John’s Believe It Or Not… July 22nd

In 1915 – Sir Sandford Fleming dies at 88. In 2003 Jessica Lynch gets hero’s welcome. In 1598 The Merchant of Venice is entered on the Stationers’ Register. In 2005 March of the Penguins debuts. In 1793 Alexander Mackenzie reaches the Pacific Ocean.

John Fioravanti is standing in front of the blackboard in his classroom.

Yay! It’s Saturday! Did you know…

* 1915 – Sir Sandford Fleming dies at 88. (Sir Sandford Fleming, (born Jan. 7, 1827, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scot.—died July 22, 1915, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Can.), civil engineer and scientist who was the foremost railway engineer of Canada in the 19th century.

Fleming emigrated in 1845 from Scotland to Canada, where he was trained as an engineer. By 1857 he had become chief engineer for the Ontario, Simcoe, and Huron Railway (now part of the Canadian National Railway). In 1863 he was chosen by the Canadian government to conduct a survey for the route of the first link—from Quebec City to Halifax—of a proposed railway to run from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He became chief engineer for the construction of the resulting Intercolonial Railway (also part of the Canadian National Railway). In 1871 he became engineer-in-chief of the proposed Canadian Pacific Railway, and the routes he surveyed through the Kicking Horse and other passes greatly aided Canadian railway construction in the ensuing decades. Fleming retired from his post with the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1880.

After his retirement, Fleming served as chancellor (1880–1915) of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and devoted himself to scientific projects and writing. Railway travel across great distances in Canada and the United States had rendered obsolete the old practice wherein different regions set their clocks according to local astronomical conditions. In studying solutions to this problem, Fleming advocated the adoption of a standard, or mean, time with hourly variations from it according to a system of time zones. His efforts were instrumental in the convening (1884) of the International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C., at which the current internationally accepted system of standard time zones was adopted. Fleming was also a forceful advocate of a telegraph communication system for the British Empire, the first link of which was a Pacific cable between Canada and Australia (1902). Additionally, Fleming designed Canada’s first postage stamp, the threepenny beaver (1851). He was knighted in 1897.)

Google doodle pays tribute to Sandford Fleming, who standardized time zones
Google doodle pays tribute to Sandford Fleming, who standardized time zones (

* 1793 Alexander Mackenzie reaches the Pacific Ocean. (More than a decade before Lewis and Clark, Alexander Mackenzie reaches the Pacific Ocean, becoming the first Euro-American to complete a transcontinental crossing north of Mexico.

A young Scotsman engaged in the fur trade out of Montreal, Mackenzie made his epic journey across the continent without any of the governmental financial backing and support given to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. In 1787, he was assigned to the British North West Company’s fur trading post in what is now northern Alberta. Two years later, he led a small expedition north to the Great Slave Lake where he discovered the westward flowing river that now bears his name. To Mackenzie’s disappointment, he discovered that the river soon turned north and led to the Arctic Ocean rather than the Pacific.

The following year, he tried to reach the Pacific again. This time, he followed the Peace River west accompanied by a party of nine men. In June 1793, the expedition crossed the Continental Divide over an easily portaged pass of 3,000 feet. From there, they moved south down the Fraser River, which Mackenzie hoped was a tributary of the Columbia River. The Fraser River eventually proved impassable, however, and the expedition struck out overland to the west.

On this day in 1793, Mackenzie reached the Pacific Ocean across from what is today called Vancouver Island. Using a paint he concocted from grease and vermilion, he wrote on a rock: “Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three.” With this inscription, Great Britain staked its first tenuous claim on the northwest.

Aside from the Spanish explorers who had previously crossed the comparatively narrow Mexican land mass, Mackenzie was the first Euro-American to cross the North American continent to reach the Pacific Ocean. Yet, he considered his achievement to be “at least in part a failure” because he had failed to find a passable commercial route. Mackenzie later returned to Scotland and never returned to Canada. Twelve years later, the discoveries he made on his “failed” voyage played a key role in President Thomas Jefferson’s decision to send Lewis and Clark on their two-year journey to the Pacific.)

Alexander Macenzie Rock 1793 by Robert Berdan
Alexander Mackenzie Rock 1793 by Robert Berdan (

* 2003 Jessica Lynch gets hero’s welcome. (On this day in 2003, U.S. Army Private Jessica Lynch, a prisoner-of-war who was rescued from an Iraqi hospital, receives a hero’s welcome when she returns to her hometown of Palestine, West Virginia. The story of the 19-year-old supply clerk, who was captured by Iraqi forces in March 2003, gripped America; however, it was later revealed that some details of Lynch’s dramatic capture and rescue might have been exaggerated.

Lynch, who was born April 26, 1983, was part of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas. On March 23, 2003, just days after the U.S. invaded Iraq, Lynch was riding in a supply convoy when her unit took a wrong turn and was ambushed by Iraqi forces near Nasiriya. Eleven American soldiers died and four others besides Lynch were captured.

Lynch, who sustained multiple broken bones and other injuries when her vehicle crashed during the ambush, was taken to an Iraqi hospital. On April 1, she was rescued by U.S. Special Forces who raided the hospital where she was being held. They also recovered the bodies of eight of Lynch’s fellow soldiers. Lynch was taken to a military hospital in Germany for treatment and then returned to the United States.

Lynch’sstory garnered massive media attention and she became an overnight celebrity. Various reports emerged about Lynch’s experience, with some news accounts indicating that even after Lynch was wounded during the ambush she fought back against her captors. However, Lynch later stated that she had been knocked unconscious after her vehicle crashed and couldn’t remember the details of what had happened to her. She also said she had not been mistreated by the staff at the Iraqi hospital and they put up no resistance to her rescue. Critics–and Lynch herself–charged the U.S. government with embellishing her story to boost patriotism and help promote the Iraq war.

