John’s Believe It Or Not… December 21st

* 1968 – Parliament passes Health Minister Allan MacEachen’s Medical Care Act. * 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Scotland. * 1991 Soviet republics proclaim the Commonwealth of Independent States. * 1958 De Gaulle elected. * 1970 Nixon meets Elvis Presley.

Charles de Gaulle (Prinx Maurice)

It’s Thursday & the Winter Solstice! Did You Know…

* 1968 – Parliament passes Health Minister Allan MacEachen’s Medical Care Act.

The first implementation of public hospital care in Canada came at the provincial level in Saskatchewan in 1947 and in Alberta in 1950, under provincial governments led by the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and the Social Credit party respectively. The first implementation of nationalized public health care -at the federal level- came about with the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act (HIDS), which was passed by the Liberal majority government of Louis St. Laurent in 1957, and was adopted by all provinces by 1961. Lester B. Pearson’s government subsequently expanded this policy to universal health care with the Medical Care Act in 1966.

Some have argued that these developments towards public national health care came as a result of the adoption of a publicly funded health plan in 1961-1962 in Saskatchewan government. The fight for a publicly funded system was originally led by Premier Tommy Douglas and implemented by Woodrow Stanley Lloyd, who became premier of the province when Douglas resigned to become the leader of the new federal New Democratic Party. Although Saskatchewan is often credited with the birth of public health care funding in Canada, the federal legislation itself was actually drafted (and first proposed to parliament) by Allan MacEachen, a Liberal MP from Cape Breton.

In 1984, the Canada Health Act was passed, amalgamating the 1966 Medical Care Act and the 1957 Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act. The Canada Health Act affirmed and clarified five founding principles: (a) public administration on a non-profit basis by a public authority; (b) comprehensiveness – provincial health plans must insure all services that are medically necessary; (c) universality – a guarantee that all residents in Canada must have access to public healthcare and insured services on uniform terms and conditions; (d) portability – residents must be covered while temporarily absent from their province of residence or from Canada; and (e) accessibility – insured persons must have reasonable and uniform access to insured health services, free of financial or other barriers. These five conditions prevent provinces from radical innovation, but many small differences do exist between the provinces.

Allan J. MacEachen, Canadian politician behind landmark social programs, dead at 96 - Nova Scotia - CBC News
Allan J. MacEachen, Canadian politician behind landmark social programs, dead at 96 – Nova Scotia – CBC News

* 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Scotland.

On this day in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York explodes in midair over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members aboard, as well as 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. A bomb hidden inside an audio cassette player detonated in the cargo area when the plane was at an altitude of 31,000 feet. The disaster, which became the subject of Britain’s largest criminal investigation, was believed to be an attack against the United States. One hundred eighty-nine of the victims were American.

Islamic terrorists were accused of planting the bomb on the plane while it was at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Authorities suspected the attack was in retaliation for either the 1986 U.S. air strikes against Libya, in which leader Muammar al-Qaddafi’s young daughter was killed along with dozens of other people, or a 1988 incident, in which the U.S. mistakenly shot down an Iran Air commercial flight over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people.

Sixteen days before the explosion over Lockerbie, the U.S. embassy in Helsinki, Finland, received a call warning that a bomb would be placed on a Pan Am flight out of Frankfurt. There is controversy over how seriously the U.S. took the threat and whether travelers should have been alerted, but officials later said that the connection between the call and the bomb was coincidental.

In 1991, following a joint investigation by the British authorities and the F.B.I., Libyan intelligence agents Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah were indicted for murder; however, Libya refused to hand over the suspects to the U.S. Finally, in 1999, in an effort to ease United Nations sanctions against his country, Qaddafi agreed to turn over the two men to Scotland for trial in the Netherlands using Scottish law and prosecutors. In early 2001, al-Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison and Fhimah was acquitted. Over the U.S. government’s objections, Al-Megrahi was freed and returned to Libya in August 2009 after doctors determined that he had only months to live.

