Reflecting on Canadian innovation and Canada 150

By Michael Ball, chief information security officer at AGF

Canada has a long legacy of innovation and prosperity. We have blazed technology trails in every aspect of life, from agriculture to medicine and health care, communications to manufacturing, transportation to space travel, and finance to renewable energy.

Michael Ball, chief information security officer at AGF

I started my career as an electronics technician under the Industrial Research Assistance Program at the Canadian National Research Council.  My role was to go in to young startup companies, and provide technical assistance getting their technology dreams built, tested, and ready for market.

Today, this program actively helps Canadian entrepreneurs innovate through grants, advisory services, networking, youth employment, staff augmentation, while providing technical assistance in various fields.

Looking backwards to see forward, Canada has great opportunity remaining as a global leader in innovation and technology. There is a wealth of diverse companies, both entrenched and new, taking on the challenge of automating, managing, and accommodating all aspects of our lives.  I’ll outline just a few of those technologies here.


The Canadian healthcare system is respected worldwide, both for its ability to efficiently and effectively care for individuals as well as its history of innovations.  Leveraging the rapid advances in Internet of Things (IoT) technology and infrastructure, Canadian health research facilities have become world leaders in the innovation of wearable devices to help track and monitor patient outcomes.  With these devices monitoring vital aspects of a patient’s health and recovery, a physician can both be better informed upon arrival of the patient, reducing wait and visitation times, as well as analyzing appropriate remediation strategies.  Canadian made wearable devices will become a normal part of our standard healthcare regime.

As well as the wearable monitoring devices, IoT technology has spurred a number of Canadian Innovators to launch “assistive device” products.  These range from smart technology for wheelchairs, to adaptive prosthetics, to GPS tracking and guidance for the blind.  The Canadian imagination is boundless, and as our population ages, these devices will become more prevalent.


Blockchain Technology may be new to most of us, but is revolutionizing the way the banking industry works.  In fact ANY industry that relies on transactional integrity could find benefit in Blockchain’s ledger based technology.  Many of us are familiar with, or at least have heard of bitcoin, which is the grandfather of blockchain currencies.

Ethereum is another blockchain up-and-coming currency taking international interest.  Recently, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance included the National Bank of Canada as one of 86 new members that will work together to develop business applications on the Ethereum blockchain.

Renewable Energy

There are more than a thousand Canadian companies currently innovating in the clean or renewable energy market, employing more than 50,000 people across the country.  From the staples of solar and wind, to deep water stores of compressed air, geothermal heating and electricity, and the manufacture of lithium ion batteries, we are making our mark on the global stage.

Much of this is thanks to “Sustainable Technology Development Canada” ( ), which is the largest single clean-tech fund in the world. It has seeded more than 200 clean-tech projects through grant funding of more than $600-million. Renewable energy is a cultural shift that is well under way within Canadian homes and businesses, and we are going to continue to be at the forefront for decades to come.


Over the past two decades, Canada has taken a strong lead in modernizing and automating agriculture. With the prevalence and low cost of industrial sensors for things like moisture level, sunlight, pH level, soil nutrients, etc., Canadian researchers have been able to greatly increase crop yields across the industry. This technology has been transferred down to the hands of local farmers who are able to automate aspects of their farm such that they not only increase yield, but can direct and reduce water consumption and cost.  Crops are able to be grown in areas previously unmanageable through monitoring and automation.

Canada is also setting examples of how to use industrial sensors to monitor and manage livestock health and food consumption. This is an area in which we will continue to be world leaders.

Smart Cities

Continuing on the industrial Internet of Things theme, Canada is also a leader in innovation in monitoring and managing all aspects of transportation and buildings in today’s smart cities. Cities across Canada are collaborating on means to provide cleaner more efficient home and work spaces for their inhabitants.  We are researching ways to use industrial sensors to monitor and more efficiently manage heating and cooling within residential and commercial buildings.  We are also developing ways to monitor and reduce emissions from these buildings.

Through the use of sensors under the pavement, on lamp posts, and cameras at intersections, we are researching ways to better identify traffic patterns across the city, and adjust intersection lights for more efficient travel times and greater safety for both vehicles and pedestrians.

There are also Canadian innovations being developed in street lighting to greatly reduce power consumption, and reduce environmental impact on wildlife.

Space Exploration

We are all too familiar with the Canada arm that had assisted the NASA space shuttle program for two decades, and now currently works diligently on the International Space Station. Did you know that Canada has a burgeoning space program too?  In 2016, the Canadian Government committed to extend Canada’s participation in the ISS program, and provide opportunities to develop leading-edge space technologies. Up to $379 million will be earmarked for this program over the next eight years.

Six Canadian astronauts have served eight missions aboard the International Space Station, and in 2018, David Saint-Jacques will become the next Canadian astronaut to take part in a long-duration mission aboard the ISS.

The University of Guelph’s Mike Dixon and his team are working on “biological life support” systems. Research that will help sustain long-term human exploration to distant planets by finding ways to grow plants inside greenhouses with techniques that could one day allow us to grow crops on the moon or Mars.C

Canada had long partnered with the US on development of Satellite Communications technology.  Our first Canadian Satellite, Alouette 1,  was launched by NASA on September 29 1962. Companies such as DeHavilland, Spar Aerospace, and Telesat Canada spurred on the innovation across the past several decades. Now, the torch has been picked up by several Canadian startups that are developing very small format satellites for such purposes as monitoring forestation and environmental changes, or providing imaging services for commercial planning.

We Canadians are a country of dreamers, and we dream big. The future of Canadian innovation will not dull.

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