Who's the greatest Canadian innovator? - Macleans.ca

Who’s the greatest Canadian innovator?

Sir Frederick Banting and Charles Best have been crowned Canada’s greatest innovators


The line that separates invention from innovation is a fine one. Ideas like the importance of urban density or how to turn the circus into high art require unique minds to articulate them. At the same time, inventions like the telephone and basketball are inherently innovative—no one else had come up with them before.

With that in mind, we’re asking readers to elect the most innovative Canadian in history, whether that person changed the way we think (like Lester B. Pearson did by adding peacekeeping to the Canadian vernacular) or the way we live (like Alexander Graham Bell did with the telephone). We’ve picked our 16 favourites; now we’re asking you to vote for who you think is the greatest Canadian innovator.

With an overwhelming 85 per cent of the vote, Sir Frederick Banting and Charles Best have been crowned Maclean’s greatest Canadian innovators, beating out Peter Robertson for the honour. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Final results:
Peter Robertson vs. Banting and Best

Round 3 results:

Mike Lazaridis vs. Peter Robertson

Norman Bethune vs. Sir Frederick Banting and Charles Best

Round 2 results:

James Naismith vs. Mike Lazaridis

Marshall McLuhan vs. Peter Robertson

Guy Laliberté vs. Norman Bethune

Alexander Graham Bell vs. Sir Frederick Banting and Charles Best

Round 1 results:

George Retzlaff vs. James Naismith

Mike Lazaridis vs. Robert Mundell

Marshall McLuhan vs. Jane Jacobs

Peter Robertson vs. James Cameron

Guy Laliberté vs. Michel Tremblay

Norman Bethune vs. Lester B. Pearson

Sir William Osler vs. Alexander Graham Bell

Sir Sandford Fleming vs. Sir Frederick Banting and Charles Best


Who’s the greatest Canadian innovator?

  1. Voting irregularity alert:

    Robertson is on top of Cameron on your bio page

    Robertson is below Cameron on the ballot.

    Robertson is on top of Cameron in the results box.

    • hmmm, someone might be screwing around with the results

    • This is Canada's "hanging chads" moment. :)

      The truth is that the poll software was randomizing the order of the answers. I have now unchecked the appropriate box. Thanks for catching it.

  2. Voting irregularity alert:

    Bethune is on top of Pearson on your bio page

    Bethune is below Pearson on the ballot.

    Bethune is on top of Pearson in the results box.

    • clearly a commie plot!

  3. To this day, Alexander Graham Bell's accomplishments being a pride of Canadian heritage is complicated with the fact that it is always pointed out (especially by Americans) that he became an American citizen, even having that inscribed on his tombstone in Nova Scotia. Despite the fact that many of his experiments and ideas were done in Canada and his collaborators and contributions (the hydrofoil for example) were grounded in Canadian scientific circles, that is still a technical sticking point that is raised often, unfortunately. For all intents and purposes, he is Canadian.

    • Plus there's that whole Antonio Meucci thing.

    • Due to the fact he was born and educated in Scotland to Scottish parents, I think that would make him 100% Scottish.

      • Well, he was always described as Scottish-American or Scottish-Canadian depending on who you talk to, but given that he rarely if not at all returned to Scotland and settled like many people who came from the U.K. to North America, I doubt they would say that they are 100% of the country of their origin. That exclusively genetic and deterministic approach would mean no immigrant would ever be considered a citizen of the country they chose.

        • OED: Scottish-American inventor of the telephone. Immigrants can be a citizen of a country without renouncing their nationality. Citizenship is not the same as nationality. For all intents and purposes he is definitely not Canadian.

          • He stated: 'I cannot claim to be Canadian…though I have a soft spot for the country'. Scottish requiem at his funeral. Scottish heritage, formulative enviroment….American citizenship. Immigrants can become citizens of their adopted country but many retain the identity of their country of origin. See Nova Scotia, Quebec, Vancouver,etc.

          • Of course, I never said immigrants cannot retain their nationality. I lamented that his origins and travels complicate that claim that he was Canadian, especially because it wasn't until short before his death, that a precursor to Canadian citizenship was formed. Even then there wasn't official Canadian citizenship until 1947. Still, at the time in Nova Scotia, the community considered him and his family citizens honorary citizens. I am not 'disregarding' anything. Given his life and work done in Canada and his association with much of Canadian scientific circles, I am saying while he was of Scottish origin, he is practically Canadian much like those who decided to emigrate and live in the Dominion over the years before 1947 yet were still considered British subjects. Hence, I predicated my statement with "for all intents and purposes." If you want to be pedantic and restrict your definition of Canadian to nationality, fine. I suppose we can never consider Sir John A. MacDonald Canadian ever simply because he didn't have the benefit of being born in Upper Canada.

