Celebrating Canadian innovation

Celebrating Canadian innovation

This year, as Canada celebrates its 146th year as a nation, the MaRS Heritage Building also celebrates a milestone year, having turned 100 years old on June 18.

MaRS Heritage Building, c.1920

As we celebrate Canada’s birthday today, I’d like to highlight a handful of the many discoveries that have been made both in the Heritage Building and in the surrounding area, now known as Toronto’s Discovery District.


In 1920, Dr. Frederick Banting, a Canadian surgeon based in Toronto, began researching cells in the pancreas that produce a secretion that could be extracted and used as a substance to treat diabetes. He brought his idea to Professor John Macleod at the University of Toronto the following year and began experimenting a few months later. Banting and his assistant, Charles Best, began by using diabetic dogs as the experimental subjects for their study. Shortly after achieving successful results with the canines they were able to use the extract they had created on humans and their experiment quickly turned into an achievement that was recognized as a revolutionary development in the field.

Insulin exhibit at MaRS Centre


A decade later, in 1931, Canadian pediatricians Alan Brown, Frederick Tisdall and Theodore Drake, all working with the Hospital for Sick Children, collaborated with nutrition laboratory technician Ruth Herbert and chemist Harry Engel to produce Pablum, a processed cereal for infants that came precooked and dried. The invention was considered a breakthrough in nutritional science as it provided children with sufficient amounts of vitamin D, which was essential in their diets, especially during a time when infant malnutrition was widely problematic. In 2007, Pablum was recognized by CBC viewers as one of the greatest Canadian inventions.


The groundbreaking creation of the pacemaker in 1951 also took place in Toronto’s Discovery District. In early 1949, John Alexander Hopps worked with Dr. Wilfred Bigelow and Dr. John Callaghan at the University of Toronto’s Banting Institute to develop the first external artificial pacemaker. The invention itself needed to be directly plugged into a power source and was too large to be used internally, but the external pacemaker nonetheless laid the foundation for the first internal pacemaker, which was invented eight years later.

These may be some of the best-known Canadian innovations over the last hundred years, but many others originated in Toronto’s Discovery District, each improving the quality of life for people all over the world.

So today, as I celebrate Canada Day, I’m also going to celebrate 146 years of innovation and creation in this great country, and I look forward to seeing all that is still to come in the future.