Canada’s deeper dive into the oceans aims to tap industry’s uncharted frontier

Canada's Ocean Supercluster is a $300-million research initiative to spur the Atlantic region's ocean-related industries, including fishing, aquaculture, oil and gas, renewable energy, defence, shipbuilding and transportation.Becky Guthrie/National Post

The centrepiece of Canada’s innovation strategy is the $950-million “supercluster” initiative. The goal, according to the federal government, is for companies of all sizes, academia and the non-profit sector to collaborate on new technologies, to spur economic growth and create jobs. As part of the Innovation Nation series, the Financial Post is taking an in-depth look at each of the five regional projects, and provide continuing coverage of their progress. You can find all of our coverage here.

Sonar images two summers ago revealed a long-lost piece of Canadian history sitting on the bottom of Lake Ontario: one of nine models of the Avro Arrow, the supersonic military jet.

The test models had been fired over the lake on rockets in the 1950s to assess their flight worthiness. Of course, that was before the Arrow program was famously scrapped and the plane was rendered a piece of Canadian folklore — a long lamented what-could-have-been piece of homegrown innovation.

A first Arrow was found lying upside down and thickly covered with zebra mussels in September 2017 by ThunderFish Alpha, an autonomous submarine mounted with high-resolution sonar technology. A second model was later found.

“That was us — that was our sonar technology and our robotic technology,” said Karl Kenny, the founder, chief executive and largest shareholder of Kraken Robotics Inc. “We’re the guys who found the Avro Arrow models.”

Headquartered in St. John’s, N.L., Kraken’s sonar-imaging technology allows operators to see very small objects on the seabed from long distances. “We’re seeing stuff on the seabed that traditional technologies couldn’t detect, that humans couldn’t detect,” Kenny said.

Conservators restore the Avro Arrow test model, removing mussels and debris that had gathered on the machine from decades at the bottom of Lake Ontario.

Julie Oliver/Postmedia

Kraken’s latest plan — to map, in detail, specific areas of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, and perhaps portions of the Labrador Sea and the approaches to Halifax — could also break new ground if it becomes the first project to be approved through Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, a $300-million research initiative to spur the Atlantic region’s ocean-related industries, including fishing, aquaculture, oil and gas, renewable energy, defence, shipbuilding and transportation.

Considering the potential benefits and backers — including two large fishing companies and oil and gas interests — Kraken’s OceanVision project seems likely to get the go-ahead.