Three Days of the Sputnik; or, “Radio-Moscow admits that the dog revolving around the earth in the satellite will never return”: Laika, Sputnik 2 and the daily press of Québec, part 2

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A replica of Sputnik 2, Tsentral’nyy Dom Aviatsii i Kosmonavtiki DOSAAF Rossíi, Moscow, April 2021. Krasnyy via Wikipedia.

Hello, my reading friend, and welcome to space, the final frontier. Yours truly suggests that we tackle without further delay and straight into the second part of our first subject of November 2022: Laika, Sputnik 2 and the daily press of Québec, and…

Yes, Laika was a female dog sent into space on 3 November 1957 aboard the Soviet artificial satellite Sputnik 2. Did you not read with delight the first part of this article? Do not answer that question. Please.

You yourself have a question, do you not? I kind of expected that. The expression Tsentral’nyy Dom Aviatsii i Kosmonavtiki DOSAAF Rossíi present in the caption of the photograph above means central house of aviation and cosmonautics of DOSAAF Russia. The acronym DOSAAF on the other hand stands for Dobrovol’noye Obshchestvo Sodeystviya Armii, Aviatsii i Flotu, or voluntary society for assistance to the army, air force and navy.

The house in question, one of the very first Soviet aviation museums if you must know, inaugurated in Moscow in January 1927, is unfortunately only a shadow of what it once was. In the mid-1950s, the museum received approximately 100 000 visitors per year. In the 2010s, it received less than 10 000, but I digress.

So let us go back to our first subject of November 2022, Laika, Sputnik 2 and the daily press of Québec.

On 5 November 1957, a daily newspaper in Québec, Québec, L’Action catholique, published an editorial by its columnist and editor-in-chief, a doctor by profession passionate about journalism mentioned in the October 2020 and April 2021 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Louis-Philippe Roy underlined therein that “The USSR keeps the limelight with Sputnik II and… Zhukov.” That stardom, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) retained it in a troubling way and...

Could it be your hand that I see frantically waving in the aether? You do not know what this Zhukov was all about? Zhukov was / is not a what, my reading friend, it was / is a who. A very important who.

And yes, there will be a pun about the Who and Whoville, made famous by the famous American children’s author and cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. That is because the title of the 2008 animation movie based on the famous 1954 children’s book Horton Hears a Who! is also Horton Hears a Who!, and… Err, I guess I just spoiled the pun. Sorry. Back to the editorial.

Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov was one of the most brilliant Soviet army commanders of the Second World War. Appointed minister of defence in February 1955, he supported the efforts of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev to accede to the post of first secretary of the Kommunisticheskaya Partiya Sovetskogo Soyuza. His prestige and popularity were such, however, that various influential members of the Soviet government, including Khrushchev, took umbrage. Zhukov was sacked from his post at the end of October 1957.

That sacking actually came after that of various influential members of the government who had tried to overthrow Khrushchev in June 1957. Even though he was certainly not an altar boy, the latter nevertheless decided not to put his opponents to death.

In Roy’s eyes, however, these sackings meant that all was not well in the USSR. He seemed to believe that something was going to happen.

At the time willed by Providence – and which we can hasten by following the recommendations of the Virgin of Fatima – events of extraordinary supernatural significance will occur and which will also have favourable repercussions on the world.

And yes, Roy was referring here to the message transmitted, it has been stated, to children by Mariam / Mary, in Fátima, Portugal, in 1917. Indeed, the columnist might, I repeat might, have been referring to the third secret of Fátima, still secret in 1957 and which could only be revealed after 1960. Why, you ask, my reading friend? Because Mariam / Mary said so, that was why.

Unfortunately for Roy, said secret was still secret at the time of his death in March 1966 at the age of 66, but back to Sputnik 2 and…

Sigh. That secret intrigues you, does it not? Know then that it was revealed in June 2000. It was a fairly bloody allegorical vision referring to events which seemed to belong to the past.

Assuming of course that the secret revealed in June 2000 was the real secret. Some suggested that it was actually a fake. Others believed that a significant part of the secret still remained secret. Others still believed that the secret was misinterpreted by the roman catholic church; the events to which it referred were yet to come.

Would you believe that some people in Québec may, I repeat may, perhaps have believed until quite recently that the third secret of Fátima had something to do with Canada? Depending on the versions, Mariam / Mary or a pope having read said secret had pronounced words which were disturbing to say the least: “Pobre Canada!” / “Povero Canada!” This was / is obviously an urban legend, but I digress.

