John’s Believe It Or Not… July 23rd

In 1914 – HMS Rainbow escorts Komagata Maru out of Vancouver. In 1983 – Gimli Glider – Air Canada 767 runs out of fuel in midair and makes emergency glide landing. In 1996 U.S. women take home gymnastics gold. In 1878 Black Bart strikes again. In 1967 Detroit Riots Begin.

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

It’s Sunday! Did you know…

* 1914 – HMS Rainbow escorts Komagata Maru out of Vancouver. (On this day in 1914, the Komagata Maru arrived in Burrard Inlet. The Japanese tramp steamer carried 1,500 tons of coal and 376 would-be immigrants from the Punjab in India.

White Vancouverites were alarmed. “HINDU INVADERS NOW IN THE CITY HARBOUR ON KOMAGATA MARU,” screamed a front-page headline in The Vancouver Sun.

In fact, most of the passengers were Sikh, not Hindu. But few would ever set foot on Canadian soil. The federal government refused to let the ship land, and the ship languished in the harbor for two months.

The passengers went on a hunger strike, trying to force the government to accept them. When it looked like the ship might sail to Japan, they seized the vessel from its Japanese crew. The government didn’t blink. Eventually, it sent a warship, the HMCS Rainbow, to force the ship to leave.

Thousands of Vancouverites lined the shores of Coal Harbour anticipating a battle, but the Komagata Maru sailed away peacefully July 21. Unfortunately, the voyage didn’t end peacefully. When the ship reached Budge Budge, near Calcutta, police opened fire and 19 passengers were killed.

A century later, the Komagata Maru episode is viewed as one of the most infamous examples of racism in Canadian history. “It seems to me to be a defining moment in the history of the South Asian community, and the history of Canada,” said Ujjal Dosanjh, who became Canada’s first South Asian Premier in 2000. “The enormity of the event touches you, it grips you when you think about 376 people waiting on that ship for two months and then being sent back, under the shadow of the HMCS Rainbow.”

The British were leery of the passengers on the Komagata Maru because they thought they were connected with the Ghadar Party, which promoted India’s independence. “The British were now afraid that these people were now radicalized to the extent they could pose a danger to the stability of the Punjab region,” said Dosanjh. “And that’s why they were welcomed with guns. So in India, it’s a very important chapter in the independence movement.”

Two large ships face each other surrounded by several other smaller boats. HMCS Rainbow watches over the SS Komagata Maru in Vancouver, July 1914.
Two large ships face each other surrounded by several other smaller boats. HMCS Rainbow watches over the SS Komagata Maru in Vancouver, July 1914. (Royal Canadian Navy / Marine Royale Canadien)

* 1983 – Gimli Glider – Air Canada 767 runs out of fuel in midair and makes emergency glide landing.  (It was on a hot summer day nearly 30 years ago that Capt. Robert Pearson’s legacy was permanently tied to an Air Canada 767, that became better known as the Gimli Glider.

On July 23, 1983, Capt. Pearson managed to avert what could have easily have become one of the worst airline disasters in the country’s history by drawing on his background as a glider pilot and safely landing the embattled aircraft at an old air force base – just meters away from where a crowd had collected to watch go cart races that day.

The story of the Gimli Glider is the stuff legends are made out of.

It started when the maintenance crews for Air Canada Flight 143 discovered a shoddy soldering job had knocked out the computer that calculates how much fuel was needed to get the plane from Montreal to Edmonton, with a brief stopover in Ottawa.

Rather than canceling the flight, the ground crew manually calculated how much fuel would be needed. They were heartened when the plane successfully landed in Ottawa.

But a warning signal on the second leg, about 41,000 feet somewhere over Red Lake, Ont., shattered that resolve. The crew had made a critical error in using imperial measurements rather than metric ones and the plane was rapidly running out of fuel.

“I thought we had some sort of computer problem when the low-pressure fuel lights started blinking on,” Capt. Pearson recalled.

One of the engines then when out. Then, because the electrical system was run off the engines, it was knocked out. Soon the power went out in the cockpit, forcing the pilots to switch to manual controls as the plane began plunging at 2,000 feet per minute.

“After that, we just didn’t have any time to talk about it,” Capt. Pearson said.

Fortunately for everyone on board, Capt. Pearson was trained as a glider pilot and set his first officer to calculating the optimum gliding speed for an 80-tonne jumbo jet.

At first, they thought they could make it to Winnipeg. But First Officer Quintal suggested they land the plane at a nearby Air Force base in Gimli, where he had once served.

Unbeknownst to either, however, the runway where the plane would eventually land had become a drag racing strip where crowds had collected with their campers to watch go-cart races that day. The plane came to rest just meters away from the crowd.

The Gimli Glider was eventually returned to Air Canada’s fleet, where it continued to fly for another 25 years before being retired.)

Air Canada's Boeing 767 crash landed on a disused runway near Gimli, Manitoba. (Smartbiz)
Air Canada’s Boeing 767 crash landed on a disused runway near Gimli, Manitoba. (Smartbiz) (Timeline)

* 1996 U.S. women take home gymnastics gold. (On July 23, 1996, at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team wins its first-ever team gold.

