John’s Believe It Or Not… July 4th

* 1774 – Samuel Hearne builds Cumberland House * 1776 July 4 1776: America Declares Independence from Great Britain * 1987 Soviets rock for peace * 1911 Heat wave strikes Northeast * 1927 Playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon born

Neil Simon

Happy Independence Day to My American Cousins!

* 1774 – Samuel Hearne builds Cumberland House

In 1774, the Hudson’s Bay Company established its first inland post, Cumberland House, on the lower Saskatchewan River. It was a momentous step for a company that, up until then, had hugged the shores of Hudson and James bays. The western Canadian fur trade was never the same.

For a century, the rather unimaginative HBC practice of encouraging interior Indians to come to the Bay to trade had resulted in steady returns for its English shareholders.

But that changed in the 1760s when Montreal-based traders moved up the Saskatchewan River to trade directly with Indian bands. No longer did the Cree and Assiniboine need to travel with fur-laden canoes to the Bay. They now enjoyed the convenience of getting their trade goods from these “door-to-door” pedlars.

The HBC grudgingly concluded that Canadian competition had to be answered by its own settlement on the Saskatchewan River – or it faced probable ruin

Fresh from his impressive trip across the barren lands from Fort Churchill to Lake Athabasca, Hearne was asked in August 1773 to head the expedition to establish the company’s first inland post.

The HBC contemplated two possible locations for its inland initiative, both in present-day Manitoba: Grand Rapids at the mouth of the Saskatchewan River, and Basquia Cree Territory near The Pas.

But after consulting with local Indian leaders, Hearne settled on a bay on Pine Island (Cumberland) Lake, just north of the Saskatchewan River Delta (in present-day Saskatchewan). Although not a traditional gathering center, the site was at the nexus of several major Indian trade routes – northeast to the HBC posts on the west side of the bay, northwest to the Churchill River and Athabasca country and west along the Saskatchewan towards the Rocky Mountains. In other words, the location of the HBC’s first inland post in Western Canada was determined by existing Indian social geography.

Hearne began supervising the building of Cumberland House on Sept. 3, 1774. The simple log structure may not have been much, but as Hearne noted, it marked the beginning of a new commercial struggle with its Montreal-based competitors. But until HBC servants learned to build and use canoes, the goods, furs and company personnel going to and from Cumberland House were transported by Indians. Hearne glumly estimated, for example, that it cost more in presents to transport trade goods inland than they were actually worth. Cumberland House was beset with problems. One was the incredible mosquito population during summer, which made working outside miserable, if not impossible at times. Another was the frequent flooding.

Then, there was the scarcity of food. Because of Cumberland House’s precarious game supply, traders were at the mercy of Indian hunters who expected special presents in exchange for supplying meat. If traders refused to co-operate, they faced the prospect of starvation.

No sooner had Cumberland House been established in 1774 than it was challenged by a series of competing posts that pushed the fur trade up the Saskatchewan River.

By the early nineteenth century, Cumberland House had become an inland supply depot and a Metis community. Today, the HBC’s first inland post enjoys the distinction of being Saskatchewan’s oldest continuously occupied settlement.

Samuel Hearne on the construction site.
Samuel Hearne (HBC Heritage)

* 1776 July 4 1776: America Declares Independence from Great Britain

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the independence of the United States of America from Great Britain and its king.

The declaration came 442 days after the first volleys of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually encourage France’s intervention on behalf of the Patriots.

The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the banner of “no taxation without representation,” colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax.

With its enactment in November, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest in the colonies, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.

Most colonists continued to quietly accept British rule until Parliament’s enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a monopoly on the American tea trade.

The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny. In response, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the “Boston Tea Party,” which saw British tea valued at some 18,000 pounds dumped into Boston Harbor.

The British Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops.

The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony.

In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.

Initially, both the Americans and the British saw the conflict as a kind of civil war within the British Empire: To King George III it was a colonial rebellion, and to the Americans, it was a struggle for their rights as British citizens.

However, Parliament remained unwilling to negotiate with the American rebels and instead purchased German mercenaries to help the British army crush the rebellion. In response to Britain’s continued opposition to reform, the Continental Congress began to pass measures abolishing British authority in the colonies.