          • I rather think it's you who is being pedantic. 'Practically Canadian'? In your opinion but not in Bell's. He never claimed to be Canadian; he chose to become an American citizen. So what is your definition of Canadian? Somone with no Canadian grandparents, no Canadian parents, born outside Canada, educated outwith Canada, and having American citizenship. That for you signifies Canadian? Because you live and work in a country is a pretty tenuous link to nationality.

    • If you wish to disregard his heritage, birthplace, education and native environment(supposing you'll consider Canadians who leave Canada in the same light) then his free choice was to become an American citizen. I think it is only in Canada that he is even remotely considered Canadian; in the U.S he is American, in the rest of the world Scottish or Scottish-American.

  4. I do not think the selections should be paired
    What if a pair should really make both it to the final?
    Why not allow each voter to vote for half the number of remaining candidates each week (the determination of the remaining candidates being determined weekly as the 50% having the greatesr number of votes from the previous week)
    It would be much more fair than beingt prevented from voting for both people in pair

    • Sorry!
      That should read "should really both make it to the final"

      • I agree. For instance, both Bethune and Pearson should be in, and neither Cameron nor Robertson should advance.

        • Robertson is my darkhorse pick to go all the way.

          I think you underestimate the genius of that screwdriver design. Its the best one going.

          I agree that this is not the way to do this thou. They should have a better system.

  5. As an old retired soldier with a couple of peacekeeping medals, I have to point out that Pearson’s ‘innovation’ led to the nearly complete destruction of the Canadian military. Why spend money on equipment and proper combat training when all they need is some blue berets and a bunch of jeeps, so they can cruise around telling everybody to be nice? End result: no ammo for our jets in the First Gulf War; forest camouflage in the Afghan desert…. From a military standpoint peacekeeping was, and should have remained, a sideshow . The world remains as dangerous a place as it ever was.

    • "From a military standpoint peacekeeping was, and should have remained, a sideshow. "

      This is true, but that doesn't detract from the fact that Pearson's idea of peacekeeping was an innovation and under certain circumstances it does work. That it's been used as an excuse to underfund the military or for politicians to propose peacekeeping missions where there no peace to keep, or no willingness for peace — that's a different story.

    • Absolutely true. A military is meant to use force, when necessary, not act as a counselor in a domestic dispute. There is nothing wrong with peacekeeping, if left to the politicians – then we'd have had some bureacrat from Ottawa in Rwanda to see the results of their wrong decisions instead of our unsupported soldiers like Romeo Dallaire. And I won't even mention what happens when you send a fighting unit like the Airborne into a no-fire situation, when just down the block the Americans were strafing civilians from gunships. We need our military to be there when we need them, not be equipped as a political toy to be played with. And, hey, how about some REAL support for our veterans?

  6. This really is a boneheaded idea for picking the greatest Canadian innovator. Most people answering the poll are going to pick the names they recognize, not necessarily the most innovative Canadians.

    And Canada's greatest Innovator is: Wayne Gretzky!

    • Right Sport, but wrong person. Canada's greatest innovator is Jacques Plante (and why weren't he and Bombardier included on the list?)

  7. I voted for Banting and Best because without their insulin, my son would be dead. That makes me kind of fond of them :)

    • I also voted for Banting & Best. During the early mid 1940s I worked at the University of Toronto Medical Bldg Dept of Physiology and worked for Dr Charles Best, who was also a Commander in the Royal Canadian Navy and the work being done at that time was all concerned with the war effort. Sea Foot, and a blood plasma replacement were foremost at the time I was there, 1943. I worked in the same little lab with a picture of that famous dog taken on the roof of the Medical Building on the wall, that had been used back in the days when Banting, McLeod and Best were working on isolating the Islets of the Langerhans from the pancreas. Fortunately for the diabetics of this world, they were successful, and of all the others mentioned in this poll, none have had more impact. Perhaps Bell would come second.

  8. Banting and Bell–the rest are jusr window dressing.

  9. I'm shocked that Laliberté is doing so well!

    The curse of being a Theatre graduate, I guess :P

  10. Note to curious voters:

    This may be obvious, but don't be tempted to view the polling results before voting; otherwise, the anchoring effect will fairly alter your decision matrix when it comes to clicking that vote button.

