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John’s Believe It Or Not… February 2nd

* 1956 – Ontario town of Wiarton starts the Wiarton Willie Groundhog Day Festival. * 1897 – Clara Brett Martin first woman barrister in the British Empire. * 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed. * 1996 Gene Kelly dies. * 1882 James Joyce is born.

Gene Kelly with his umbrella prop.

It’s Friday! TGIF – Happy Groundhog Day! Did You Know…

* 1956 – Ontario town of Wiarton starts the Wiarton Willie Groundhog Day Festival.

Wiarton Willie is the title given to that of an albino Canadian groundhog who lives in the community of Wiarton in Bruce County, Ontario. Every February 2, on Groundhog Day, Willie takes part in the local Wiarton Willie Festival. His role is to predict whether there will be an early spring. Although the original Wiarton Willie died, the Wiarton Groundhog Day celebrations continue each year with successors of the original Willie, also referred to as “Wiarton Willie.”

Groundhog Day, featuring Wiarton Willie, is a popular annual festival in Wiarton and is similar to events in other locations in North America. A midwinter celebration involving an animal with predictive powers was an element of Celtic culture. The link between weather prediction and the day is said to have been inspired by an old Scottish couplet: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear/ There’ll be two winters in the year.”

The story of Wiarton Willie dates back to 1956. A Wiarton resident named Mac McKenzie wanted to showcase his childhood home to his many friends, so he sent out invitations for a “Groundhog Day” gathering. One of these invitations fell into the hands of a Toronto Star reporter. The reporter traveled to Wiarton looking for the Groundhog Day event. None of the townspeople knew about a festival, but one suggested he check at the Arlington Hotel, the local watering hole. There the reporter found McKenzie and his friends partying and was invited to join them. The next day, the reporter lamented to McKenzie that he needed some kind of story to take back to justify his expenses. So McKenzie grabbed his wife’s fur hat, which had a large button on the front, went out to the parking lot, dug a burrow in the snow and pronounced a prognostication (which no one remembers). The picture of Mac and the hat ran in the February 3, 1956, edition of the Toronto Star. A year later, about 50 people arrived for the festival. Half were reporters from various media, including the CBC and Canadian Press. Seizing on the opportunity, McKenzie invented a festival that has been added to over the years.

Festival officials onstage with Wiarton Willie in his glass cage.
Hundreds gather in Wiarton every Groundhog Day for Willie’s annual weather prognostication.

* 1897 – Clara Brett Martin first woman barrister in the British Empire.

Clara Brett Martin – lawyer, born January 25, 1874, in Toronto, Ontario; died there October 30, 1923. Martin entered Trinity College in 1888; 1890 graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics at age sixteen. In 1891she submitted a petition to the Law Society of Upper Canada to permit her to become a student member, a prerequisite to articling as a clerk, attending lectures and sitting the exams required to receive a certificate of fitness to practice as a solicitor. She was rejected by the Law Society after contentious debate. W.D. Balfour sponsored a bill that provided that the word “person” in the Law Society’s statute should be interpreted to include females as well as males. Martin’s cause was also supported by prominent women of the day including Emily Stowe and Lady Aberdeen. With the support of Premier Oliver Mowat, legislation was passed on April 13, 1892, permitting the admission of women as solicitors.

On February 2, 1897, Martin was called to the Ontario bar, becoming the first woman admitted to the practice of law in the British Empire. Women could still not be voters, legislators, coroners, magistrates, judges or jurors. They were visible in the courts as litigants, witnesses & accused persons. In 1920 Martin ran for Toronto City Council in Ward 2 but was defeated; In 1989, the Ontario government announced that Martin was to be honored by having the building housing the Ministry of the Attorney General named after her.

Clara Brett Martin Clara Brett Martin 1899 University of Toronto Faculty of Law
Clara Brett Martin Clara Brett Martin 1899 University of Toronto Faculty of Law (Alchetron)

* 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed.

On this day in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed, ending the Mexican-American War in favor of the United States. The Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo added an additional 525,000 square miles to United States territory, including the area that would become the states of Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Controversy during and after the war pitted President James K. Polk in a political war against two future presidents: Zachary Taylor and Abraham Lincoln.

Polk, a Democrat, ignited the Mexican-American War when he sent his Commanding General of the Army Zachary Taylor and his troops to claim territory along the Rio Grande River between the U.S. and Mexico. Polk insisted Mexico had invaded the U.S. when an earlier skirmish between American and Mexican troops erupted over the ill-defined territorial boundaries of Texas. Polk’s action was immediately denounced by Abraham Lincoln, then a leading Whig member of Congress, who described the resulting war as unconstitutional, unnecessary and expensive. While Taylor performed his military duty in Texas, Polk wrestled with Congressional opposition led by Lincoln in Washington.