In January 1776, Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” an influential political pamphlet that convincingly argued for American independence and sold more than 500,000 copies in a few months. In the spring of 1776, support for independence swept the colonies, the Continental Congress called for states to form their own governments, and a five-man committee was assigned to draft a declaration.

The Declaration of Independence was largely the work of Virginian Thomas Jefferson. In justifying American independence, Jefferson drew generously from the political philosophy of John Locke, an advocate of natural rights, and from the work of other English theorists.

The first section features the famous lines, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The second part presents a long list of grievances that provided the rationale for rebellion.

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to approve a Virginia motion calling for separation from Britain. The dramatic words of this resolution were added to the closing of the Declaration of Independence. Two days later, on July 4, the declaration was formally adopted by 12 colonies after minor revision. New York approved it on July 19. On August 2, the declaration was signed.

The Revolutionary War would last for five more years. Yet to come were the Patriot triumphs at Saratoga, the bitter winter at Valley Forge, the intervention of the French, and the final victory at Yorktown in 1781. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Britain, the United States formally became a free and independent nation.

The Declaration of Independence document lying on top of the Stars and Stripes

* 1987 Soviets rock for peace

A rock concert in Moscow, jointly organized by American promoters and the Soviet government, plays to a crowd of approximately 25,000. The venture was intended to serve as symbol of peace and understanding between the people of the United States and the Soviet Union.

The idea of a rock concert in Russia was essentially the brainchild of concert promoter Bill Graham, a fixture in the West Coast rock and roll scene. He approached the Soviet government about the idea of holding a show in Moscow. Some Soviet officials were extremely reluctant to consider the concert. For nearly three decades, rock and roll had been castigated by official Soviet propaganda as “decadent” and a threat to public morality. However, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s rise to power in the mid-1980s heralded a new liberalism. The Soviets agreed to host the concert, and it took place on the Fourth of July. Performers included Santana, the Doobie Brothers, and Bonnie Raitt. The security for the show was heavy–some observers said “oppressive”–and most of the 25,000 people who attended were kept far away from the stage. One American reporter claimed that many of the Russians trickled out during the show, bored or disgusted. Only when a Russian folk troupe hit the stage did the crowd muster up much excitement.

The concert was evidence of the new, but still uneasy relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. Gorbachev’s promises of economic and democratic reforms encouraged many in the United States to believe that a new and less antagonistic relationship with Russia might be possible. As the thousands of armed guards at the concert demonstrated, however, the new “openness” in Soviet society was hardly complete.

American-Soviet Concert for Peace
American-Soviet Concert for Peace

* 1911 Heat wave strikes Northeast

On this day in 1911, record temperatures are set in the northeastern United States as a deadly heat wave hits the area that would go on to kill 380 people. In Nashua, New Hampshire, the mercury peaked at 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Other high-temperature records were set all over New England during an 11-day period.

The area from Pennsylvania northeast to Maine was most affected by the stifling heat. New York City was particularly hard hit. In fact, the New York City Health Department put out one of its very first heat advisories during July 1911. Mayor William Gaynor tried to make sure that the city’s ice dealers could keep up their deliveries; in the time before refrigeration, ice was critical in keeping the food supply from spoiling.

By July 13, New York had reported 211 people dead from the excessive heat. One man, apparently disoriented from heat exhaustion, overdosed on strychnine. In Philadelphia, 159 people died from the heat. The types of deaths ascribed to the heat could vary quite a bit in 1911, with some authorities including those who drowned while attempting to cool off by swimming in the count. Heat also sometimes bent rail lines, causing train derailments; deaths in any resulting accidents might also be attributed to the heat. Heat stroke, however, is the typical cause of heat-related deaths. Extremely hot or humid weather or vigorous activity in the sun can lead the body’s temperature-regulation mechanisms to fail, causing body heat to rise to dangerous levels. Symptoms of heat stroke include a headache, dizziness, confusion and hot, dry, flushed skin, as well as a rapid heartbeat and hallucinations.

The end of the 1911 heat wave was marked by a severe thunderstorm that killed five people.

Of the 50 states, only Hawaii and Alaska have not experienced a heat wave at one time or another.

Boys licking ice in New York City. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.
Boys licking ice in New York City. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

* 1927 Playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon born

On this day in 1927, Neil Simon, the author of a long list of successful Broadway plays–many of which, including The Odd Couple, became hit movies–is born in the Bronx section of New York City.

