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John’s Believe It Or Not… February 28th

* 1952 – Vincent Massey installed as first Canadian-born Governor General. * 1953 Watson and Crick discover chemical structure of DNA * 1993 Federal agents raid the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas * 2013 Pope Benedict resigns * 1983 Final episode of M*A*S*H airs

Vincent Massey

It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did You Know…

* 1952 – Vincent Massey installed as first Canadian-born Governor General.

Charles Vincent Massey, [see featured image at the top] PC, CC, governor-general 1952-1959, historian, business executive, politician, diplomat, royal commissioner, patron of the arts (born 20 February 1887 in Toronto; died 30 December 1967 in London, England). Massey was the country’s first Canadian-born governor general [representing the Crown as Canada’s Head of State]. He helped create the Order of Canada in 1967, and as a champion of the arts in Canada laid the groundwork for the Canada Council, the National Library of Canada and the National Arts Centre.

Vincent Massey was born in Toronto on 20 February 1887 to one of the wealthiest families in the city. The son of Chester D. Massey and Anna Vincent, he was also the grandson of Hart Massey who developed the farm-implement company Massey-Harris (now Massey Ferguson) into a powerful international corporation. Vincent was also the brother of actor Raymond Massey.

Vincent attended school at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario. He went on to the University of Toronto and to Balliol College, University of Oxford, where he earned a master of arts in history. His early experience at Oxford gave him a lasting appreciation of British traditions and institutions. He would become known for his elegant Oxford accent and London-tailored clothes. Later in Massey’s life, in a profile in Life magazine, Lord Salisbury noted, “Vincent’s a fine chap, but he does make one feel like a bit of a savage.”

Massey was president of his family’s company Massey-Harris from 1921 until 1925. That year he joined Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Cabinet as minister without portfolio, but he failed to win a seat in Parliament in the October 1925 election. In 1926, King made Massey Canada’s first minister to the United States — which also made him Canada’s first-ever envoy with full diplomatic credentials to a foreign capital. [Canada was still a British colony at the time and her foreign policy was still under British control – until 1931.] He served until 1930.

In 1935, King named Massey high commissioner to Britain, a post he held until 1946. Massey was more successful at the social aspects of diplomacy than the hard-slogging details of bilateral negotiation. However, he had access to the highest quarters of the British government. In London, he was also the Canadian delegate to the League of Nations in 1936, trustee of the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery from 1941 to 1945, and chair of the Tate from 1943 to 1945. To honor Massey’s contributions in Britain, King George VI made him a Companion of Honour in 1946 — an order limited to the king and 65 others.

Back in Canada, Massey served as chancellor of the University of Toronto from 1947 to 1953, and chairman of the National Gallery of Canada from 1948 to 1952. In 1949, Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent named him chair of the influential Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences (informally known as the Massey Commission), a post that suited him given his status as a patron of the arts. The commission held 114 public hearings across Canada and received 462 formal submissions. His report in 1951 recommended the formation of a Canada Council, which was established in 1957, and set the groundwork for establishing the National Library of Canada. Massey’s promotion of a national festival of the arts eventually led to the founding of the National Arts Centre.

On 1 February 1952, the official announcement was made that Massey would become governor general. This made him the first Canadian-born governor general following the appointment of 17 British nobles to the office since Confederation. Massey’s appointment prompted criticism from traditionalists who were concerned that the Queen’s representative was Canadian-born and a commoner. However, since Massey’s appointment, every governor general has been a Canadian citizen.

Five days after it was announced that Massey would be governor general, King George VI died, making Massey the first Canadian representative of Queen Elizabeth II. As a measure of respect for the king’s death, there was little ceremony surrounding Massey’s investiture as governor-general on 28 February 1952.

Massey’s wife Alice had died in 1950, just 18 months before his appointment as governor general. His daughter-in-law, Lilias, acted as hostess at Rideau Hall while Massey was in office.

Massey’s term as governor general was extended twice — by St-Laurent and by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. During his time in office, Massey promoted Canadian unity and identity and praised the country’s cultural diversity. He also stressed the importance of learning both English and French, decades before bilingualism became an official federal government policy.

Massey’s greatest ambition was to create a Canadian honours system. While that did not happen during his term, his efforts helped spur the eventual creation of the Order of Canada in 1967. Massey was one of the first Companions of the Order of Canada (CC), appointed in 1967 just months before his death.

Massey believed strongly that the arts could help Canada assert its sovereignty. He established writer’s weekends at Rideau Hall to help foster a Canadian literary identity. Massey’s biographer Claude Bissell wrote in The Imperial Canadian that “more than any other Canadian, he was responsible for the first major movement of the arts and letters from the periphery of national concern towards the centre. It was a notable achievement.”

Massey welcomed the Queen and Prince Philip to Ottawa on three royal visits and invited the royal couple to stay at his private estate, Batterwood House, near Port Hope, Ontario while they were on a cross-country tour. He also hosted several foreign leaders, including US President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953. Massey was invited by Eisenhower to Washington, D.C. and addressed a joint session of Congress on 4 May 1954.

