Moments In History: The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist

canada

The vast, snow-capped country of Canada brings many iconic cultural images to mind: the giant bull moose, the rough and rowdy sport of ice hockey.  However, there is no image as iconic as the maple leaf that is represented on the nation’s flag.  The maple tree and its chief produce, maple syrup, is how this strange true story begins.

The origins of this incident lay with the creation of the FPAQ, also known as the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. The FPAQ began to corner the market on maple syrup production in the 1960’s.  Using strict price control and quotas systems, they quickly became Canada’s largest maple syrup producer, generating 94% of Canada’s maple syrup and 77% of the world’s supply. Many have called it a government controlled “Cartel” akin to OPEC or Narco trafficking organizations. The corporation even set up a strategic maple syrup reserve in case of national crisis or shortage. Maple syrup exceeds the price of crude oil per barrel by about 10 times the value. Realizing the value of such a commodity, it was only a matter of time before some greedy thieves would get their hands sticky.

Over the course of several months between 2011 and 2012, Richard Vallieres along with several others broke into to the FPAQ storage facility and stole more the 122,000 barrels of maple syrup (roughly 3,000 tons worth nearly $C19 million dollars).  The gang would siphon out the syrup before refilling the barrel with water. Then they would truck the product to illegal syrup dispensers in the U.S. The gang was caught when they got so lazy as to not fill up the looted barrels with water and an on-site inspection crew started finding the barrels empty. In all, seventeen men were connected with stealing, transporting, and distributing the stolen syrup.  As the accused ringleader, Richard Vallieres was sentenced to nine years in prison and was ordered to pay back millions from his illicit gains. Adjusted for inflation, this heist still remains the largest in Canadian history.  So the next time you’ve got a plate full of flap jacks or a nice Belgian style waffle in front of you, think back to this strange and sweet historical event.
For more information about Canadian history, check out:

Canada: A Modern History

 

 

Book Review: “Bad Days In History” by Michael Farquhar

bad days in history

To kick off the start of a new semester and to put a little bit of a spin on my Moments in History blog series, I have found an interesting book that chronicles random events that occurred on each day of the year: Bad Days in History: A Gleefully Grim Chronicle of Misfortune, Mayhem, and Misery for Every Day of the Year by Michael Farquhar. The events include various political disasters, military blunders, international scandals, and general accounts of bad luck.

One example is on November 2nd, 1932: The Great Emu War in Australia began, which pitted a company of soldiers against 20,000 emus that were destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of crops. Another grisly incident is how on January 15th, 1919, two million gallons of molasses exploded in a storage tank in Boston, Massachusetts, sending a 15 foot wall of hot molasses rushing through the streets at 35 mph (killing 21 people and injuring another 150). The book brings up other malicious events, like how on January 27th, 1595, the Ottoman Emperor Mehmed III had his 19 brothers put to death on the day of his coronation. This practice was instituted to prevent rivalry and potential civil war in the empire.

Those are just 3 of the 365 moments in history this book has to offer. I encourage you, if are a fan of random history moments like myself, to give this book a read. I found it thoroughly entertaining, and I hope you will as well.

This book is available at the Union University Library.

 

*written by Matthew Beyer

 

 

 

 

 

Moments In History: January 17th, 1920

vo

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

January 17, 1920

The Volstead Act

Also known as the National Prohibition Act, the Volstead Act went into effect to enforce the Nineteenth Amendment, which banned the sale of alcohol in the United States.  This act came into being through the acts of the Temperance Movement, a largely female-led political and religious movement that sought to rid America of the temptations and suffering of alcohol dependency. While the good intentions of the Temperance Movement may have been noble in responding to debilitating effects of alcoholism on many Americans, it was none the less naïve to think that the federal government could successfully regulate and enforce such a law.

While there was general decline in alcohol use during the Prohibition era, it was also a time marked by widespread crime, corruption, and violence. This was highlighted by the creation of organized crime syndicates that soon began dotting the major American big cities. The creation of the Italian Mafia and other crime families quickly capitalized on the control and distribution of the illicit selling of alcohol. Illegal bars known as speakeasies began to pop up in many American cities and towns. Alcohol was smuggled in from other nations like Canada, Ireland, Cuba, and Mexico. The illegal production within the United States was often done locally in southern states in the form of whiskey and moonshine.

