Nova Scotians have long been an inventive bunch. Not all of the creations have been memorable and not all have stuck around, but those that top the list and continue to have an impact on our daily lives are worthy of note.
Here's a glimpse at some of the most influential and the most famous inventions with Nova Scotia ties.
» Do you know of a Nova Scotia invention not listed here? Let us know in the comments.
1. The Telephone
Whether there’s a smartphone in your pocket or a rotary relic hanging nearby, you’re connected. This game-changing invention traces its roots back to Nova Scotia and the great mind of Alexander Graham Bell.
The Scottish-born Bell obtained the patent for a multiple telegraph unit in 1875, and by 1876, when Bell was 29, the telephone was born. A year after that, the Bell Telephone Company formed.
The Bell family vacation home was located near Baddeck on Cape Breton Island and would eventually become Bell’s final resting place. He died there in 1922.
Bell’s Nova Scotia connection remains alive and well in the province today. The Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck houses exhibits of his first inventions like the Silver Dart, the aircraft used to record Canada’s first motorized flight by a heavier-than-air craft during a flight on Bras d’Or Lake in 1909, advanced recording technology, giant kites and, of course, the telephone.
Over his lifetime, Bell patented 18 inventions of his own, as well as 12 with colleagues.
(Watch Part 2 of the above video on archive.org)
The first flickers of the oil industry begin with kerosene and a Nova Scotia-born physician turned geologist by the name of Abraham Pineo Gesner.
Born in Cornwallis in 1797, Gesner was studying medicine in London when he pursued his lifelong interest in geology, later publishing a study on the mineralogy of Nova Scotia in 1836.
It was in 1846 that Gesner developed a process to refine liquid fuel from coal, bitumen and oil shale.
He named this clean-burning, affordable byproduct kerosene and four years later founded the Kerosene Gaslight Company and began installing light posts in Halifax. Gesner took out Nova Scotia patent No. 108 in 1865 for kerosene.
Gesner’s contribution to the early petroleum industry continued. In 1861, he published a research paper called A Practical Treatise on Coal, Petroleum and Other Distilled Oils.
The newspapers you read today have Sackville-born Charles Fenerty to thank.
The tale goes that wasps chewing wood fibres to make nests inspired Fenerty to develop the process of making paper from ground wood pulp instead of rags in 1844.
Fenerty himself never took out a patent on his process, but he did share his newly invented paper with the owners of the Halifax newspaper, the Acadian Recorder.
The German F.G. Keller is most often credited as the original inventor, as Keller filed for a patent in 1845.
North American paper mills adopted the process, and Fenerty lived to see the first wood-pulp paper mill in operation near Sackville.
Fenerty was recognized by Canada Post in 1987 on a set of four stamps commemorating Canadian inventors.
It was Yarmouth-area sailor and fisherman Capt. John Patch who invented the ship propeller in 1833.
Patch tested his invention, a two-bladed, fan-shaped propeller in 1832 and demonstrated it to the public in 1833 by propelling a rowboat across Yarmouth Harbour.
His invention was four years before a similar patent was filed in the United Kingdom, but Patch lacked the funds to travel across the Atlantic and without American citizenship, didn’t qualify for a U.S. patent.
It wasn’t until 1849, when American laws changed, that Patch received his American patent. By this time, however, there were multiple competing versions on the market.
Yarmouth residents petitioned the Nova Scotia government in 1858 to reward his innovation with a government pension but they were unsuccessful.
Patch died in Yarmouth in 1861.
5. High-speed automatic printing telegraph
The people of Mill Village and Canso have a brief history with Frederick Creed. But it’s what he discovered while working in Canso, where he was a self-taught student of cable and landline telegraphy, that led him to his invention.
Creed was born in Mill Village in 1871, moved to Canso in 1878 and then to Chile in 1888.
It was in Chile, while Creed worked at a telegraph and cable company, that he, out of boredom, created a typewriter-style machine to generate Morse code signals on paper tape. Creed left Chile for Scotland in 1897 to perfect his invention and soon after, his high-speed automatic telegraph could transmit 200 words per minute.
This communications breakthrough led to the manufacture of the Creed Telegraph Printer, which by 1913 was the routine system used to transmit London newspapers to major centres in Europe.
In 1923, Creed’s system was used in ship-to-shore communications and seen as a valuable life-saving system for ships in distress.
The grandfather of the modern odometer was a Nova Scotian.
During the industrial revolution, countries the world over were developing their own modern ways to improve the economy.
Other versions were popping up throughout the world, but it was Samuel McKeen who gave Canadians the early version of the odometer we know today.
McKeen attached his device to the side of a carriage and measured the miles with the turning of the wheels.
7. Time Zones
Nova Scotia may have been the second home of Sir Sandford Fleming, but his local legacy lives on.
The Scottish-born engineer and inventor was influential in the world’s adoption of a single 24-hour clock not linked to a surface meridian and to be used the world over. Fleming, one of the founding owners of the Nova Scotia Cotton Manufacturing Company, retired in Halifax and, upon his death in 1915, left a proud legacy to the city, donating his house and surrounding 95 acres of land, which is now known as Sir Sandford Fleming Park or Dingle Park.
8. Rapid HIV screen testing kit
From a lab in Windsor, Dr. Abdullah Kirumira invented a rapid flow–through diagnostic platform that can detect infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C and B in two minutes. The technology has been credited with revolutionizing worldwide testing procedures by making testing more accessible, cheaper and quicker than conventional methods that can take up to five days.
Kirumira’s company, BioMedica Diagnostics, is also behind 15 different portable diagnostic systems, including QuikCoag and the Lab in a Box, both of which are exported around the world.
After decades of uncertainty, Windsor finally takes its claim as the birthplace of hockey. Based on an article published in the Boston Evening Gazette, author Thomas Chandler Haliburton reminisced about boys from King’s College School in Windsor playing “hurly on the long pond on the ice” when he was a student there in the early 1800s.
10. The donair
Traditional Quebecois poutine claimed the No. 10 spot on the list of Canada’s greatest inventions. But the Halifax donair? It can’t buy respect out of the Maritimes.
The traditional donair has origins in Greece but the Halifax donair, complete with its trademark sweet sauce, was, as the legend goes, introduced in Halifax in the early 1970s.
King of Donair founder John Kamoulakos claims he developed the Maritime donair and first served up the now-ubiquitous meal at his restaurant on Quinpool Road in 1973.
Neither the meat nor the donair sauce, which for the record is made from condensed milk, sugar, garlic and vinegar, were patented, leaving its true origins up for debate.