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Canada and SOSUS

The Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) was a network of passive sonar stations established by the United States Navy (USN) in the early 1950s to “listen” for Soviet submarines. SOSUS was a core element of antisubmarine warfare (ASW) during the Cold War. It developed out of intense postwar oceanographic research into how sound is propagated under water. Given Canada’s shared responsibility for the defence of North America, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was actively engaged in this research and mission and helped operate SOSUS. The mission was highly classified throughout the Cold War and only declassified in 1991. SOSUS became part of the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS), a broader network of fixed and towed sensors that remains operational.


David Schindler

David William Schindler, OC, FRSC, FRS, AOE, scientist, limnologist (born 3 August 1940 in Fargo, North Dakota; died 4 March 2021 in Brisco, BC). Schindler was an outspoken researcher who advanced the understanding, protection and conservation of Canada’s fresh waters.


Dating in Archaeology

 For those researchers working in the field of human history, the chronology of events remains a major element of reflection. Archaeologists have access to various techniques for dating archaeological sites or the objects found on those sites.


Crawford Stanley Holling

Crawford Stanley Holling, “Buzz,” OC, FRSC, ecologist (born 6 Dec 1930 in Theresa, New York; died 16 August 2019 in  Nanaimo, BC). One of the best-known Canadian forest entomologists, Holling gained international recognition for his work in the management of natural resources.


Frances Oldham Kelsey

​Frances Oldham Kelsey, CM, pharmacologist (born 24 July 1914 in Cobble Hill, BC; died 7 August 2015 in London, ON). As an employee of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Kelsey blocked the sale of thalidomide in the United States. The drug, which had been widely prescribed in Europe and Canada, was later shown to cause severe birth defects in children whose mothers had taken the drug while pregnant. In recognition of her “exceptional judgment” and determination, Kelsey received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service. Kelsey and her work have been widely lauded in the United States but are less known in Canada. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada shortly before her death.


Canada Gairdner Awards

The Canada Gairdner Awards were established in 1959 by the Gairdner Foundation to recognize medical research that contributes to the advancement of human health. Leading biomedical and global health researchers from around the world are honoured by seven awards every year. The Canada Gairdner Awards are among the world’s foremost honours in the field of medicine. Numerous awardees are also laureates of the Nobel Prize.


COVID-19 Vaccines

In early 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated, it seemed very unlikely that a safe and effective vaccine could be developed and deployed within one to two years. A vaccine had never been developed against a new virus during a pandemic, and there was no approved vaccine yet to prevent a coronavirus infection in humans. Despite this, the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved in December 2020, about a year after the first cases were reported. By July 2021, there were more than 30 COVID-19 vaccines authorized for public use by at least one national regulatory authority. This was possible because of decades of research on coronaviruses and vaccine technology — particularly in the use of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) — significant government investment, and unprecedented cooperation between governments and university research labs, pharmaceutical firms and international health organizations. Several Canadian scientists were involved in key elements of the research that led to the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna.


Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell, teacher of the deaf, inventor, scientist (born 3 March 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland; died 2 August 1922 near Baddeck, NS). Alexander Graham Bell is generally considered second only to Thomas Alva Edison among 19th- and 20th-century inventors. Although he is best known as the inventor of the first practical telephone, he also did innovative work in other fields, including aeronautics, hydrofoils and wireless communication (the “photophone”). Moreover, Bell himself considered his work with the deaf to be his most important contribution. Born in Scotland, he emigrated to Canada in 1870 with his parents. Bell married American Mabel Hubbard in 1877 and became a naturalized American citizen in 1882. From the mid-1880s, he and his family spent their summers near Baddeck on Cape Breton Island, where they built a large home, Beinn Bhreagh. From then on, Bell divided his time and his research between the United States and Canada. He died and was buried at Baddeck in 1922.


Donald Chant

Donald Alfred Chant, OC, FRSC, scientist, educator, environmentalist, executive (born 30 September 1928 in Toronto, ON; died 23 December 2007 in Kingston, ON). Chant was one of the foremost experts on the phytoseiid family of predatory mites. A professor of zoology and administrator at the University of Toronto, he was also a prominent environmental leader and advocate.

timeline event

300-Million-Year-Old Fossil Found in New Brunswick

Halifax high school students and amateur paleontologists Rowan Norrad and Luke Allen discovered a 300-million-year-old fossilized dragonfly wing near Grand Lake, New Brunswick. The length of the wing, about 10 cm, indicated a likely wingspan of 25 cm — much larger than contemporary dragonflies. The fossil was sent to the National Museum of Natural History in Paris for further analysis.


John Carter Callaghan

John Carter Callaghan, OC, AOE, FRCSC, heart surgeon (born 1 October 1923 in Hamilton, ON; died 6 April 2004 in Orillia, ON). Callaghan is perhaps best known as the surgeon who performed Canada’s first successful open-heart surgery in 1956. Callaghan also co-developed a portable artificial external cardiac pacemaker in 1950. This revolutionary discovery laid the groundwork for the development and use of implantable external pacemakers in humans.


Annette Herscovics

Annette Herscovics, FRSC, biochemist (born 29 June 1938 in Paris, France; died 6 September 2008 in Montreal, QC). Annette Herscovics is best known for her pioneering work on glycoproteins. She discovered where and how in our cells these modifications occur and their relevance to health and disease. Her discoveries are a key development in the field of glycobiology.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.


Cardiac Pacemaker

In 1950, one of Canada’s greatest medical innovations was developed at the University of Toronto’s Banting Institute. Cardiac surgeon, Dr. Wilfred Bigelow and research fellow, Dr. John Carter Callaghan were trying to understand how hypothermia (see Cold-Weather Injuries) could slow the beating of an animal’s heart before surgery. They were also looking for a way to stimulate the heart when it faltered as it cooled. This largely unknown area of research could have tremendous applications for humans. The doctors partnered with Dr. John A. Hopps from the National Research Council of Canada, who created a portable artificial external pacemaker. It was designed to send electric pulses to the heart, which caused the heart to contract and pump blood to the body. The device was successfully tested on a dog in 1950. This landmark discovery paved the way for the use of implantable pacemakers in humans.


Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

Established in 1994, the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF) is a national charitable organization. The mission of the CMHF is to “recognize and celebrate Canadian health leaders whose work has advanced health and inspires the pursuit of careers in the health sciences.” As of 2006, up to six individuals are inducted into the CMHF annually. Laureates are featured at the CMHF’s Exhibit Hall in London, Ontario, and online through the CMHF’s official website.


Frances Gertrude McGill

Frances Gertrude McGill, teacher, bacteriologist, forensic pathologist (born 18 November 1882 in Minnedosa, MB; died 21 January 1959 in Winnipeg). McGill was Canada’s first female forensic pathologist and a pioneer in the field. She assisted police in solving numerous difficult criminal cases and unusual deaths, earning the nickname “the Sherlock Holmes of Saskatchewan.” She is often regarded as the first female member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Her personal motto is said to have been “Think like a man, act like a lady and work like a dog.”


Harriet Brooks

Harriet Brooks Pitcher, physicist and nuclear scientist (born 2 July 1876 in Exeter, ON; died 17 April 1933 in Montreal, QC). Harriet Brooks made important contributions to the field of atomic physics. She discovered that one element could change into another element through radioactive decay. Brooks was the first woman to receive a master’s degree from McGill (1901). She is considered the first Canadian female nuclear physicist. Ernest Rutherford referred to her as “the most pre-eminent woman physicist in the department of radioactivity,” next to Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist Marie Curie.