The attempts to enforce Prohibition led to the creation of the Bureau of Prohibition, a federalized agency that could act where local ineffective and often corrupt police agencies couldn’t or wouldn’t. The use of federal agencies to combat organized and inter-state crime would eventually evolve into the Federal Bureau of Investigations or F.B.I.

Eventually, popular opinion, as well as the states’ need for tax revenue, led to the repeal of Prohibition by the Twenty-First Amendment in 1935.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, the Union University Library has various books and media that cover this tumultuous time period:

 

 

 

 

Moments In History: January 12th, 1967

pex cryo

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

January 12th, 1967

The Cryogenic Freezing of James Bedford

The cryopreservation of living tissue and cells is a relatively common practice today usually reserved for stem cells, fertilized eggs, embryos, and semen. However, in rare and bizarre cases throughout history, a select few people have opted to have their entire bodies cryogenically frozen and preserved upon death. Their hope is that, if the body and brain are preserved well, perhaps far in the distant future medical science may unlock the key to immortality and possible reanimation of their frozen corpses. This practice has often been labeled as unethical pseudo-science.

However, for the right price and cost of upkeep, there are several Cryo facilities that still cater to this macabre practice. The first man to undergo this procedure was Professor James Bedford, a psychologist at the University of California. Professor Bedford died on January 12th, 1967, from kidney and lung cancer. Although the processes for human cryopreservation have adapted and evolved over time, the usual processes involve the use of liquid nitrogen. James Bedford is currently the oldest person to still be maintained cryogenically frozen in the United States.

The practice has become mostly discredited due to a better understanding of neurology and the distinction that the concept of the “mind” vs. the organic nature of the brain are vastly different from each other.  Still, some people insist that, in the future, medical breakthroughs within nanotechnology and digital quantum computing could allow us to upload and store our consciousness in some form.

If you found this article interesting, the Union University Library has a book that goes into greater detail on the subject of possible future breakthroughs in these respective technologies linked below:

 

Moments In History: November 22nd, 1963

dalls

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

November 22nd, 1963

The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

On a bright and sunny day at 12:30PM in Dallas, Texas, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was making his way through the city as a campaign stop and to solve minor disputes within the Democratic party. Along with him was his wife, Jacqueline, and Texas governor John Connally.  As his presidential limo and motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza, the unthinkable happened: a series of shots rang out in rapid succession. The crowds panicked and screamed. Onlookers cried out to their horror that the president had been shot. In truth, three separate shots had been fired, two of them striking President Kennedy and one striking and wounding Governor Connally.

Dallas police and Secret Service agents tried to make sense of the situation, rushing up a grassy knoll hill where the shots had possibly come from. The scene was utter chaos, made more difficult by the crowds giving contradictory statements. The nature of the city made it to where the echo of the shots could have originated from several places. One witness stated that he had seen a man leaning out of the sixth-floor window of the Texas schoolbook depository. Upon later investigation, a rifle was found hidden away with three spent shell casings nearby. Nearly all the employees were accounted for except for one: Lee Harvey Oswald. Less than an hour and a half later, Oswald was arrested for the murder of Dallas Police Officer J.D Tibbits, who was shot and killed by Oswald after confronting him in the street three miles away from Dealey Plaza.

The country was in a state of shock. Many sat glued to their televisions and radios, listening to the tragic details as they learned that President Kennedy had succumbed to his wounds. Many feared this was a targeted assassination by the Soviets and that even nuclear war could be imminent. By 2:38PM, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was quickly sworn into office on Air Force One; the moment was captured in an iconic photo with Johnson next to Jacqueline Kennedy still wearing her blood-stained clothes. What no one knew at the time is that the assassination was caught on film by a local, Abraham Zapruder, on a small 8mm film.

This incident shook the United States to its core; many feared conspiracy and the aftermath led many to believe this could be the case. Two days after the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald was being transferred to a different jail when he in turn was shot and killed by a local bar owner, Jack Ruby. This development would eventually have to be settled by a federal commission called the warren commission, who looked into the motives and attempted to piece together these chaotic events to determine blame and how this could have transpired.

