It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did you know…
* 1899 – Boer War breaks out – Canada will send volunteers to the conflict in South Africa.
The South African War (1899–1902) was Canada’s first foreign war. Also known as the Boer War, it was fought between Britain (with help from its colonies and Dominions such as Canada) and the Afrikaner republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Although only 270 Canadians died in South Africa, the war was significant because it marked the first time Canadian troops distinguished themselves in battle overseas. At home, it fuelled a sense that Canada could stand apart from the British Empire, and it highlighted the French-English divide over Canada’s role in world affairs — two factors that would soon appear again in the First World War.
Canadian opinion was sharply divided on the question of sending troops to aid the British. French Canadians led by Henri Bourassa, seeing growing British imperialism as a threat to their own survival, sympathized with the Boers, whereas most English Canadians rallied to the British cause. English Canada was a staunchly British society at the time; Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee had been celebrated in lavish fashion across the country in 1897. Two years later, if the mother country was going to war, most English Canadians were keen to help her. Dozens of English-speaking newspapers took up the patriotic, jingoistic spirit of the time, demanding Canada’s participation in the war.
Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier was reluctant to get involved, and his divided Cabinet was thrown into crisis on the matter. Canada did not have a professional army at the time. Eventually, under intense pressure, the government authorized the recruitment of a token force of 1,000 volunteer infantrymen. Although they would fight within the British army, it was the first time Canada would send soldiers overseas wearing Canadian uniforms into battle.
As the war continued, Canada had no difficulty raising 6,000 more volunteers, all mounted men, including three batteries of field artillery which accompanied Canada’s second contingent — the 1st Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles. Another 1,000 men — the 3rd Battalion, RCR — were raised to relieve regular British troops garrisoned at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Only the 1st, 2nd, and Halifax contingents, plus 12 instructional officers, six chaplains, eight nurses and 22 tradesmen (mostly blacksmiths) were recruited under the authority of the Canadian Militia Act. They were organized, clothed, equipped, transported and partially paid by the Canadian government, at a cost of nearly $3 million.
* 2002 Jimmy Carter wins Nobel Prize.
On this day in 2002, former President Jimmy Carter wins the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
Carter, a peanut farmer from Georgia, served one term as U.S. president between 1977 and 1981. One of his key achievements as president was mediating the peace talks between Israel and Egypt in 1978. The Nobel Committee had wanted to give Carter (1924- ) the prize that year for his efforts, along with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, but was prevented from doing so by a technicality–hehad not been nominated by the official deadline.
After he left office, Carter and his wife Rosalynn created the Atlanta-based Carter Center in 1982 to advance human rights and alleviate human suffering. Since 1984, they have worked with Habitat for Humanity to build homes and raise awareness of homelessness. Among his many accomplishments, Carter has helped to fight disease and improve economic growth in developing nations and has served as an observer at numerous political elections around the world.
The first Nobel Prizes–awards established by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) in his will–were handed out in Sweden in 1901 in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The Nobel Prize in economics was first awarded in 1969. Carter was the third U.S. president to receive the award, worth $1 million, following Theodore Roosevelt (1906) and Woodrow Wilson (1919).
* 2008 Blind driver breaks land-speed record.
On this day in 2008, a man from Belgium named Luc Costermans sets a new world speed record for blind drivers: 192 mph. Costermans set the record in a borrowed Lamborghini Gallardo on a long, straight stretch of an airstrip near Marseilles, France. He was accompanied by a carload of sophisticated navigational equipment as well as a human co-pilot, who gave directions from the Lamborghini’s passenger seat.
The record Costermans broke had been set exactly three years before by the British driver Mike Newman. On that day, Newman had coaxed his 507-horsepower BMW M5 to a top speed of 178.5 mph. (Over a measured mile, Newman’s speed averaged 167.32 mph.) For his part, Newman had smashed a 2-year-old record—144.7 mph—that he had set himself in a borrowed Jaguar, just three days after he learned to drive. Unlike Costermans, Newman did not race with a co-pilot or a navigator. Instead, he got his father-in-law to zoom around the track behind him, shouting directions over the radio.
Both of these blind record-setters were all-around daredevils who raced all sorts of vehicles. In 2001, for example, Newman became the fastest blind motorcycle driver in the world (his record speed was 89 mph) just four days after learning to ride; five years later, Costermans flew a small airplane all around France. (He was joined by an instructor and a navigator.) Another record-setter, an Englishman named Steve Cunningham, had set the land-speed record himself in 1999 (147 mph, while driving a £70,000 Chrysler Viper) at the same time that he held the sea-speed record for a blind sailor. In 2004, guided by sophisticated talking navigational software, Cunningham became the first blind pilot to circumnavigate the United Kingdom by air.
* 1975 Saturday Night Live debuts.
