Manning Award laureates true Canadian heroes

Gwyn MorganIn today’s competitive globalized world, technological innovation is crucial to our economic future. David Mitchell, former CEO of Alberta Energy Co., understood this reality long before it became mainstream thinking. He also understood another truth about human endeavours: Recognition and encouragement are important in the pursuit of excellence.

The year was 1980 and Mr. Mitchell was frustrated. While innovators were lauded as homegrown heroes south of the border, in Canada their achievements largely went unnoticed. Many people talk about problems – real leaders do something about them. Mr. Mitchell decided to create a national foundation to recognize and celebrate the technological and entrepreneurial achievements of Canadian innovators.

Celebrating Canadians

The first step was to recruit a prominent and equally passionate Canadian to join him in championing the venture. That person turned out to be the man who served as Alberta premier for 25 years. And so it was that the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation came into being, with a mission to celebrate Canadians who had the “Imagination to innovate and the stamina to succeed.”

That is a mission worth supporting, and funding of this not-for-profit organization has come entirely from private donors. Key supporters include EnCana (for which I served as CEO), CanWest, Katch Kan Ltd., Bank of Nova Scotia, Suncor, several family foundations (including that of my wife and I), together with many other friends and laureates of the foundation.

The foundation’s first Principal Award winner was selected in 1982. Phil Gold’s groundbreaking discovery of carcino-embryonic antigen was the first clinically useful human cancer-tumour marker. Found in 70 per cent of cancer patients, the marker remains the most frequently used oncology blood test. Dr. Gold was recently inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

The 1983 award went to Kenneth Kasha for a genetic system that transformed the process of developing strains of barley and wheat.

Today, there are more than 200 Manning Innovation Award laureates. Here’s a look at some of them:

Lorne Whitehead (1984), who invented the “light guide” prism used in illumination systems; Dennis Covill (1988), whose company, Nautel, was the first to develop solid-state, high-powered radio transmitters; Donald Knudsen (1989), who conceptualized and designed an underwater digital acoustic imaging system known as Daisy; Len Bruton (1991), who developed electronic filters used for many applications including the touch-tone phone;

James Halford (1997), who devised the Conserva Pak seed-and-fertilizer system for one-pass, low-tillage conservation farming; Jim Cavers (1998), who invented a device to eliminate distortion in radio frequency base stations; Norman Dovichi and Jianzhong Zhang (1999), who developed a high-speed DNA sequencer; Pierre Côta (2000), for the ZeeWeed filtration membrane that revolutionized water treatment;

Quinn Holtby (2000), who developed the Katch Kan oil-field well bore fluid- containment platform used in more than 50 countries; Scott Tanner and Vladimir Baranov (2001), who developed the Dynamic Reaction Cell to eliminate chemical interference in analytical atomic spectrometry; Mike Lazaridis and Gary Mousseau (2002) for inventing the BlackBerry; Nancy Mathis (2003), who developed and commercialized a sensor for quality control of materials used by manufacturers around the world;

Murray Goldberg (2004), who developed WebCT, putting Canada on the map in the online learning market; En-hui Yang (2007), who invented some of the world’s most widely used digital-compression technologies for transmitting data and images; Lee Danisch (2008), whose ShapeAccelArray can detect subtle underground movements before they turn into landslides or structural failures in bridges and buildings.

The 2009 Principal Award winner was Robert Burrell, inventor of the Anti- Coat dressings that help control infections and promote faster healing of wounds and burns.

In 1992, the foundation introduced the Young Canadian Innovation Awards, a program that selects exceptional projects from the Canada-Wide Student Science Fair. Last year’s winners included Grade 12 students Annie Wang and Julie Xu of Calgary, whose experiments determined the need to target specific types of bacteria in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis.

“Our award laureates have changed the way Canada competes, manufactures, communicates and cares for each other,” the foundations volunteer president, John Read, noted at last September’s annual awards gala.

Innovation fosters economic growth

In a recent opinion piece in The Globe and Mail, economist Daniel Schwanen noted that innovation is key to fostering economic growth: “We . . . need a more specific focus on the inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs who turn ideas into business propositions.”

Many Manning Innovation Award laureates credit the foundation’s recognition and encouragement as helping them accomplish that. At a time when far too many of our young people focus on entertainers or sports stars as role models, inspiration from these true Canadian heroes lights a path for others to follow.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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