Today, most historians agree that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in taking the life of President John F. Kennedy. In all American history, this singular event continues to be studied and debated to this day.

If you would like to know more the about this topic, the Union University Library has a vast number of resources from books to documentaries on this subject. Here are some links below:

 

 

 

 

Moments In History: November 10th, 1929

pex all quiet

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

November 10th, 1929

All Quiet On The Western Front

This Sunday marks the 90th anniversary of the publication of the great novel All Quiet on The Western Front. Written by Erich Maria Remarque, this novel is based in part on his own experience serving in the German army during World War I. The novel details the tragic experiences of common German soldiers, who are mostly reluctant to fight and quickly disillusioned by the horrors of the Great War. The main character acts as if he is merely a shell of his former self as he goes on day after day in the misery of trench warfare. When his comrades and friends are killed or wounded, it is not a glorious or chivalrous affair but horrific and matter of fact, as if it was bad luck.

All Quiet On the Western Front goes on to show that soldiers returning home on leave or after the war become a lost generation who has seen too much suffering and death. They feel as if they can never fully be themselves again and feel alienated to those back home.

This novel was a landmark success upon publication; it received great acclaim worldwide selling nearly 2.5 million copies. It was translated into 22 languages in a little over its first year in print. Unfortunately, due to its success at portraying the truly horrific nature of the war and its portrayal of the German army, it was deemed offensive to the German State and was one of the first books to be publicly burned in mass when the Nazis began to seize power. The novel was hailed by pacifists around the world as an important testament to the senselessness of war. It would go on to be adapted into a film in 1930, winning the first Oscar for Best Picture for a film that didn’t have a musical number accompanying it.

The film would eventually have a 1979 remake that was also highly praised. There are even plans for yet another updated remake in the works. This is an important piece of literature and film that was among the first to attempt to explain the true gruesomeness of war and the now understood post-traumatic-stress disorder that affects so many soldiers who have seen the devastating effects of war.

If this topic interests you, and you would like to learn more, the Union University Library has this novel and film available in the links below:

 

Moments In History: October 30th, 1961

russia

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

October 30th, 1961

The “Tsar Bomba”

At 11:32 in the morning on frozen island of Novya Zemlya, the world’s largest explosive device ever tested was detonated by the Soviet Union. It was dubbed the “Tsar Bomba.” The goal was to create a bomb that would help tip the tide in the nuclear arms race with the United States. The bomb itself was truly gargantuan, weighing in at 27 metric tons and 26 feet long. It was too large to be on a missile, and any plane attempting to carry it would have to be heavily modified.

The estimates on the yield of the blast was anywhere from 50 to 150 megatons. The blast itself would eventually be measured at 57 megatons; the equivalent of the blast would be 57million tons of TNT. That makes this bomb 1500 times more powerful than the bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The crew for this fateful mission were told to expect only a 50% chance of survival, as they needed to release the bomb and then fly 28 miles to get away safely from the blast radius.

The bomb exploded about 4000m near the targeted zone, and the resulting fireball was an astounding 5 miles in diameter and could be seen up to 600 miles away. The characteristic mushroom cloud rose 47 miles into the air. The results were truly terrifying; everything within 34 miles of ground zero was completely annihilated. The destructive heat from the blast could have caused third degree burns for up to 62 miles away. Windows were recorded shattering in one village nearly 560 miles away from the test site. The pilots of the bomber made it safely away but were still rocked by the tremendous shock wave that caused them to temporarily lose control of their aircraft. The shock wave was recorded by seismologists on its third consecutive pass around the earth.

The only positive result of this bomb’s nightmarish scale was the fact that only two were ever built, with this one being used for testing. The U.S and the Soviet Union realized the futility of ever carrying out such nuclear strikes on each other: it would ensure the destruction of both countries, if not the world as a whole.