Polk was a firm believer in America’s “Manifest Destiny” of increased U.S. territorial expansion in order to bring democracy and Protestant Christianity to a “backward” region. Lincoln and his cohorts protested not so much expansionism itself, but Polk’s justification of the war. Although the war ended favorably for the U.S., Lincoln continued to attack Polk after the signing of the treaty for his lack of an exit strategy that clearly defined citizenship and property rights for former Mexican citizens. Lincoln called the president “a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man.” Although Polk’s war was successful, he lost public support after two bloody years of fighting during which the U.S. lost 1,773 men and spent a whopping $100 million.

Meanwhile, Taylor earned national popularity for his heroic actions during the war and for the camaraderie he shared with even his lowliest subordinates. When the war ended, Taylor decided to run for the presidency. One of his political mentors happened to be Abraham Lincoln, who wrote a note to Taylor after the war ended advising him of what he ought to say regarding the Mexican-American War and the question of slavery in any newly won territories. Lincoln suggested that Taylor should declare “we shall probably be under a sort of necessity of taking some territory, but it is my desire that we shall not acquire any extending so far south as to enlarge and aggravate the distracting question of slavery.”

Polk chose not to run again for the presidency, and Taylor barely won the popular vote in a race that included former President Martin Van Buren and Democratic nominee Lewis Cass. Van Buren, the Free-Soil Party candidate and former Democrat, acted as a spoiler, siphoning off Democratic votes that would likely have gone to Cass. Unfortunately for Lincoln, Taylor and his immediate successors failed to address the issue of slavery during their terms, leaving the question to Lincoln to solve over a bloody civil war a decade later.

Map of 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Map of 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (timetoast.com)

* 1996 Gene Kelly dies.

On this day in 1996, the dancer, actor, and choreographer Gene Kelly dies at the age of 83, at his home in Beverly Hills, California.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1912, Kelly graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh during the Great Depression. With jobs scarce, he worked at a dancing school partly owned by his mother, who had insisted that all of her five children take music and dance lessons throughout their childhood. On the side, he formed a dance act with his brother Fred, appearing in local nightclubs and theater productions. In 1938, Kelly decided to try his luck in New York City. He got his first Broadway job in the chorus of Leave It to Me, starring Mary Martin.

On the heels of his first big Broadway success, in My Pal Joey, Kelly headed to Hollywood, having signed an exclusive contract with the producer David O. Selznick. Selznick promptly lent Kelly to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a studio best known at the time for its large-scale movie musicals. MGM put Kelly in his first film, For Me and My Gal (1942), co-starring Judy Garland, and soon bought his contract from Selznick. Two years later, the studio lent him out to Columbia Pictures to choreograph and co-star in Cover Girl, opposite a then-unknown Rita Hayworth. This film was Kelly’s first major big-screen success and his first collaboration with the director and choreographer Stanley Donen. Cover Girl featured an innovative sequence in which Kelly dances with his “alter ego”–another image of himself filmed separately and combined on a single strip of film.

Kelly continued his trail-blazing in the world of movie dance in his next big hit, Anchors Aweigh (1945), performing a dance routine with the animated mouse Jerry from the popular Tom and Jerry cartoon series. The eight-minute sequence cost MGM $100,000 and took two months to film, but it was celebrated as a breakthrough moment in cinema for its combination of live action and animated footage. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Kelly returned to the silver screen with 1948’s The Pirate, again opposite Judy Garland. He also made two more films with Frank Sinatra (his Anchors Aweigh co-star), including the hit On the Town, which Kelly directed and choreographed with Donen.

In 1951, Kelly headlined An American in Paris, which won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Kelly picked up a special Oscar, in honor of his “extreme versatility as an actor, singer, director, and dancer, but specifically for his brilliant achievement in the art of choreography.” At the pinnacle of his career, Kelly cemented his iconic status with his work in what was arguably the last great movie musical, Singin’ in the Rain (1952). The movie featured one of the most memorable scenes in film history: Kelly dancing and singing alone on the street during a downpour, with only his umbrella for a prop.