In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing but didn’t express remorse. The U.N. and U.S. lifted sanctions against Libya and Libya agreed to pay each victim’s family approximately $8 million in restitution. In 2004, Libya’s prime minister said that the deal was the “price for peace,” implying that his country only took responsibility to get the sanctions lifted, a statement that infuriated the victims’ families. Pan Am Airlines, which went bankrupt three years after the bombing, sued Libya and later received a $30 million settlement.

Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on board
Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on board. (

* 1991 Soviet republics proclaim the Commonwealth of Independent States.

In a final step signifying the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, 11 of the 12 Soviet republics declare that they are forming the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Just a few days later, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced he was stepping down from his position. The Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The 11 republics-Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan-signed an agreement creating the CIS. Only Georgia, embroiled in a civil war, abstained from participation. Exactly what they created was open to debate. The CIS was not a new nation, but merely an “alliance” between independent states. The political meaning of the alliance was hazy. The independent states each took over the former Soviet government facilities within their borders. The military side of the CIS was even more confusing. They agreed to sustain any arms agreements signed by the former Soviet Union. The former Soviet defense minister would retain control over the military until the CIS could agree on what to do with the nuclear weapons and conventional forces within their borders. Complicating the situation were terrific economic problems and outbreaks of ethnic violence in the new republics.

For Gorbachev, the announcement was the final signal that his power—and the existence of the Soviet Union—was at an end. Four days later, on Christmas Day, he announced his resignation.

Photo of the signing of the dicument that dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991.
The historic document that heralded the collapse of the Soviet Union has gone missing from an archive in Belarus, according to one of its signatories. (

* 1958 De Gaulle elected.

Three months after a new French constitution was approved, Charles de Gaulle is elected the first president of the Fifth Republic by a sweeping majority of French voters. The previous June, France’s World War II hero was called out of retirement to lead the country when a military and civilian revolt in Algeria threatened France’s stability.

A veteran of World War I, de Gaulle unsuccessfully petitioned his country to modernize its armed forces in the years before the outbreak of World War II. After French Premier Henri Pétain signed an armistice with Nazi Germany in June 1940, de Gaulle fled to London, where he organized the Free French forces and rallied French colonies to the Allied cause. His forces fought successfully in North Africa, and in June 1944 he was named the head of the French government in exile.

On August 26, following the Allied invasion of France, de Gaulle entered Paris in triumph. In November, he was unanimously elected provisional president of France. He resigned two years later, however, claiming he lacked sufficient governing power. In 1947, he formed a new political party that had only moderate electoral success, and in 1953 he left politics.

In 1958, however, a revolt by French colonists in Algeria led to a severe political crisis in France, and de Gaulle agreed to head a new emergency government. Considered the only leader of sufficient strength and stature to deal with the perilous situation, he was made the virtual dictator of France, with the power to rule by decree for six months. A new constitution of his design was approved in a national referendum in September, and on December 21 he was elected president of the Fifth Republic.

During the next decade, President de Gaulle granted independence to Algeria and attempted to restore France to its former international stature by withdrawing from the U.S.-dominated NATO alliance and promoting the development of French atomic weapons. Student demonstrations and workers’ strikes in 1968 eroded his popular support, and in 1969 his proposals for constitutional reform were defeated in a national vote. On April 28, 1969, Charles de Gaulle, at 79 years old, retired permanently. He died the following year.

Charles De Gaulle takes over French government in 1958 with the total stalemate in French politics over the Algerian question
Charles De Gaulle takes over French government in 1958 with the total stalemate in French politics over the Algerian question. (The Spiritual Pilgrim)

* 1970 Nixon meets Elvis Presley.

On this day in 1970, rock star Elvis Presley is greeted at the White House by President Richard M. Nixon. Presley’s visit was not just a social call: He wanted to meet Nixon in order to offer his services in the government’s war on drugs.