Would you like to learn more about the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and how each country sought to compete in the nuclear arms race? The Union University Library has excellent books and media on the subject in the links below:

 

 

Moments In History: October 25th, 1415

Schlacht_von_Azincourt

*painting by Enguerrand de Monstrelet

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

October 25th, 1415

The Battle of Agincourt

 

The conflict that would come to be known as the Hundred Years’ War had been raging for seventy-eight years up to this fateful day in late October. It began as a dynastic dispute of who would inherit the kingdom of France when its king Charles IV died leaving no male heirs. While the last three French kings had six daughters, the French nobility ruled out allowing women to inherit their husband’s title and lands. The King of England, Edward III, was the son of Isabella of France and grandson of the former French King Philip IV. The French aristocracy did not want an English monarch to sit on the throne of France, so they chose a distant cousin further down the line and elected Philip VI as King. Things were for the moment settled; however, there were still proxy wars and the seizure of English-held Duchy of Aquitaine in 1337.

Fast forward nearly eight decades later and the war began to reach its fever pitch, with the only pauses due to the horrific nature of the Black Death having ravaged France and England in the middle of this struggle. A new, vibrant English King Henry V had invaded France with the hopes of either wining the crown or restoring previously held Aquitaine. After landing in France and taking the port town of Harfleur, the English army found itself racked by sickness during the siege (predominately dysentery). Losing several thousand men prompted Henry to attempt to return to the English held port of Calais; however, the French had gotten ahead of him, cutting off his escape path to the channel.

On October 24th both armies made preparations for battle. For the English, the situation was grim weeks of marching nearly 300 miles. Disease had taken its toll on the army, leaving barely 8,000 men to fight. The overwhelming majority of the men left were English longbow men with a small contingent of dismounted knights and men-at-arms and no cavalry. Arrayed against them was the flower of French Nobility: anywhere from 15-20 thousand men many of whom were knights on horseback. The French were confident that they would simply ride down and smash the English in one thunderous charge. The site of the battle was chosen by King Henry, as it provided a narrow gap of pastureland surrounded by thick forest and marshes that would prevent the French from bringing their full numbers to bear and outflank the smaller English force. The English pounded large sharp wooden stakes in front of their archers to act as a hedgehog of spears to counter the French heavy cavalry.

This next moment would become immortalized a century later by William Shakespeare in his play Henry V. The English King gave an arousing speech and sought to inspire his men, raising their morale for the daunting task that awaited them:

From this day to the ending of the world,
we in it shall be remembered
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.

The French nobles, confident of victory and fearing the battle would be over before they got a chance to claim their share of spoils, foolishly began a general advance and charged at the front of their men across the muddy fields. The English then began to shower thousands of arrows down upon the advancing French cavalry. The hail of arrows pierced the horses and any gap or opening in the knights’ armor. Those few French knights that made it to the English line ran straight into the prepared stakes and spikes as well as waiting English Infantry armed with pikes and polearms, all the while longbow men shot arrows at near point-blank range. Nevertheless, the French infantry, unaware of their comrades’ plight, advanced headlong down the field attempting to break the English line. They were hampered by the sodden ground already torn up by the rush of the French cavalry, which slowed their charge to a trot. Hemmed in by the narrow muddy terrain and unable to retreat or properly advance under the constant rain of arrows. The French found themselves stuck among their wounded countrymen and the corpses of the dead and dying horses. After close to three hours of intense and brutal combat in which Henry V was nearly killed in the fighting, the French army collapsed and fell back towards their camp.

The English were seemingly victorious; still, it looked as though the French were regrouping for another assault. As a result of this, the English had a terrible decision to make. They had taken thousands of French knights and men-at-arms prisoner in the hours of fighting. The code of chivalry demanded that men of aristocratic birth be awarded the privilege of ransom back to their families. Henry soon discovered that the number of prisoners taken nearly exceeded his own men.  In a panic Henry made the decision to execute all but the most valuable prisoners, an act that would taint and haunt his reign for all his days to come. At the end of the day, close to 8,000 French lay dead or were subsequently executed for the cost of a few hundred Englishmen. This proved to be one of the most disproportionate victories in all medieval warfare. As much as 40% of the French Nobility were killed off in a single battle. Many agree this was the turning point in which the age of chivalry began to die.

