Great Canadian Inventions: What Japanese students playing “Jeopardy” taught me about Canada

Great Canadian Inventions: What Japanese students playing “Jeopardy” taught me about Canada

When I was an English teacher in Japan over 10 years ago, I used to plan lessons for my junior high school students with the goal of having them practise their English, but also having them expand their international horizons. I hoped that I could teach the students that the world outside of Japan played a larger role in their lives than they realized and that I could inspire in them an interest to learn about and visit other countries. Though, admittedly, my efforts were often biased toward educating the students about Canada, and preparation for the classes meant that I, too, had to learn or relearn a lot about my homeland.

Once I played a “Jeopardy” game at the end of a class and included a category called “Inventions,” which was filled with inventions from all over the globe.

Student: “Inventions for $400!”

Me: “The telephone was invented in this country.”

Student: “What is Japan?!”

Me: “Canada!” (Though Alexander Graham Bell was in a race to the patent office with an American, he made the first telephone call in Brantford, Ontario, in 1876.)

Of course I loaded the “Inventions” category with Canadian examples because I was trying to break the students’ stereotypes of Canada as a wilderness full of roaming bears and igloos. Did they know that basketball, Superman, computer animation, the light bulb, the zipper, the washing machine, the electric wheelchair and the electric oven were all invented in Canada? (Poutine, hockey masks, Pablum, snowshoes, snowblowers, canoes, kayaks, Ski-Doos, instant mashed potatoes and the Wonderbra didn’t resonate with them, so I wasn’t able to include these great Canadian inventions.)

The students were flabbergasted that so many technologies were not invented in Japan (or the United States–their other go-to answer) and were intrigued that a faraway country of which they knew little had given them so many things.

By the last “Inventions for $2000” clue—“The Walkman was invented in this country”—the students had caught on and asked “What is Canada?!” in desperation to get a question right, when, of course, the Walkman was invented in Japan.

Not unlike the Japanese students I taught, who assumed that everything was invented in either Japan or the United States, I think Canadians are unaware just how many great inventions are Canadian ones. I know I was.  This list of 50 great Canadian inventions on the website might surprise you; this one, too. We have a history of entrepreneurship of which we can be very proud.

At MaRS, we are also immensely proud to be located in the building where one of Canada’s great inventions, insulin, was developed. We are inspired daily by the entrepreneurs who we work with and are proud to have a hand in helping them bring their amazing visions and inventions to the market. So today, on Canada Day, let’s celebrate our tradition of invention and the achievements of our Great Canadian Entrepreneurs. Happy Canada Day!

Intrigued by the depth and breadth of great Canadian inventions? History Television’s new documentary series “Canadian Made” debuted on Friday, June 29, and will be broadcast on Fridays throughout the summer. Each half-hour documentary will cover the interesting people and stories behind some of our most famous made-in-Canada inventions.