Three weeks earlier, Presley, who wanted to distance himself from rock-and-roll’s unseemly association with drug use and the counterculture, had met Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, in Palm Springs, California and offered to use his celebrity status to help promote the administration’s anti-drug campaign. Presley then flew to Washington, checking into a hotel under an alias on December 20. The next day, he and two of his bodyguards proceeded to the White House gates, where Presley handed the guard a handwritten letter. In the letter, Presley told Nixon he did not associate or agree with the “Drug Culture, hippie elements,” student protesters and “Black Panthers,” whom he believed hated America. He declared that he wanted nothing but to “help the country out” and asked to be designated a “federal agent-at-large.”

The guard immediately recognized Presley, but followed protocol and asked for permission to send him on to the White House. He apparently was not searched before being granted admission: Upon meeting Nixon he presented the president with a gift–a World War II-era Colt .45 pistol. The two were photographed shaking hands, Nixon in a conservative suit and tie and Elvis wearing tight purple velvet pants and an open-collared shirt with jeweled chains, a purple velvet cape slung over his shoulders and an enormous belt buckle. Nixon and “The King” exchanged pleasantries and agreed that “those who use drugs are in the vanguard of American protest.” Presley again reiterated his desire to do whatever he could to help influence young people and fellow musicians to reject drugs and anti-Americanism. At the conclusion of the brief meeting, Presley surprised Nixon with a hug.

On December 31, Nixon wrote a thank-you note to Presley for the gift of the pistol and for visiting him at the White House. He said nothing about enlisting Presley’s aid in the war on drugs, however. The administration’s ambivalence about the idea was illustrated in his aides’ correspondence at the time. In an inter-office White House memo dashed off the morning of December 21, the day of Presley’s impromptu White House visit, Nixon’s aide Dwight Chapin suggested that Elvis not be “pushed off on the vice president,” but be introduced directly to Nixon. He further noted that if Nixon wanted to meet “bright young people outside the Government, Presley might be the one to start with.” Aide H.R. Haldeman responded: “you must be kidding.” In the end, Nixon never offered Elvis an official position in his administration’s war on drugs.

Presley died from heart failure in 1977, which the coroner’s report said was due to “undetermined causes.” Speculation abounded, however, that his death was caused by a lethal mix of a variety of prescription drugs and obesity.

A snapshot of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley is the most-requested image among millions stored in the National Archive,
A snapshot of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley is the most-requested image among millions stored in the National Archive (

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* This Day In History – What Happened Today              

* Wikipedia                                                                                   

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… December 21st”

  1. The sight of that Pan Am 747 laying on its side never fails to bring a shudder. What is wrong with those people anyway? DeGaulle elected. Ho hum. He represented all of the ill feelings of the French against those who liberated them. Good ole Elvis. Good post, John

    Liked by 1 person

    1. De Gaulle visited Montreal in 1967 and spoke to crowds in the street from the city hall balcony. He screamed: “Vive le Quebec Libre” – long live a free Quebec – it was the motto of the separatist terrorist group FLQ. Prime Minister Pearson was so I sensed that he tossed de Gaulle out of the country. Believe it or not! Thanks, John.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t help but think of these airline disasters each time I get on a plane, then I remember the stats that tell us that we’re safer in a plane than in a car on a highway. Thanks, Mae!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t know that Elvis visited the White House. He had a huge heart, but he suffered from addictions he could not overcome. He’s a beloved but tragic figure. Thinking back on Pan Am Flight 103, I remember the horror. We humans are capable of so much good, but every day we are reminded that we easily fall prey to revenge and hate. Lots of questions, too few answers. Thank you for the reminders, John.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is interesting that back in 1977 they deliberately refused to be specific about the cause of death. Today, the full autopsy report would be splashed across the media. That’s for the best – it’s really not anyone’s business outside of his family. Thanks, Robbie!

      Liked by 1 person

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