If this topic interests you, and you would like to learn more on this fascinating event in history, the Union University Library is happy to provide you with the resources to do just that with links down below:

 

 

Moments In History: October 3rd, 52 B.C.

vercingetorix

*painting by Lionel Royer

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

October 3rd, 52 B.C.

The Surrender of Vercingetorix & The Roman Conquest of Gaul

From 58 B.C to 50 B.C., Julius Caesar was carving out huge parcels of territory from the  feared Celtic Gauls of modern day France, Northern Italy, and Belgium.  Rome had been sacked earlier in its history by an invading Gallic tribe, and the Gauls had ever since been the “bogymen” of the Roman psyche. Caesar saw Gaul as a spring board to riches and greater political power; if he could do the unthinkable and conquer this vast country, not only would he become rich, but he would win the undying love and support of the people of Rome.

By 52 B.C., the stage was set for a final climatic showdown. Over the years Caesar had succeeded in subjugating various tribes one by one, picking them off or turning them against old rivals until he crushed them. This changed when a charismatic king and chieftain of the Averni tribe, Vercingetorix, united a large coalition of tribes to attempt to destroy the occupying Romans for good. Most of the Gallic tribes joined in the general revolt and their numbers swelled to over 80,000 men. Caesar rushed to the scene with as many reinforcements as he could muster; he managed to surprise the Gauls in their fortified city of Alesia. Caesar decided to besiege the settlement, hoping to starve the Gauls into surrendering. Caesar and his legions set about the herculean task of digging trenches and building a wall around the city of some 11 miles.

The Gauls, running short of food, called for more tribes to unite and attempt to revive their besieged kin. Within a short time, tens of thousands answered the call, and the Roman legions found themselves surrounded as the Gauls attacked from both sides of their fortifications. The Romans were on the breaking point, but Caesar personally rode to where his troops were most hard pressed and cheered them on as they fought for survival. The Romans persevere, and by morning the Gallic relief force and those still alive in Alesia had given up. The morning of October 3rd, 52 B.C., Vercingetorix rode down to the Roman Camp in his finest armor, stripped himself naked, and knelt before Caesar himself in surrender. This moment was the end of organized Gallic resistance to Rome.

In the coming years, Gaul would become a Roman province and would remain so for the next 500 years. Vercingetorix would be kept prisoner for the next 5 years until Caesar’s triumphant march in Rome, where he was executed in front of the crowds. The end of the Gallic Wars would go on to bring about a series of civil wars that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Roman Republic and Caesar’s own assassination. Finally the republic would be reorganized as an empire under Caesar’s nephew, Octavian.

If you would like to know more about the events surrounding the conquest of Gaul and the battle of Alesia, please follow the links bellow:

 

Moments In History: September 28th, 1928

penicilin

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 28th, 1928

Discovery of Penicillin

On this fateful day, Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming made a discovery that would go on to change medicine forever. While working on research and experiments with Staphylococcus bacteria in his lab, he woke the morning of the 28th of September to find one of his Petri dishes had its lid popped off and had been contaminated. While investigating the source of the contamination, he noticed a strange green ring that had appeared around the dish. This ring was a green fungus mold known as “Penicillium notatum.”

What he found so fascinating was that the bacteria surrounding the ring had not only not penetrated it but had been destroyed by the mold. Meanwhile, those farther away from it were unharmed and still growing. He would later remark:

“I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”

It would still take many years of peer review, as well as isolating and growing the mold into a pure culture and tested on patients for its effects as a treatment of bacterial infections.

However, by 1942, penicillin was in mass production and might even have helped tip the scales in favor of the Allies during WWII, as it is thought to have saved as many as 12% to 15% of Allied soldiers’ lives from sepsis and other infections from recently amputated limbs. It would also be used to treat prominent illnesses and diseases such as pneumonia and gonorrhea.

On average, 33 million pounds of penicillin is produced around the world each year. All told, it is estimated that penicillin has saved around 200 million people worldwide and continues to do so today.  In 1999, Alexander Fleming was named among the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century in Time magazine.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to know more about Alexander Fleming and his work, I encourage you to follow the link down below for a fantastic book and on the subject.