Rideau Hall - official home of Canada's Governor General in Ottawa.
Rideau Hall – the official home of Canada’s Governor General in Ottawa. (Wikipedia)


* 1953 Watson and Crick discover chemical structure of DNA

On this day in 1953, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick announce that they have determined the double-helix structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes.

Though DNA–short for deoxyribonucleic acid–was discovered in 1869, its crucial role in determining genetic inheritance wasn’t demonstrated until 1943. In the early 1950s, Watson and Crick were only two of many scientists working on figuring out the structure of DNA. California chemist Linus Pauling suggested an incorrect model at the beginning of 1953, prompting Watson and Crick to try and beat Pauling at his own game. On the morning of February 28, they determined that the structure of DNA was a double-helix polymer, or a spiral of two DNA strands, each containing a long chain of monomer nucleotides, wound around each other. According to their findings, DNA replicated itself by separating into individual strands, each of which became the template for a new double helix. In his best-selling book, The Double Helix (1968), Watson later claimed that Crick announced the discovery by walking into the nearby Eagle Pub and blurting out that “we had found the secret of life.” The truth wasn’t that far off, as Watson and Crick had solved a fundamental mystery of science–how it was possible for genetic instructions to be held inside organisms and passed from generation to generation.

Watson and Crick’s solution was formally announced on April 25, 1953, following its publication in that month’s issue of Nature magazine. The article revolutionized the study of biology and medicine. Among the developments that followed directly from it were pre-natal screening for disease genes; genetically engineered foods; the ability to identify human remains; the rational design of treatments for diseases such as AIDS; and the accurate testing of physical evidence in order to convict or exonerate criminals.

Crick and Watson later had a falling-out over Watson’s book, which Crick felt misrepresented their collaboration and betrayed their friendship. A larger controversy arose over the use Watson and Crick made of research done by another DNA researcher, Rosalind Franklin, whose colleague Maurice Wilkins showed her X-ray photographic work to Watson just before he and Crick made their famous discovery. When Crick and Watson won the Nobel Prize in 1962, they shared it with Wilkins. Franklin, who died in 1958 of ovarian cancer and was thus ineligible for the award, never learned of the role her photos played in the historic scientific breakthrough.

Watson and Crick discover chemical structure of DNA - Feb 28, 1953 -
Watson and Crick discover chemical structure of DNA – Feb 28, 1953 –

* 1993 Federal agents raid the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms raided the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco, Texas, prompting a gun battle in which four agents and six cult members were killed. The federal agents were attempting to arrest the leader of the Branch Davidians, David Koresh, on information that the religious sect was stockpiling weapons. A nearly two-month standoff ensued after the unsuccessful raid.

The roots of the confrontation between the federal government and the Branch Davidians went back 10 years before the Waco siege. In 1983, a young man named Vernon Howell showed up at the Mt. Carmel headquarters of the sect. Lois Roden and her son, George, were competing for leadership of the commune at the time. Lois had an affair with Howell but died shortly thereafter. George Roden attempted to take charge of Mt. Carmel, but Howell challenged his leadership, claiming that he was the Lamb from Revelation and that his children would be descended from God.

Roden responded by posing a contest to Howell: Whoever could resurrect an exhumed corpse would prove their worthiness to rule the cult. Howell declined the challenge, going instead to the sheriff to have Roden arrested for illegally digging up a body. When the police wanted no part of it, Howell and Roden ended up in a gunfight that left Roden injured. While Howell was awaiting trial for attempted murder, Roden was jailed for contempt for filing “the most obscene and profane motions that probably have ever been filed in a federal courthouse” in an unrelated case. Howell took over the cult and the Mt. Carmel compound in Roden’s absence and later got a mistrial on the attempted murder charge.

Soon, Howell started his own harem, declaring himself the only one allowed to have wives. Reportedly his many wives included girls as young as 12. Howell changed his name to David Koresh in 1990. Not long after, he began filling the cult member’s heads with apocalyptic warnings and insisting that they arm themselves. In 1992, a deliveryman accidentally dropped a package and saw that it was filled with grenades.

It was against this background that the federal government obtained a warrant for Koresh’s arrest. To Koresh, the failed raid served as proof that he really was being persecuted. When federal agents moved in to end the siege on April 19 with tear gas, a fire broke out. Koresh and about two dozen others shot themselves to death or were shot before the fire engulfed the entire compound. Others died in the fire or the rubble of collapsing buildings, bringing the death toll to 80 Branch Davidians. Only 11 Branch Davidians escaped with their lives. Ultimately, eight cult members were convicted of charges ranging from manslaughter to weapons violations.

Fire consumes the Branch Davidian Compound during the FBI assault
Fire consumes the Branch Davidian Compound during the FBI assault (ABC News)

* 2013 Pope Benedict resigns

On this day in 2013, less than three weeks after making the unexpected announcement that he would step down, 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI officially resigns. Citing advanced age as the reason for giving up his post as the leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church, Benedict was the first pontiff to relinquish power in nearly 600 years. Two weeks after Benedict resigned, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected pope.