The 1996 U.S. women’s team, nicknamed the “Mag 7″ or “magnificent seven,” was made up of seven immensely talented teenaged girls: Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Jaycie Phelps and Kerri Strug. The team entered the Summer Olympics with the expectations of an entire country heaped on their young shoulders. They were considered America’s best shot ever at an Olympic team gold, something no American women’s gymnastics team had ever won. The American women’s best finish to that point had been a silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which were boycotted by the favored Soviet Union, winner of eight consecutive team golds between 1952 and 1980.

To win the gold in 1996, the U.S. women faced a battle with perennial contender Russia and Romania, the two-time defending world champions. Still, U.S. fans believed the odds were good: The team had deep reserves of talent and each of its members was capable of winning events. When the team competition began, veteran U.S. star Shannon Miller did not disappoint, delivering an impressive performance to place second overall to the Romanian world champion Lilia Podkopayeva. Meanwhile, returning Olympians Dawes and Strug placed sixth and seventh, respectively, while Moceanu came in 11th.

The final event of the team competition for the U.S. was the vault. Fourteen-year-old Dominique Moceanu, the first American to compete, had a chance to clinch the gold for her team with a solid performance but was unable to stick the landing on her first attempt. As the pro-American crowd gathered in Atlanta held their breath, Moceanu took off for her second vault, and, again, slipped and fell on the landing. This left it up to Strug, America’s second and final vaulter, to seal the win. On her first attempt, Strug also fell on the landing and heard an alarming pop in her ankle. The team and coach Bela Karolyi were unaware that the team had won whether Strug vaulted again or not, so Strug bravely readied herself to vault on her badly sprained ankle. After executing a perfect one-and-a-half twisting Yurchenko, Strug landed solidly on two feet. She then spun and hopped on one foot towards the judges’ table before collapsing in pain. When her 9.712 was announced, she celebrated in the arms of her coach, who would later have to carry the 4-foot-9-inch “Spark Plug” Strug to the medal stand.)

The 1996 U.S. women's gymnastics squad, aka the Magnificent Seven
The 1996 U.S. women’s gymnastics squad, aka the Magnificent Seven (Pinterest)

* 1878 Black Bart strikes again. (Black Bart robs a Wells Fargo stagecoach in California. Wearing a flour sack over his head, the armed robber stole the small safe box with less than $400 and a passenger’s diamond ring and watch. When the empty box was recovered, a taunting poem signed “Black Bart” was found inside:

Here I lay me down to sleep to wait the coming morrow, Perhaps success, perhaps defeat And everlasting sorrow,

Yet come what will, I’ll try it once, My conditions can’t be worse, And if there’s money in that box,’ Tis money in my purse.

This wasn’t the first time that Black Bart had robbed a stagecoach and left a poem for the police; however, it was the last time he got away with it. His next stagecoach robbery secured a lot more cash, $4,800. At yet another robbery, on November 3, 1888, though, he left behind a handkerchief at the scene. Through a laundry mark, Pinkerton detectives traced the handkerchief back to Charles Bolton, an elderly man in San Francisco.

Bolton later confessed to being Black Bart but bitterly disputed his reputation as an outlaw. “I am a gentleman,” he told detectives with great dignity. How Bolton became Black Bart is unclear. What is known is that Bolton had tried to hit it big in the Gold Rush, but had ended up with a lifestyle beyond his means.

Black Bart ended up serving only a short stretch in prison and spent the rest of his days in Nevada.)

Black Bart. Northern California stagecoach bandit. Poet. Businessman? "I've labored long and hard for bread, For honor and for riches But on my corns too long you've tred You fine-haired sons of bitches."
Black Bart. Northern California stagecoach bandit. Poet. Businessman? “I’ve labored long and hard for bread, For honor and for riches But on my corns too long you’ve tred You fine-haired sons of bitches.” (

* 1967 Detroit Riots Begin. (The 1967 Detroit Riots were among the most violent and destructive riots in U.S. history. By the time the bloodshed, burning, and looting ended after five days, 43 people were dead, 342 injured, nearly 1,400 buildings had been burned and some 7,000 National Guard and U.S. Army troops had been called into service.

The entire city was in a state of economic and social strife: As the Motor City’s famed automobile industry shed jobs and moved out of the city center, freeways and suburban amenities beckoned middle-class residents away, which further gutted Detroit’s vitality and left behind vacant storefronts, widespread unemployment, and impoverished despair.

At night, 12th Street in Detroit was a hotspot of inner-city nightlife, both legal and illegal. At the corner of 12th St. and Clairmont, William Scott operated a “blind pig” (an illegal after-hours club) on weekends out of the office of the United Community League for Civic Action, a civil rights group. The police vice squad often raided establishments like this on 12th St., and at 3:35 a.m. on Sunday morning, July 23, they moved against Scott’s club.

On that warm, humid night, the establishment was hosting a party for several veterans, including two servicemen recently returned from the Vietnam War, and the bar’s patrons were reluctant to leave the air-conditioned club. Out in the street, a crowd began to gather as police waited for paddy wagons to take the 85 patrons away.

