New Brunswick: The Innovation Province

Innovative. Creative. Entrepreneurial.

These words much better describe New Brunswick than the still-touted ‘picture province.’

Twice when I’ve been a passenger traveling through this province, I’ve spent the journey reading aloud tidbits from the ‘New Brunswick Book of Everything,’ compiled by Martha Walls in 2006. The statistics in the book are now a tad dated, but the historical sketches and biographies remain intriguing, and I’m struck by how certain traits from the past continue to be a core strength of this province.

I’m curious as to how the province’s natural features, its beaches and mountains and fishing and snowmobiling, came to be the focus of our marketing, rather than our entrepreneurial and inventive character. This province has a powerhouse of business success on an international scale, and for decades has encouraged people to come visit because we’re pretty.

The chocolate bar was invented here. So was the ice cream cone. Fredericton’s Benjamin Tibbits changed shipping with his marine compound steam engine. The SCUBA tank was created in Saint John. Moncton’s John Mitchell Lyons is the reason you get a luggage tag at the airport. The patent for a manual clothes washer was filed by Saint John’s John Turnbull. Cold water soap for laundry? Invented here. Hot and cold water faucets? Ours, too. Keys to open canned meat. Dump truck boxes. The Variable Pitch Propeller, the Inverted Saw Tooth, the Pipeless Furnace, Scrabble. All invented by New Brunswickers living in New Brunswick.

Then there are the business tycoons, names synonymous with New Brunswick and with success. Irving. McCain. Ganong. Oland. Beaverbrook. Imbeault. Barbour. There are names that bring to mind tenacity and resilience. Molly Kool. Clement Cormier. Sandra Lovelace Nicholas. R. B. Bennett.

Why did we set aside the legacy of these inventors and disruptors to focus on our (admittedly wonderful) natural elements?

I thought maybe it had to with that blip in the 1970s, when Premier Richard Hatfield lost the province $23 million on the ill-fated Bricklin. Focusing on our province’s innovation and creativity right after that stumble would not have been a great marketing strategy; but as someone who didn’t pay taxes or live through those days, I’m struck by Hatfield’s desire to pursue a dream he believed would diversify the province’s economy and create another made-in-New-Brunswick business success story. He took a risk, which most people would say is the leading trait of an entrepreneur. Most entrepreneurs would also tell you that risk sometimes does not yield the results for which you hoped.

Perhaps that risk is now far enough past that we can again focus on all the times New Brunswick’s entrepreneurial spirit has succeeded. This is a province that raises smart, creative inventors, and innovators. We are not simply a ‘picture province,’ to be enjoyed during your leisure time. We are a powerhouse of creativity and passion that pushes boundaries and demands the best of its people.

We’re adding to that list daily. We are the province that created Quber. Tuxy. Porpoise. Radian 6. Cooke Aquaculture. Civilized. Organigram. SomaDetect. FitStats. Country Liberty. The list goes on and on, and the stories behind these innovative ideas show a province that is rich in much more than picturesque trails and outdoor pursuits. New Brunswick is a province that produces creativity, in part because of its natural attributes that allow those innovative thinkers to thrive, but also because of its history of embracing risk takers, supporting local business endeavours, and encouraging its residents to dream bigger than its borders. 

We officially retired ‘the picture province’ from our license plates before the Bricklin era. Perhaps we can also retire our humble tendencies and focus on celebrating our innovative visionaries.

 A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more of Jenna Morton’s column, She Said.

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