As the popularity of big-budget movie musicals waned, Kelly’s films during the 1950s–Brigadoon (1954), It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) and Les Girls (1957)–met with varying degrees of success. Kelly and Donen fell out after working together on their last film, It’s Always Fair Weather, partly for personal reasons: Kelly and Donen’s wife Jeanne Coyne fell in love and were married in 1960 (Kelly was previously married to the actress Betsy Blair). Kelly worked on other projects intended to raise the profile of modern dance, including the dialogue-free Invitation to the Dance in 1956 and an NBC television special, Dancing is a Men’s Game. He also choreographed for the ballet in Paris and San Francisco.

After Jeanne Coyne died of leukemia in 1973, Kelly focused on projects that would keep him close to Los Angeles, where he was raising their two children. Late into his career, he continued to make film appearances and direct the occasional movie, including Hello, Dolly! (1969). Kelly’s last big-screen role was in the kitschy Xanadu (1980), in which he performed a dance routine on roller skates.

Gene Kelly
Gene Kelly (Alchetron)

* 1882 James Joyce is born.

Novelist James Joyce is born this day in Dublin, Ireland, the eldest of 10 children. His father, a cheerful ne’er-do-well, will eventually go bankrupt.

Joyce attended Catholic school and University College in Dublin. A brilliant scholar, he learned Dano-Norwegian in order to read the plays of Henrik Ibsen in the original. In college, he began a lifetime of literary rebellion, self-publishing an essay rejected by the school’s literary magazine adviser.

After graduation, Joyce moved to Paris. He planned to become a doctor to support himself while writing but soon gave up his medical studies. He returned to Dublin to visit his mother’s deathbed and remained to teach school and work odd jobs. On June 16, 1904, he met Nora Barnacle, a lively uneducated woman with whom he fell in love. He convinced Nora to return to Europe with him. The couple settled in Trieste, where they had two children, and then in Zurich. Joyce struggled with serious eye problems, undergoing 25 operations for various troubles between 1917 and 1930.

In 1914, he published The Dubliners. The following year, his novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man brought him fame and won him several wealthy patrons, including Edith Rockefeller.

In 1818, the American journal Little Review began to serialize Ulysses, Joyce’s revolutionary stream-of-consciousness novel. However, the U.S. Post Office stopped the publication’s distribution in December of that year on the grounds that the novel was obscene. Sylvia Beach, the owner of the bookstore Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, published the novel herself in 1922, but it was banned in the United Kingdom and in the United States until 1933.

Joyce’s last novel, Finnegan’s Wake, was published in 1939, and Joyce died two years later.

James Joyce (Home - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
James Joyce (Home – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

http://www.canadachannel.ca/canadianbirthdays/index.php/Clara_Brett_Martin

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

* Wikipedia                                                                              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiarton_Willie

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 (http://fiorabooks.com), 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… February 2nd”

    1. I thought the story about how it started in Wiarton was amusing, Deb. It shows us the power of the media – turned a small party in a pub into a festival. Thanks, Deb!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks, Deb. Of course, we now have The Donald and his mindless sycophants working hard to convince everyone that mainstream media outlets publish nothing but FAKE NEWS!

          Liked by 1 person

                1. I honestly don’t think a Donald Trump could get away with things in our system that he does in the US system. Can you imagine his frustration as a Canadian PM in a minority government and facing the combined Opposition in Question Period each day? I’d pay good money for gallery seats! Thanks, Deb!

                  Liked by 1 person

  1. Wiarton Willie saw his shadow. Six more weeks of winter. If he didn’t see his shadow that means spring is six weeks away. He and Phil make good bedfellows. Clara Brett Martin was a groundbreaker for sure. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was a huge land deal. Gene Kelly was an exceptional dancer. James Joyce’s work was terrific. I could never understand what was obscene about Ulysses. Oh well, maybe a different time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure that if audiences in the 1950s watched some commercials that are aired today, they’d brand them as obscene. Different times, indeed! Yeah, the whole thing about predicting spring is a big joke – and a money-making racket. Poor groundhogs don’t know which way is up! Thanks, John.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m with Gwen. I didn’t realize Canadians also celebrated Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, so we’re looking at six more weeks of winter. What did Wiarton Willie have to say?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unfortunately, Willie saw his shadow this morning so we have 6 more weeks of winter – which I find hilarious because we very rarely get anything resembling spring weather until mid-April! Oh well… Thanks, Mae!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t know that Canada celebrated Groundhog Day along with the U.S. The movie, by the way, is one of my favorites. Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell are stellar and Punxsutawney Phil is perfect. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard about 4 groundhog prognosticators that check out their shadows. Willie saw his shadow this morning. 😦 Thanks Gwen!

      Like

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