This week, I discovered a very entertaining and informative book — the type of book that you can thumb through or read thoroughly, the type of easy reading that might send you into a dreamy trance, or get you pondering what life is all about.
Ingenious: How Canadian Innovators Made the World by David Johnston and Tom Jenkins (2017, McClelland and Stewart) is a fun read, and yes, it is written by one of our previous governors general.
I never met him, but I did meet Mrs. Michener (wife of Roland Michener, Governor General of Canada from 1967 to 1974). She had come to our house in Fredericton — in a shiny black motorcade that parked on Grey Street — to purchase my parents’ art and she was in our kitchen drinking tea with Mum when I walked in, all grubby from the horse barn at the old racetrack across town. Mum said, in a rather whispery, pleading tone: “Anny, this is Her Excellency” and Mrs. Michener, impeccable in her belted camel-hair coat, pink lipstick and coiffed hair that didn’t move, stood up and graciously said: “You may kiss me” (she may have held out her hand) and I recall being absolutely terrified and tearing from the room.
I don’t think I’d ever seen a real “lady” before in my life, let alone kiss one! I ran upstairs to my room and turned on The Edge of Night.
What makes David Johnston’s unique book a fun and also informative venture is that it describes not only Canadian inventions (did you know that the egg carton was invented in Smithers?) but also, in some cases, philosophical ideas and innovations.
This weekend is both Valentine’s Day and Family Day, so I have chosen to share several examples of Canadian ideas and inventions pertaining to these two days (if you do not have a Valentine or a family, do not despair! The book is full of fascinating information, and remember, a Valentine could show up when you least expect it — and, for that matter, so could a family).
For Valentine’s Day, you may be interested to know that the push-up Wonderbra is a homegrown style in “social freedom” (1964) with 54 design features!
Maintaining the Valentine’s theme, the pacemaker, also known as “the quicker ticker,” was initially thought of in the 1940s by the Toronto physician Dr. Wilfred Bigelow, who was vexed as to how to restart the human heart after slowing it down during surgery. In 1951, an engineer by the name of John Hopps solved the problem with a “gentle stimulation” from an electrical current.
The Atlas of the Heart, also known as “the Cardiac Catalogue,” published in 1936 by Maude Abbott, is a fascinating development in repairing the human heart. This amazing medical pathologist, who worked out of McGill University in Montreal, devoted her life to studying cardiac ailments and compiling endless researched and historical records, observations and forensic evidence from autopsies to create the “foundational document of modern heart surgery.”
What’s Valentine’s Day (or any day really) without chocolate? Ganongs is a confectionary company based out of St. Stephen in southern New Brunswick that invented a delicious silky pink cinnamon candy with chocolate in the centre called “chicken bones.”
One of my many little road trips with Mum was a drive to this small, quiet town with one main street lined with aging red brick buildings with flaking paint around the window frames. It was a biting grey November afternoon and snow was approaching from the dark forests beyond when we saw the sprawling purple candy factory high up on a craggy hill above the town. At the bottom of the hill was the little Ganongs shop, next to a deserted shoe store (Mum pointed at the window and said, “I wonder if those Clarks are on sale?”).
My Family Day selection of inventions is the Jolly Jumper, invented out of necessity by a Toronto mother who had a sore back from carrying her baby around all day while she was doing housework. The story goes that she used a diaper as a sling, a coiled spring and an axe handle.
Painted road lines were a Canadian idea, and the dump truck!
I have an invention — it’s a small chip that can capture heat from women of a certain age. Why waste the heat? At times, I can create enough heat to recharge an electric car!
The chip is simply inserted into the body where it is hottest, then plugged into any electrical device. I call it The Meno-Chip.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Anny Scoones is a local author whose latest book is Island Home (2019, Touchwood Editions).