In August 2003, Lynch received a medical honorable discharge. She collaborated on a book about her experience, I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, which was released later that year. In April 2007, Lynch testified before Congress that she had falsely been portrayed as a “little girl Rambo” and the U.S. military had hyped her story for propaganda reasons. According to Lynch: “I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary.” She added: “The truth of war is not always easy to hear but is always more heroic than the hype.”)

Pfc. Jessica Lynch wears a black beret and an Army dress uniform as she speaks at a news conference on her return to her hometown, Palestine, W. Va. 'It's great to be home,' she said.
Pfc. Jessica Lynch wears a black beret and an Army dress uniform as she speaks at a news conference on her return to her hometown, Palestine, W. Va. ‘It’s great to be home,’ she said. (

* 1598 The Merchant of Venice is entered on the Stationers’ Register. (On this day in 1598, William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice is entered on the Stationers’ Register. By decree of Queen Elizabeth, the Stationers’ Register licensed printed works, giving the Crown tight control over all published material. Although its entry on the register licensed the printing of The Merchant of Venice, its first version would not be published for another two years.

The publication of Shakespeare’s plays was a haphazard matter. Playwrights at the time were not interested in publication: They sold their plays to theater companies, which tried to prevent rivals from literally stealing the show. The writer produced only one complete written script for a play, and the players received only their own lines and cues, not the entire play. Sometimes, however, disgruntled actors would prepare their own version of the play from notes cribbed during performances. Among other plays, there are pirated versions, or “bad quartos,” for Henry VI and Hamlet. Scholars believe, however, that the first printing, in 1600, of The Merchant of Venice came from a clean manuscript of the complete play.

During his lifetime, no authorized versions of Shakespeare’s plays were printed. However, his sonnets were published in 1609, seven years before his death.)

Image of The Merchant of Venice, Quarto 1 (Boston Public Library), page 1
Image of The Merchant of Venice, Quarto 1 (Boston Public Library), page 1 (

* 2005 March of the Penguins debuts. (On this day in 2005, March of the Penguins, a French-made documentary about emperor penguins in Antarctica, opens in theaters across the United States. March of the Penguins went on to win numerous awards, including an Oscar and became one of the highest-grossing documentaries in movie history.

March of the Penguins followed the year-long reproductive cycle of the emperor penguins and their arduous journeys between the ocean and their inland breeding grounds. Two cinematographers spent a year in isolated terrain and challenging weather conditions in order to film the penguins in their natural habitat. The penguin parents were shown caring for their unhatched eggs and young chicks. Male-female penguin couples were presented as monogamous, leading some conservative commentators to declare that March of the Penguins promoted family values. The film’s French director Luc Jaquet rejected this view. In a 2005 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, he stated: “I condemn this position. I find it intellectually dishonest to impose this viewpoint on something that’s part of nature. It’s amusing, but if you take the monogamy argument, from one season to the next, the divorce rate, if you will, is between 80 to 90 percent… the monogamy only lasts for the duration of one reproductive cycle. You have to let penguins be penguins and humans be humans.”

The American version of March of the Penguins featured straightforward narration by the Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman. However, the French version of the film, titled La Marche de l’empereur, used the voices of human actors to make it appear as if the penguins were speaking. At the 78th Academy Awards, on March 5, 2006, March of the Penguins won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

The success of March of the Penguins appeared to spark a mini-penguin craze: In November 2006, Happy Feet, a computer-animated film about emperor penguins, opened in U.S. theaters. Happy Feet, which featured the voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, and Nicole Kidman, won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 79th Academy Awards on February 25, 2007.)

Credit: Photo by c.Warner Br/Everett/REX (533615u)MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, 2005'MARCH OF THE PENGUINS' FILM - 2005
Credit: Photo by c.Warner Br/Everett/REX (533615u)MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, 2005’MARCH OF THE PENGUINS’ FILM – 2005 (Through the Reels – blogger)

Today’s Sources:

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* Encyclopaedia Britannica

* This Day In History – What Happened Today


Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

17 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… July 22nd”

  1. I didn’t know about Alexander Mackenzie. Thanks for the education. It’s sad that people in the U.S. know so little of Canadian history (or of the history of many nations, for that matter). We’re far too arrogant as a nation. 😀

    Penguins are so cool. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember back in the fall of ’69 at the University of Waterloo having this conversation with an American fellow-student. His explanation was that Canada has such a small impact on the USA that our history wasn’t important to know. He was from Syracuse, New York. Of course, he was flabbergasted to learn that Canada was, and still is, America’s largest trading partner. A current friend of mine in the US South often mocks (playfully) Canada as a Third World Country. Regardless, I’m happy to present a bit of Canadian history (both flattering and not) each day in this blog. Thanks for your support and your comments, Roy!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. No, Roy, I haven’t picked up on any arrogance. You’ve been very respectful and I appreciate it. Again, thanks for your comments and please feel free to ask questions. Have a great week coming up!


  2. I admire Lynch’s courage to speak up and effectively challenge the contrived story. And, I loved the reminder of the March of the Penguins. I didn’t know about Alexander Mackenzie or Sir Sandford Fleming prior to your post – thank you for introducing me to them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, governments have always used “spin”, Robbie, to garner public support. During WWI, the Canadian government circulated posters depicting German soldiers as bloodthirsty monsters skewering pregnant women and children with their bayonets. Pure propaganda. So don’t be surprised when you see current governments doing similar things. It’s an age old practice. Thanks for your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

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