Things you didn’t know are actually Canadian

By: Callum Denault  

Published on: November 21st, 2023

Just as much of Canadian culture is shaped by the various newcomers who arrive in the country to make a life for themselves​​, Canada ​​had a surprisingly large impact on the world around it. Here are some things you may not have known were either invented in Canada, or by Canadians who emigrated to other corners of the Earth. 

1. The Canadarm: ​​That big robot arm on the side of spaceships 

When making its space shuttles, NASA needed a robot arm that would help their new vehicles deliver their payloads to space. These arms had to meet very strict requirements: they had to be strong, flexible, precise, safe, be easy to control manually or leave on autopilot, as well as work in the zero-gravity vacuum of space.  

The Canadarm is Canada’s most famous contribution to the field of robotics, and the country is still making robot arms for different space flights, with a total of five being made and delivered to NASA. The Canadarm is also honoured on the Canadian five dollar bill.  

2. Basketball 

Despite most NBA teams being American, basketball was invented by a Canadian named James Naismith. Naismith was a physical educator at the International Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Training School, who was looking for a way to keep his restless students entertained while they were kept inside because of a snowstorm. He created a modified game of football where two teams had to put their ball into the opposing team’s net—which was a peach basket held 10 feet off the ground—and quickly added rules which made it illegal for players to punch, tackle, or otherwise hurt each other.  

The game then spread to other YMCAs, and eventually became the modern sport it is known as today. 

3. Superman 

Perhaps the very symbol of what it means to be a superhero, Superman is arguably the most famous comic book character of all time. He was also co-created by Canadian artist Joe Shuster who worked with the American Jerry Seigel in 1933 when they were both in a Cleveland high school.  

Born in Toronto, Shuster took inspiration from the city when writing Superman. The hero’s hometown of Metropolis is based on Toronto, and Superman’s human alter ego, Clark Kent, works at a newspaper called The Daily Planet, which was inspired by Shuster’s old after school job with The Toronto Star. ​Click here to enter text.​ 

To celebrate Superman’s 25th birthday, Canada Post issued special stamps depicting the hero. 

4. Deadpool 

Another superhero whose origins are tied to Canada, although this character is much more of an antihero than a classic hero, since he is more violent, foul-mouthed, and flawed than someone as virtuous as Superman. 

Ryan Reynolds—the Canadian actor who plays Deadpool—is often seen as inseparable from the character by fans, given how much the fast-talking, snarky action hero resembles different characters Reynolds has played in other films. The 2016 film Deadpool ​​was something of a passion project for Reynolds, who not only wrote many of his character’s lines but was also stuck in long-standing rights​​ 

Even before he made it to the big screen, Deadpool seemed to have been meant to be played by Reynolds, given that a comic book in 2012 described the character as looking like, “a cross between Ryan Reynolds and a Shar-Pei [a type of wrinkly dog]​.​”  

Deadpool 3 is coming out in 2024, and is set to star the titular “merc with the mouth,” alongside fellow Canadian superhero Wolverine

5. “Hawaiian” Pizza: The infamous pineapple on pizza combo 

Pineapple is quite possibly the most controversial pizza topping, with some writing that a sweet fruit does not belong on a savoury dish, comparing it to “chocolate syrup on grilled salmon​.​ However, pineapple is a core ingredient in Hawaiian pizza, which also ​​involves Canadian bacon, mozzarella cheese, and tomato sauce. 

The supposedly Hawaiian flavour of pizza was actually invented by Greek-Canadian chef​​, Sam Panopoulos, in the 1960’s, when he owned the Satellite restaurant in Chatham, Ontario. Pizza was largely unknown in Canada at that time, and in his mission to expand the Canadian palette, Panopoulos created Hawaiian pizza as a way of mixing sweet and savoury flavours together. People said he was crazy, but pineapple on pizza caught on. 

6. Special Olympics 

Special Olympics is a global non-profit that provides sports to people with intellectual disabilities, such as Autism or Down Syndrome. Born in Windsor and raised in St. Catherines, Ontario, Dr. Frank Hayden helped create the organization alongside Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Kennedy family.  

Hayden was a researcher in intellectual disabilities, and he was inspired to create a sport-based community for people with these conditions when he realized how inactive they were. Hayden believed a lot of the physical health problems he saw in his patients with intellectual disabilities were caused by this lack of activity—and not their disabilities ​​directly—which he wanted to change, while also making a place they could be social. His work continues to improve the lives of millions of people.  

7. London Fog Tea 

London Fog is a soothing hot drink made with Earl Gray Tea, milk, and vanilla or some other kind of flavouring. It was made in Vancouver in 1997 by Mary Loria, who was trying to come up with a way she could still drink caffeine when coffee made her feel sick during pregnancy.  

While visiting The Buckwheat Cafe—a favourite spot for Loria and her husband—the expectant mother asked a confused barista if she could have an Earl Gray with skim milk. Loria then took the drink to a station where customers could add their own toppings, mixed in some vanilla sugar, and found the resulting beverage was so good that she recommended it to her friends. 

8. Lacrosse 

This is the oldest sport played in North America, having been enjoyed by Indigenous people centuries before colonizers ever set foot on the land. Lacrosse had great meaning to the Iroquois, who lived in what is now known as New York State and the part of Canada bordering it.  

Anywhere from 100 to 1,000 people played matches that could last several days. Lacrosse had several uses: it was a way for people to prepare themselves for war, and it was also a way for nations to meet diplomatically with each other, to play sports, trade with one another, and settle arguments. Lacrosse was a “Medicine Game”, a way to heal the sick, make peace between nations, and have fun through sport. 

The modern form of ​​lacrosse began when white settlers became interested in the ball-and-stick game they saw Indigenous people playing. While mostly popular in Canada and the United States, ​​lacrosse is also gaining ground in Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom.  

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