On canada day, as we hoot and holler and dance under red and white fireworks, we're often forced to explain to bewildered outsiders that we have much more to celebrate than the mounties, hockey and beer. Like tech innovation, for example.
Huge distances lie between our major cities, and the fact that the temperature swings so drastically from winter to summer creates barriers that taunt innovators into creating new and efficient technologies.
Our short winter days spurred the invention of the light bulb by, yes, Canadians. In 1875, Toronto's Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans patented the light bulb. They couldn't finance its distribution, so they sold their patent to Thomas Edison, who demonstrated his own version of electric light south of the border to much fanfare in 1879.
Snow's been a major technological motivator, too. In 1937, Joseph-Armand Bombardier strapped a car engine to his dad's dogsled and the snowmobile was born. Add in snowshoes, ski bindings and the snow blower and it's clear that living in a deep freeze has its benefits.
Per capita, we're the world's greatest users of energy, so our need for cheaper, cleaner fuels is paramount. Geologist Abraham Gesner invented kerosene in the 1850s so people could keep their lamps lit during the long winter nights with a relatively clean fuel.
Canucks have also created the cleanest nuclear reactors in the world, and the world's first electric car. Ballard, based in BC, was the first company to come up with a usable hydrogen fuel cell.
In addition to being ruled by the climate, our country is prey to its own size, which means the population is widely dispersed. This factor has fed our obsession with communication, a fact eloquently espoused by theorists Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan.
Alexander Graham Bell was living in Brantford when he came up with the idea of the telephone and made the first long-distance phone call between Paris, Ontario, and Toronto, in 1876. In an early version of brain drain, Bell took off for Boston to conduct a high-profile demonstration.
Watching this closely was young Reginald Fessenden, who was quietly working on ideas of wireless transmission. He issued the world's first radio transmission of a human voice in 1900 to his partner two kilometres away. The test message couldn't have been more Canadian: "One. Two. Three. Four. Is it snowing where you are, Mr. Thiessen?"
Innovation in wireless communication continues today at companies like Research in Motion, inventors of the hugely popular Blackberry wireless platform.
So this Canada Day, remember how the unique characteristics of our land have triggered some of the most important steps in technology's evolution.