In one of his earliest jobs, in the 1950s, Simon wrote for Sid Caesar’s live comedy television program Your Show of Shows, alongside other future greats such as Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. As Simon went on to write for the stage and big screen, humor would continue to play a major role in his work. Simon’s first Broadway play, Come Blow Your Horn, opened in 1961. He went on to write over 30 plays, including Barefoot in the Park (1963), The Odd Couple (1965), The Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1969), The Sunshine Boys (1972), Chapter Two (1977), the autobiographical trilogy of Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983), Biloxi Blues (1985) and Broadway Bound (1986), Lost in Yonkers (1991) and The Goodbye Girl (1993).

Simon wrote the screenplay for many of his stage productions that were adapted for the big screen. In 1967, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda starred in a cinematic version of Barefoot in the Park, about a young newlywed couple in Manhattan. Redford had also appeared in the original Broadway cast. In 1968, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau starred in a film version of The Odd Couple, about the mismatched roommates Felix Ungar, a neurotic neat freak, and Oscar Madison, a slob. Matthau also played Oscar Madison in the original Broadway production. The Odd Couple later became a popular TV sitcom that aired from 1970 to 1975 and starred Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. In 1998, Lemmon and Matthau reunited for The Odd Couple II. (The pair appeared in a number of comedic films together, starting with 1966’s The Fortune Cookie and including 1993’s Grumpy Old Men and its 1995 sequel.)

Simon has received four Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay: for The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys (1975), which starred Matthau and George Burns, The Goodbye Girl (1977), which starred Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason (whom Simon was married to from 1973 to 1981) and California Suite (1978), which featured Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Michael Caine and Richard Pryor.

Neil Simon

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* Bill Waiser                                                                            

* 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.

19 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… July 4th”

  1. The information about the heat wave in the US in 1911 surprised me. Our temperatures often reach 35 to 38 degrees celsius during the summer months and in Botswana 40 degrees Celsius is fairly common. I suppose when people aren’t use to those sorts of temperatures they don’t know what steps to take to stay safe.


  2. That piece about the heat wave is enlightening. I’m thinking this year may give that record a run for its money. And they didn’t have a “heat index” to go by then. Likely it would have been much higher. Must have been a heck of a job for the ice companies to keep up with it all… Interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. The only ones represented are the 1% – that’s true everywhere in the developed world, I’m afraid. Thanks, James.


  3. Great post, John. I always learn something new, like The date of publication for “Common Sense” and the importance it played in declaring independence. The heat wave of 1911- very timely as we are in a similar heat wave in the northeast. I think of the differences back then: many (like me) still have no AC as it isn’t needed most of the year, clothing was long and heavy, working conditions were much tougher, many if not most did not have electricity, so no fans or fridges or accessible cold water. My garden hose has the only cold water to pour on my body short of standing in the shower. Two more days…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I salute you, Jennie – surviving a prolonged heat wave without A/C! I grew up with no A/C – just fans. Sleeping at night was awful. Here in Canada, we have basements which are much cooler than the main floors – so that was our salvation. I won’t even try to ride out a long heat wave today without switching on the A/C.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I was surprised to learn over the past few years that most homes in the southern states have no basements. Our basement is fully finished and we can retreat to the guest room to sleep if the A/C fails us!

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Thanks, Jennie, I now understand the reason why homes in certain areas have no basements. There are areas like that up here too.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, John. Your heat wave article prompted me to take a look at this site: Having grown up in the desert, where temps reach over 120, I have a healthy fear of heat. We humans are vulnerable folks, and we best do what we can to protect our planet. Thank you for the reminder and the context.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought it was interesting to see how people coped with a prolonged heat wave before airconditioning and refrigerators. Thanks for the link, Gwen!


  5. If Britain had negotiated at the beginning America would now be like Canada and Australia. Perhaps Trump wouldn’t have happened!!
    Not much of a line-up for that concert – I think they could have done better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Britain was very short-sighted back then. Having said that, we must also take into account the arrogance and notions of superiority rampant among European nobility and royal families. I recall from diaries of Canadian volunteers put under the command of British officers in World War I that the boys were treated like dirt because they were just “colonials” – apparently lower on the social totem pole than British commoners. It seems that the Russians weren’t that interested in the American music and wanted to hear their own. However, the talent may have been thin as you suggest. Thanks, Opher.


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