The son of a policeman, Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in the village of Marktl in Bavaria, Germany, on April 16, 1927. During World War II, he was drafted into the German military, which he deserted toward the end of the war. He was held as a POW by Allied forces for a short time in 1945. Ratzinger went on to be ordained to the priesthood in 1951. Afterward, he served as a professor of theology at several German universities until 1977, when he was appointed the archbishop of Munich and Freising; later that year he was elevated to cardinal. From 1981 to 2005, Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a powerful Vatican office responsible for enforcing Catholic doctrine. In that role, he earned the nickname “God’s Rottweiler.”

On April 19, 2005, following the death of Pope John Paul II, the 78-year-old Ratzinger was elected the 265th pope. During his eight-year papacy, Benedict championed a conservative agenda while also contending with scandals involving clergy sex-abuse and corruption at the Vatican Bank.

On February 11, 2013, Benedict, the oldest person elected to the papacy since the 18th century, announced he would resign, saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength required to lead one of the world’s largest religious organizations. The move was all but unprecedented, as until that point all popes of the modern era had remained in office until death.

On March 13, 2013, white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel indicated that a conclave of Catholic cardinals had elected a new pope, the 76-year-old Bergoglio. Six days later, in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, he was inaugurated as the Catholic Church’s 266th pontiff. The first South American to helm the church and the first non-European to do so in more than 1,200 years, he also was the first pope to take the name Francis and the first member of the Jesuit order to become pontiff. Francis soon distinguished himself for his humble style (among other things, he opted to live in a Vatican guesthouse rather than the regal papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace, where, for more than a century, his predecessors resided) and for his vision for a church focused less on divisive social issues and more on serving the poor and oppressed.

After retiring, Benedict, whose title became pope emeritus, moved into a former convent inside Vatican City.

Pope Benedict greeting the future Pope Francis
Pope Benedict greets the future Pope Francis (

* 1983 Final episode of M*A*S*H airs

On this day in 1983, the celebrated sitcom M*A*S*H bows out after 11 seasons, airing a special two-and-a-half hour episode watched by 77 percent of the television viewing audience. It was the largest percentage ever to watch a single TV show up to that time.

Set near Seoul, Korea, behind the American front lines during the Korean War, M*A*S*H was based on the 1968 novel by Richard Hooker and the 1970 film produced by 20th Century Fox and directed by Robert Altman. Its title came from the initials for the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, an isolated compound that received wounded soldiers and was staffed by the show’s cast of doctors and nurses. At the heart of M*A*S*H were the surgeons Dr. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda) and Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers); these roles were played in the Altman movie by Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, respectively. Hawkeye and Trapper’s foils on the TV show were Dr. Frank Burns (Larry Linville) and Senior Nurse Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loretta Swit), who disapproved of the surgeons’ boozing, womanizing and disregard for military authority. Other key characters in the series were the bumbling camp commander, Lt. Col. Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and his clerk and right-hand-man, Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff).

M*A*S*H premiered on the CBS television network in September 1972. Under threat of cancellation during its first season because of low ratings, the show turned things around the following year, landing in the top 10 in the ratings and never dropping out of the top 20 for the rest of its run. While the show began as a thinly veiled critique of the Vietnam War, its focus switched to more character-driven plotlines after that war’s anti-climactic end, allowing the series to continue to hold the public’s attention as it developed. In the middle of the show’s tenure, Alda began to take more and more creative control, co-writing 13 episodes and directing more than 30, including the series finale. Alda became the first person ever to win Emmy Awards for acting, directing and writing for the same show.

Elements such as long-range and tracking camera shots as well as sophisticated editing techniques distinguished M*A*S*H from more traditional TV sitcoms. From the beginning, the influence of Altman’s movie was evident in the cinematic nature of the show’s camera work. In addition, each half-hour episode of M*A*S*H contained a signature mixture of dramatic and comedic plot lines, and its success marked the rise of a new genre of TV show dubbed “dramedy.”

After earning consistently high ratings throughout its 11-year run, M*A*S*H enjoyed enduring popularity in the following decades, as it became one of the world’s most syndicated shows. It also spawned an unsuccessful spin-off, AfterMASH, which CBS aired from 1983 to 1985.

The cast of M*A*S*H
The cast of M*A*S*H (

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                

* 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.

14 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 28th”

  1. I remember that last episode of MASH. Who didn’t like that show? There was something for everyone. In stark contrast, the Waco affair still gives me chills. So unnecessary, so profoundly sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air at the Vatican. I’ve often thought he must be very uncomfortable with the rest of the pompous asses that he has to work with. I was raised Catholic, but I have no use for the Vatican. Thanks, Mae!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really feel that Rosalind Franklin deserved to share that Nobel prize. I suppose that being a woman and dead did not help.
    MASH was unique wasn’t it? I used to love that show.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like her death made her ineligible – however, point well taken about the gender issue too. Funny, I only saw a few episodes of that show. I absolutely loathe sitcoms – not because of poor quality, but I cannot tolerate the canned laughter inserted after each line delivered. I loved the movie that the series was based on. Thanks, Opher.


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