To mark Canada’s 150th birthday, we are counting down to Canada Day with profiles of 150 noteworthy British Columbians.
There are the patriots who wrap themselves in the flag and spout slogans about Canadian values, and then there are those who value what it means to be Canadian and quietly ensure that value endures.
John Demco — distinctly low-profile in an age of instant celebrity enabled by the Internet — is a former manager of UBC’s computing facilities. He almost single-handedly secured Canada’s global digital identity.
Before that, he helped propel a visionary hockey coach at one of his alma maters, the University of Alberta, to the Order of Hockey in Canada. Clare Drake now stands as the most successful coach in the history of university hockey. Drake’s teams won 697 games and six of the Golden Bears’ 15 national titles. Demco was a 22-year-old systems analyst when he devised a way of tabulating hits, faceoffs, turnovers and shots and the precise place where they occurred. He lugged a computer to the press box for home games. Typing furiously to enter data every 10 seconds, he produced a statistical printout for coaches at the end of each period
Yet it’s not for pioneering sports analytics — Demco applied them to amateur hockey 20 years before Billy Beane used them to revolutionize professional baseball — that he wears his Canadian hero hat. It’s because Demco created the original registry for the Canadian Internet domain. About 2.5 million of us now use .ca every day, but few wonder where and why it came to be so.
It’s because Demco secured it 30 years ago this May. That was two years before the World Wide Web. He voluntarily maintained the .ca registry in his spare time from 1987 to 2000 when it was handed over to the Canadian Internet Registry Authority, a not-for-profit corporation he helped set up in 1998. Until then, Demco and volunteer helpers had managed the .ca registry, handling up to 5,000 registrations a month. When he turned it over, he had registered more than 100,000 users.
The .ca domain registration secured Canada’s digital identity. It is like having a Canadian flag on your digital backpack, observed Byron Holland, of CIRA. “It represents Canada on the Internet, and research shows Canadians prefer .ca sites for online news, banking and shopping.”
Demco has been recognized by the Canadian government, feted by the U of A and by UBC, and honoured by industry for his astonishing work.