.

Wilbur R. Franks

Wilbur R. Franks (1901 – 1986) was an Ontario scientist that invented the Franks Flying Suit In 1940. The anti gravity suit was a collaboration between Franks and his Banting and Best Medical Research Institute colleagues at the University of Toronto.

The rubber and water-filled padded G-suit intends to prevent G-force blackout effects on aircraft pilots. These anti gravity suits were used first used during World War II and the original suite design is still worn by pilots, astronauts, and cosmonauts today.

Abraham Pineo Gesner

Nova Scotian physician and geologist, Abraham Pineo Gesner (1797 – 1864), may be credited as a principal founder of gas lighting and the modern petroleum industry. Gesner was a practicing physician vaccinating the Natives in the area against small pox.

He practiced in the fossil- and mineral-rich Parrsboro area of Nova Scotia which allowed him to study geology and chemistry in his spare time. He initially wrote and published a study on Nova Scotia mineralogy. In it, Gesner included a detailed geological map of key coal and iron ore deposits.

Impressed, New Brunswick appointed him Provincial Geologist for New Brunswick. Gesner’s assignment was to perform and record a similar geological survey for that province. During this survey work in 1839 Gesner discovered albertite, a bituminous asphalt substance. He named the substance albertite after the New Brunswick county where it was found.

Gesner is considered an inventor and expert in kerosene, or coal oil, and credited with creating the process by which it is produced, and thus, the modern oil industry.

Other famous inventors

Henry Woodward & Mathew Evans

Inventor and medical student, Henry Woodward, and hotel keeper, Mathew Evans, both from Toronto, Ontario, developed and patented their incandescent light bulb (July 24, 1874), five years before Thomas Edison acquired his US patent for the incandescent light bulb.

Woodward and Evans filled a glass tube, containing a large carbon piece connected to two wired, with inert nitrogen. They proceeded to send electricity through the carbon filament. Woodward and Evans sold their Canadian patent to Edison, who had obtained his own exclusive license to the Canadian patent.

Reginald Aubrey Fessenden

Canadian inventor, Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866 – 1932) was originally from Knowlton, Quebec, and came to be known as the Father of Radio since his voice was the first wirelessly-transmit human voice heard on Christmas Eve 1906.

Fessenden’s most famous accomplishments were the first audio transmission via radio in 1900, the first two-way transatlantic radio transmission in 1906, and the first radio broadcast of music and entertainment on Christmas Eve 1906.

James Naismith

Almonte, Ontario native, James Naismith, M.A., M.D., D.D, (1861 – 1939) advanced sports and sports inventions. Naismith, a physical education student in Montreal, is credited with inventing the 5-player, team basketball while teaching at what is now Springfield College in Massachusetts. He went on to found the University of Kansas basketball program, as well as being its first basketball coach.

He also introduced the idea of wearing a helmet in American football. His honors are posthumously awarded, including, but not limited to inductions into:

  • the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame,
  • the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame,
  • the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame,
  • the Ontario Sports Legends Hall of Fame,
  • and the McGill University Sports Hall of Fame,
  • the Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame.

A call for Canadians

From nanotechnology to concept and completion of major global structures and systems, Canadian Engineers, Scientists, and Inventors continue to influence and shape our world. Thinking outside the box, expansive research, and capitalizing on the vast opportunities to advance our future are encouraged.

High expectations are met with high standards to protect public safety and improve our lives. Standards for education, testing, and licensing have been mandated by Canadian government(s) and Professional Councils and Associations such as Engineers Canada.

With increased awareness and progress, engineering and science practices and professionals must adhere to terms of education and testing, licensure, policies, guidelines, and regulation.

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