On this day in 1975, Saturday Night Live (SNL), a topical comedy sketch show featuring Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman, makes its debut on NBC; it will go on to become the longest-running, highest-rated show on late-night television. The 90-minute program, which from its inception has been broadcast live from Studio 8H in the GE Building at Rockefeller Center, includes a different guest host and musical act each week. The opening sketch of each show ends with one actor saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
Created by the Canadian-born comedy writer Lorne Michaels, SNL has introduced a long list of memorable characters and catchphrases—from Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannada, to the Coneheads, to Billy Crystal’s Fernando (“You look mahvelous”), to Dana Carvey’s Church Lady (“Isn’t that special?”), to bodybuilders Hans and Franz (“We’re going to pump you up”), to Coffee Talk host Linda Richman (“like buttah” and “I’m all verklempt”)—that have become part of pop-culture history. The show, whose cast has changed continually over the years, has also launched the careers of such performers as Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tina Fey. Some SNL sketches have even been turned into feature films, the two most successful examples being 1980’s The Blues Brothers and 1992’s Wayne’s World.
The show was originally known as NBC’s Saturday Night because there was another show on ABC called Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. However, NBC eventually purchased the naming rights, and since 1977 the edgy comedy program has been called Saturday Night Live. Lorne Michaels served as the show’s producer from 1975 to 1980, followed by Jean Doumanian from 1980 to 1981. Dick Ebersol helmed the show from 1981 to 1985. Michaels returned to the program that year and has remained executive producer ever since.
The influential comedian George Carlin hosted the debut episode of SNL. Later that year, Candace Bergen became the first woman to assume SNL hosting duties. She went on to host the program four more times. In 1982, seven-year-old Drew Barrymore hosted the show, becoming the youngest person ever to do so. Starting in 1976, Steve Martin has hosted SNL 14 times. Since 1990, Alec Baldwin has hosted the show 13 times. John Goodman has hosted the show a dozen times, beginning in 1989. Other frequent guest hosts include Buck Henry, Chevy Chase, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken. Musical guests who’ve performed on SNL five or more times include Paul Simon, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, James Taylor, Sting, Beck and the Foo Fighters.
SNL is known for its topical parodies and impersonations, and for pushing boundaries with its sketches. The show is also recognized for its political humor. Chevy Chase famously portrayed President Gerald Ford as a klutz, while Dana Carvey spoofed President George H.W. Bush and his “read my lips” line. More recently, Amy Poehler has played Senator Hillary Clinton in numerous skits (including one with the senator herself) and Tina Fey has portrayed the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin.
* 1962 Pope opens Vatican II.
Pope John XXIII convenes an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church—the first in 92 years. In summoning the ecumenical council—a general meeting of the bishops of the church—the pope hoped to bring spiritual rebirth to Catholicism and cultivate greater unity with the other branches of Christianity.
Pope John reached the papacy from simple, peasant beginnings. Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in 1881, he was the son of an Italian tenant farmer. He was ordained a priest in 1904 and worked as a professor, part-time historian, biographer, and diplomat. For the first 54 years of his church career, he was known as a good-natured conformist who obediently followed orders, and this reputation had more to do with his steady rise than did his intellectual abilities. As papal envoy to Turkey during World War II, he saved thousands of Jewish lives by helping arrange their escape to Palestine.
Roncalli’s first high-profile post came in 1944 when he was named papal nuncio to Charles de Gaulle’s newly liberated France. It was a delicate post; Roncalli’s predecessor had collaborated with France’s Vichy government, leading to a post-occupation backlash against the Catholic leadership in France. Roncalli carried out the assignment with grace and in 1953 was made a cardinal.
Although he was popular, few imagined he would ever be elected pope. After Pope Pius XII died in 1958, however, Roncalli was elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church on the 12th ballot. At 77 years of age, he was regarded as an “interim” pope by the Vatican Curia, someone who would follow the status quo for a few years while a younger prelate was bred to succeed him. However, Pope John XXIII soon surprised the Vatican’s conservative leadership by taking steps to modernize the church. He met with political and religious leaders from around the world and was the first modern pope to travel freely in Rome, breaking with the tradition that made the pope a “prisoner of the Vatican.” He had a warm personality and spoke with peasants as freely as he did with the foreign dignitaries he invited to Rome. Adored by the Catholic masses, he gradually became a kind of father figure for Catholics around the world.
The high point of his reign was the Second Vatican Council, nicknamed Vatican II, which opened on October 11, 1962. In calling the ecumenical council, he sought a “New Pentecost,” a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He sought reconciliation for the world’s divided Christianity and invited Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant observers to attend the proceedings. Pope John XXIII died in June 1963, but the council continued under his successor, Paul VI, until 1965. That year, Pope Paul began the process that could lead to John XXIII’s canonization as a saint. In 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified John XXIII, bringing him a step closer to sainthood.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* The Canadian Encyclopedia http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/south-african-war/
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/