With RBC marking its 150th anniversary at this week’s AGM in Halifax, here are 8 impressive innovations to come out of Nova Scotia.
Growing up near Sackville, Nova Scotia, Charles Fenerty worked in the family lumber mill— but his real passion was writing. Fenerty became interested in the process of making paper, which at the time was made from rags. He noticed operational similarities between paper and lumber mills, and developed a new form of parchment made from leftover wood pulp — much easier to come by than old rags. By 1844, local newspapers weren’t just writing about Fenerty’s invention — they were printing on it.
2. Kerosene Oil
After a failed career at sea that included two shipwrecks, Abraham Pineo Gesner opted for a more stable career as a doctor in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. But he also pursued his love of earth sciences, conducting in-depth research about mineral deposits in Nova Scotia. Blending coal, bitumen and oil shale he created a new liquid fuel — kerosene. It burned more cleanly than other products available at the time, and at a lower cost. In 1853, Gesner moved to New York City and built the first large scale refinery in North America, distributing kerosene across the continent.
3. The Wheelchair Accessible Bus
After the Second World War, Walter Harris Callow had an idea to help injured veterans integrate back into everyday life — a wheelchair accessible bus. Callow understood the need firsthand; he had been serious injured during his pilot training in the First World War. Callow designed the Walter Callow Wheelchair Bus, enlisting the support of major automobile manufacturers. The first coach hit the road in 1947, and it was a hit — taking local veterans who had been confined to their homes out to sporting events, on picnics, and to art classes.
4. The Propeller
It will come as no surprise that the propeller was invented by a sea captain. John Patch lived in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, where he created an early version of the screw propeller. Inspired by the efficiency of single oar sculling, he began to experiment with a propeller based on those same motions. In 1833, Patch demonstrated his propeller to crowds gathered at the Yarmouth Harbour — it was a marvel at the time, powering the small boat across the water. His invention earned praise in an 1848 article in Scientific American magazine, headlined “Patch’s Propeller”.
5. The Odometer
Travelling in a horse-drawn carriage in the 1850s, Samuel McKeen of Mabou, Nova Scotia, invented the modern odometer. He did this by attaching gear plates to the frame of a carriage and connecting them to a pinion on the carriage’s wheel. As the wheels turned, the invention measured the miles he travelled.
6. The HIV Rapid-Testing Kit
Dr. Abdullah Kirumira has been described as the pioneer of Nova Scotia’s biotechnology sector. Originally from Uganda, he moved to Nova Scotia in the 1990s to become a biochemistry professor at Acadia University. Dr. Kirumira led a small team that developed the world’s first rapid-acting HIV screening test, which takes just three minutes to diagnose HIV — a groundbreaking development for clinics unable to afford traditional diagnostic labs.
7. The Donair
No list of Nova Scotian inventions would be complete without a salute to Halifax’s spin on Greek-style gyros. In the 1970s, Peter Gamoulakos, who immigrated to Nova Scotia from Greece, began experimenting with gyros at his restaurant off the Bedford Highway in the 1970s, swapping out lamb for beef to be more appealing to the local pallet. The secret, of course, is the sauce: condensed milk, sugar, garlic and vinegar. The creation has earned the praise of celebrity chefs including Anthony Bourdain.
8. Study and Stay
In the years to come, how can Nova Scotia attract and retain talent to spur more innovations? The answer just might be its Study and Stay pilot program. Launched in 2016, Study and Stay supports international students while they study, and provides a range of employment and mentoring services to help them transition into working in their professions in the province. The latest numbers show Nova Scotia is now retaining 9.4% of international students — a historic high. Other provinces are starting to follow the province’s lead.
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