  11. We need a third choice for each pairing – a draw.

    Where is Jean Vanier's name? His inspired idea for L'Arche would compete well with all your nominees.

  12. Agree that there’s a better way to determine the winners. But just like the March Madness (ahem, Naismith, ahem), all the best have the chance to make it all the way through. So it’s legit for picking #1, just don’t put any stock into #s 2 on.

  13. Banting and Best, along with Pearson and Bell, are in a league all by themselves. James Cameron?? Are you kidding? His name doesn't deserve to be on the same page as the forementioned. Banting is our greatest Canadian no matter what the contest.

  14. Why is Ted Rogers not listed ??

  15. How about Shania Twain? She created a new sound that combined country, rock and pop and really started the "new country" music genre.

  16. No contest.
    Tommy Douglas.

  17. Certainly not Andrew COyNe nor Martin Patriquin

  18. Banting and Best …I also would not have been around , had it not been for their work / insulin .

  19. For the ability to take nothing and make it into an attention getting, money making machine, I vote Ezra Levant.

  20. and yet why do i see no geddy lee, neil pert, or alex lifeson? this vote is a sham i say!! a sham!!!

  21. Seriously, what about J.-A. Bombardier?

  22. Banting and Best shouldln't have been paired against Bell. Both would likely have made the finals. The rest are primarily just fill, important as some of their accomplishments may have been.

  23. What about Wilfrid Derome, he built the first North American forensic lab in Montreal, in 1914. J.E Hoover visited twice le laboratoire médico-légale de Montréal. It was the model for the FBI laboratory. Derome was the greatest forensic expert in America. Un grand Québécois!

  24. J.Armant-Bombardier at all…

  25. J.A. Bombardier: more than 30 patents granted between 1937 and1968 from snow-mobile to sproket wheels, etc.

    During WW2, Canadian army had used a lot of his innovations for military purpuses.

    Bombardier Inc is now a worldwide leader in transportation : train, aerospace, sport vehicule, etc.

    Why don't you add him in the contest?

    • because he is a Québecois… il sont racist Macleans et il refuse de s'excusé a un premier ministre :O

  26. Banting and Best are the winners, hands down. What other Canadian (BANTING, Best shouldn't be listed as he's American) saved millions of lives and to this day 88 years later nothing better has been invented.

    He also developed the flight suit, again, the basic same design still in use in 2010 by NASA. 1st ever Nobel prize winner in Canada. Why are so many of his other accomplishments not listed?

  27. The first innovator in Canada was Native!!
    In connection with the timing of Europeans landing on our shores, the most innovative Nishnabee (friend of natives) would be he or she who welcomed Europeans onto THEIR land.

  28. Joseph-Armand Bombardier

  29. Due to the fact he was born and educated in Scotland, to Scottish parents, I think that makes him 100% Scottish.
    Sir Sandford Fleming too.

  30. I think innovators are the best people to rank themselves . Also, when 90% of anglo canadians cannot or don't read French Press and put aside 25% of the canadian population who live in the Language of Moliere-V. Hugo-J.J.Rousseau-Jules Vernes-Honoré Balzac-Alexandre Dumas-A. Camus (Greatest writers of this World)…

    So I guess a huge portion know very little about Quebec innovators except for some unforgettable recent ones like Guy Laliberté and Michel Tremblay.. Quebecois are absent from this discussion so they are not here to pledge for their greatests except for some of us who feel the need to know more about what you think… There a say that if you want to beat your enemy, learn its language…

  31. I do not blame you (anglos) because English World is big & the language is easier than other languages. I see your sens of unsecurity about your iddentity when you play such game as who is the greatest canadian or the best canadian in wathever field… You will always BE not very much different than an American; You watch same TV programs, you consume like them, you admire their humorists-singers-artists-politicians-etc. In the other hand, you are trying to convince yourself & americans that you are different by raising the Maple Leaf Flag and talk about our crooked Health Care System to make us unique…

    Some great Quebecois have been forgotten here like: Bombardier, Garneau, Sicard, Daniel Langlois, Dr Andermann, Brother Ande Bessette (Saint), Alphonse Desjardins, Samuel De Champlain, Margerite Bourgeois (Saint), Dr Armand Frappier, LG1-LG2-LG3 and Manic-5, Robert Lepage, Archibishop Francois de Montmorency de Laval, Jean Talon, Maisonneuve, Radisson and Groseilliers, etc.

  32. Joseph-Armand Bombardier because he is a Québecois! les tbk d'anglais sont de même, reveillé il faut se séparé! :) (on est different)