Skip to content

Exhibit honours inventive women

Curator Lana Panko takes a look at some of the items in the Mothers of Invention exhibit at Stewart Hall.

After walking through Historic Stewart Farm’s newest exhibit, visitors will not only know the history behind the chocolate chip cookie, circular saw and Barbie, they’ll also be able to identify the connection between the three.

That’s because the showcase – set to open this weekend – highlights the inventions of women throughout history and from around the world.

Mothers of Invention gives a glimpse into the contributions women have made to technology, engineering, food, the environment, medicine, clothing and textiles, science and art – not to mention handy household and personal-care items, such as liquid paper and the disposable diaper.

“It’s another way of looking at objects, the objects around us,” curator Lana Panko said.

This is the second time Panko has organized the exhibit, and she said much has changed since she first researched the topic 12 years ago.

“Now there’s just so much more documentation.”

While access to information has changed – made easier by the Internet and more people writing on the subject – Panko’s reason for choosing the theme is the same.

“Women haven’t been as recognized for their ideas, historically,” she said, noting people may be surprised to learn women are behind many recognizable and widely used items.

“It gets them thinking. I think it’s important not just for women solely, but for men as well.”

Using items either donated or pulled from the museum’s collection, the exhibit explores women from various ages, including Cro-Magnon and prehistoric women who are thought to have had a hand in the invention of early stone tools, a couple of which are on display.

In weaving through different time periods, the exhibit touches on women’s creation of silk, the brassiere and specific measurements for recipes, as was first done by cookbook author Fannie Farmer in the late 1800s.

More modern creations include Miss Vickie’s potato chips, algorithm development in robots and technologies advancing cancer research and treatment.

One of the featured concepts is still just that – a concept – and is presented in a powerpoint presentation created by Grade 12 Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary student Sarah Gordon, who has thought of a way to aid people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s all conceptual. But that’s how it all starts,” Panko said. “This whole exhibit is about ideas.”

The showcase also examines the history and processes of patenting, copyrighting and marketing, as well as the Canadian suffragists and the struggle for women’s rights.

Panko said she hopes visitors are inspired by the successes, some of which have been made right here in the Lower Mainland.

Seven inventions of women from the Greater Vancouver area – a couple from Surrey – are featured, including the Stream of Dreams initiative that sees children paint wooden fish that are then attached to community fences.

“You see them all over but I don’t think people know the whole story behind them,” Panko said.

She hopes the exhibit, which is appropriate for all ages, not only opens visitors’ eyes to such inventions, but generates awareness and interest around the people who made them.

“They’re going to be able to name women inventors, and not just inventors but innovators as well.”

Mothers of Invention opens March 5 at 1 p.m. at Stewart Hall, 13723 Crescent Rd. Refreshments will be served.

It will continue to run Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. until Mother’s Day, May 8.

Tours can be booked for Fridays, or visit the exhibit by appointment.

Entrance is by donation.

For more information, call 604-592-6956 or visit

Learn more:

Ingenious Inventing will allow participants 16 and older to meet a local inventor, learn about the steps involved in bringing an idea to life and hear what it takes to develop a patent.

The March 24 workshop (7 to 8:30 p.m.) is to feature BC Inventors Society president Maya Sinclair, who will discuss where to find information, exchange ideas and get support.

Fee is $10/person.

Young Inventors offers children an opportunity to learn more about ingenious inventions May 7 from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

Participants five to 10 years old can spin the Inventor’s Wheel to win fun prizes and create a unique toy to take home.

Fee is $8/child.