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By the numbers: anniversaries that stand out in 2016

Shakespeare. Trench warfare. Cloning. Here are 2016’s biggest anniversaries.


 

MIKAN 2837593: The Second Battle of Ypres. (Library and Archives Canada)

Four centuries of posthumous Shakespeare readings. One century of horrifying trench warfare. And two decades since Dolly, the sheep who proved that cloning worked. Here are some of 2016’s biggest anniversaries.

400 years ago…

In March 1616, William Shakespeare wrote his last will and testament, leaving his wife, Anne, his “second best bed.” The next month he died. With three dozen plays—including Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear—to his name, as well as more than 150 sonnets, he is widely proclaimed as the greatest writer in the English language.

Now: Though some doubt that he authored all those works, no one can challenge the brilliance of the creations published under his name. Centuries later, his wording, both invented and adapted, is still commonplace. So while it’s possible for write about a “band of brothers” with “hearts of gold” wanting to “break the ice” with “one fell swoop” in a “brave new world,” perhaps it’s “a foregone conclusion” to remember that, as the Bard wrote, “brevity is the soul of wit.”

100 years ago…

The opening day of the Battle of the Somme during the First World War would bring heartache and sorrow to Newfoundland. At Beaumont-Hamel, France, on the northern end of the Allied front, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment started its advance at 9:15 a.m. on July 1, 1916. Many were cut down before ever reaching enemy territory. Of the 22 officers and 758 others who took part in the advance, all the officers and 658 troops were killed or wounded. The regiment’s divisional commander wrote of their effort: “It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault failed of success because dead men can advance no further.”

Now: The sacrifice at Beaumont-Hamel is seared into the memory of everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador. The land on which so many died was purchased by its colonial government after the First World War and is today a National Historic Site and one of the largest intact battlefields. There, amid the rolling hills, cemeteries and preserved trenches, stands a bronze caribou stag on a crag, facing toward the regiment’s former foe.

85 years ago…

Canada became truly independent on Dec. 11, 1931, with the Statute of Westminster. Following several imperial conferences, in which Dominion politicians, including Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, pressed for greater autonomy from London, the British statute gave Canada (and other dominions such as Australia and New Zealand) the right to pass, amend and repeal its own laws without British interference, while British law no longer applied in Canada. Henceforth, the dominions would be equal to Britain in terms of political stature.

Now: Amendments to Canada’s Constitution were specifically exempted from the statute. That changed in 1982 when Canada formally patriated its Constitution from Britain. Now full constitutional powers rest within the borders of the Queen’s northern realm.

70 years ago…

Jackie Robinson was a brilliant, competitive baseball player—yet his most important achievement was breaking the colour barrier. In 1946 he joined the Montreal Royals, the Triple A farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Familiar with the ever-present racism of the United States, his wife, Rachel, later recalled the “blissful” way in which Montreal treated the couple. On April 15, Jackie Robinson was called up the majors, becoming the first African-American player in the 20th century to take the field. Facing intense hatred with equanimity, the second baseman led Brooklyn to six pennants and its only World Series.

Now: On Robinson’s death in 1972, basketball great Bill Russell told the New York Times, “To most black people, Jackie was a man, not a ballplayer. He did more for baseball than baseball did for him. He was someone young black athletes could look up to.” Every April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, when everyone on every team wears his number, 42.

50 years ago…

Star Trek’s special effects were cheesy, its plots infamous for clunky dialogue and rank sexism. The original series, created by Gene Roddenberry, debuted on Sept. 8, 1966, and featured a debonair Canadian, William Shatner, as Capt. James T. Kirk. He and the crew of the Starship Enterprise were in the midst of a five-year mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” The show lasted 79 episodes.

Now: Reborn as a series of movies (12 to date) as well as four spinoff TV shows, Star Trek and its universe of humans, Klingons, Romulans and the Borg are now one of the most enduring franchises in entertainment history. A new film will be out in July, and a new TV series will start in 2017. Resistance truly is futile.

20 years ago…

On the night of July 5, 1996, the most famous lamb in history was born near Edinburgh, Scotland. Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned. Seven months later, scientists at the Roslin Institute showed her off to a world that previously had largely relegated cloning to the realm of science fiction.

Now: Dolly spent her life at the institute, where, bred with a ram, she gave birth to a single lamb, then twins and finally triplets. Suffering from arthritis and a lung ailment, Dolly was euthanized in 2003. She was 6½, half the lifespan of a typical Finn Dorset sheep. While at least 20 other animals have since been cloned, including cats and pigs, the ethical argument over the procedure endures.

10 years ago…

Jack Dorsey made history on March 21, 2006, when he published the following message: “Just setting up my twttr.” He was the co-creater of Twitter. Defined as “a short burst of inconsequential information,” the name, and its 140-character limit, would soon become famous.

Now: From around 400,000 tweets a quarter in 2007, it now generates that same number every minute. A lifeline of real-time information during disasters and political upheavals, it has 320 million monthly active users—yet still hasn’t made an annual profit.


 

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