An hour passed before the last prisoner was taken away, and by then about 200 onlookers lined the street. A bottle crashed into the street. The remaining police ignored it, but then more bottles were thrown, including one through the window of a patrol car. The police fled as a small riot erupted. Within an hour, thousands of people had spilled out onto the street.

Looting began on 12th Street, and some whites arrived to join in. Around 6:30 a.m., the first fire broke out, and as the flames spread unchecked, soon much of the street was ablaze. By midmorning, every policeman and fireman in Detroit was called to duty. On 12th Street, officers fought to control the unruly mob. Firemen were attacked as they tried to battle the flames.

Detroit Mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh asked Michigan Governor George Romney to send in the state police, but these 300 more officers could not keep the riot from spreading to a 100-block area around Virginia Park. The National Guard was called in shortly after but didn’t arrive until evening. By the end of Sunday, more than 1,000 people were arrested, but still the riot kept spreading and intensifying. Five people were dead.

On Monday, 16 people were killed, most by police or guardsmen. Snipers reportedly fired at firemen, and fire hoses were cut. Governor Romney asked President Lyndon B. Johnson to send in U.S. troops. Nearly 2,000 army paratroopers arrived on Tuesday and began patrolling the street of Detroit in tanks and armored carriers.

Ten more people died that day, and 12 more on Wednesday. On Thursday, July 27, order was finally restored. More than 7,000 people were arrested during the four days of rioting. A total of 43 people were killed. Some 1,700 stores were looted and nearly 1,400 buildings burned, causing roughly $50 million in property damage. Some 5,000 people were left homeless.)

Aerial of 12th Street in Detroit during the 1967 riots.
Aerial of 12th Street in Detroit during the 1967 riots. (

Gordon Lightfoot is a Canadian folk singer who wrote and recorded this song in 1968. It captured the horror and the video is synced to the lyrics.

Today’s Sources:

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* Vancouver Sun

* National Post       

* 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.

22 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… July 23rd”

  1. Great post. Full of amazing stories. I hadn’t known about the Komagata Maru – a tragic story that reminds me of the ships with Jews escaping violence in Europe that were denied entry by the U.S. goverment during WWII.

    I’d also never heard about the Gimli Glider. Interesting story and I was around for that one. A couple years after high school. I was probably too busy going to clubs and smoking weed while checking out rock and blues bands. 😆

    I’d heard of Black Bart, but didn’t know the details. Interesting.

    Everyone knows about the riots in Detroit in 1967. It was a desperate, violent city for many years after that. I remember reading stories in The Sporting News (a weekly U.S. sports publication) about people, including sports journalists, being afraid to walk through the parking lots of Tiger Stadium and Cobo Arena for fear of violence. The population of Detroit is a mere fraction of what it was back when it was a vibrant city with a robust auto industry, but the auto manufacturers, like most Capitalists, decided to maximize profits at the expense of the people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Detroit’s history from this period onwards is truly tragic. Don’t you just love those sweet, considerate, empathetic capitalists? Wow. Yes, Canada turned away shiploads of Jews during WWII as well. I often wonder how many of those people ended up in concentration camps. Thanks for commenting, Roy!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Super stories, John. Gliding to a safe landing – unbelievable. I was in Detroit during the 1967 riots. I was working for a consumer products company and on special assignment. It was a nightmare in my hometown. Loved the gymnasts. It was a story of the SS Komagata Maru. Black Bart was a hoot.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I was sixteen at the time of the riots in Detroit, John. In November, our parish priest drove me and a couple of other senior altar boys (quit snickering) to the Olympia in Detroit to watch a hockey game. We drove through some of the burned-out sections and I remember feeling very frightened and shocked. It was one thing to see this stuff on TV and quite another to see it in person. The story about the Indian immigrants reminds me of a similar story when hundreds of Jews fled Europe on a ship to escape the Nazis and were refused entry in Canada as well as the States and were forced to go back to Europe. I hope we are a better country today. Thanks for your comments, John.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I do understand that people become intensely frustrated and angry during times of economic adversity, John, but I never understand how they think that looting, burning and destroying what is there is going to help. The achievements of the US women’s gymnastics team are outstanding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that gymnastic team was nothing short of inspirational, Robbie! Speaking of looting during a disaster – Ottawa dispatched Mounties (our FBI) and Army personnel to the evacuated towns of British Columbia where the wildfires are burning – to guard homes and businesses against looters. Despicable! Thanks for commenting, Robbie!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another great set of reflections. I did not know about that racism. I remember the riots in the US though – not just in Detroit. Black Power was at its height and there was simmering resentment and hatred. The blacks had been repressed for too long and it bubbled up into violence.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re right, Opher, the racism against Indian immigrants was despicable. The 1960s was a truly remarkable decade – but it was also very violent. I think Afro-Americans are better off today, but there’s still a lot of racism in the States and here in Canada. It’s a terrible blight. Thanks for your comment, good sir!

      Liked by 1 person

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