Roy pointed out that the launch of 2 Soviet satellites in the space of a month, Sputnik 1 on 4 October 1957 and Sputnik 2 on 3 November, took on an enormous value. Trips to the Moon were no longer a possibility, they were now a probability, which suggested some interesting prospects. Another probability, the development of an absolute weapon, the intercontinental ballistic missile, suggested terrible prospects.

While Roy stated he was convinced that the United States would only use such a weapon to respond to Soviet missile launches, he was equally convinced that a USSR with said weapon would constitute “an imminent peril to the world.” In either case, however, the fact was that the entry into service of intercontinental ballistic missiles would represent “a peril to our planet.”

A fervent Catholic and an equally fervent anti-Communist, Roy appealed to his readership. Believers had to reflect on the message allegedly transmitted at Fátima – a message underlined by a French priest and great promoter of these events, abbot R. Payrière, who gave 2 radio talks in Québec in October 1957.

Said message had, however, evolved a tad between 1917 and 1957. The Russian Empire had indeed become the USSR, a prison of the peoples which was undoubtedly even worse. While it was still a matter of conversion to Catholicism, the organisation to be destroyed was no longer the Russkaja Pravoslavnaja Cerkov’, the Russian orthodox church, it was the Kommunisticheskaya Partiya Sovetskogo Soyuza. That conversion would be obtained through prayer and penance, Roy seemed to believe.

The columnist mentioned with approval some words of Lester Bowles “Mike” Pearson, words spoken in early November at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis,... Minnesota. The latter did not pull any punches, in English of course. The USSR, he said, had made quite remarkable progress.

So we had better awaken from our illusion of easy technical and material superiority which we have been cherishing, because we have a car in every garage, frozen food in every electric refrigerator, and kiss-proof lipstick on every lip. These things will not bring us victoriously through competitive coexistence, however glamorously we display them in advertising copy.

The peoples of Western countries therefore had to accept the discipline, sacrifices and efforts necessary to maintain their freedoms.

The 5 November edition of L’Action catholique also contains a most interesting letter to the editor. Once translated, its content, however, proved very, very disturbing.

Dear Mr. Editor,

Permit a reader of your newspaper to come, hereby, underline with a red line, a piece of news which appeared in the newspapers of Monday, 4 November namely that “The [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] had criticised sending a dog aboard the second Soviet satellite. Mr. Warren W. McSpadden, the Society’s chief executive, said protests will be sent to the Soviet Union through the State Department.”

Such behavior of the Americans only confirms the more than infantile state of that people. And an absolute lack of a sense of the ridiculous (to say no more than that) because obviously with them, it was easier to be moved by the animal condition (poor little dog who travels on board the Russian satellite and who, it is said, is fed automatically), than on the human condition because the recent incidents in Little Rock amply prove that, do they not?

The indecency continues as the [National Canine Defence League] in London that time asks all animal lovers to hold a moment of silence. A good gesture of brotherhood which has never benefited all the blacks who have been lynched in the southern states of the United States, or all the blacks who have been refused entry to hotels in the British Isles and in several other islands under English dependency including South Africa.

The slogan and the moral that emerge from these facts can be translated in these terms: “Better be a dog lover than a negro lover."

Anyway, the Russians are giving a science lesson to the American supermen and in the name of progress and science it would not be the first time that an animal has been used as a guinea pig for experiments. These ridiculous protests will only affirm what many people think of the great starry republic, now champion of the canine cause.

With many thanks

Roberto Wilson

If the reference to Little Rock, Arkansas, does not give your little gray cells a bit of a shock, the following two paragraphs should jog your memory.

In May 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued a judgment declaring unconstitutional any legislation aimed at establishing segregated schools, and called for the desegregation of schools across the country. In 1957, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People enrolled 9 high-scoring African-American students at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas – a lilywhite high school since its inception. Millions of Caucasian Americans boiled with rage. At the start of the new school year in September 1957, Arkansas governor Orval Eugene Faubus called on the Arkansas National Guard to stop these unbelievably brave young people from entering their school. This use of military force against a few defenceless adolescents circled the world. The brand image of the United States, the bastion of freedom, it was said, got it right in the neck. With good reason.

Contacted by the mayor of Little Rock, President Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, a gentleman mentioned many times in our you know what since March 2018, used the powers granted to him by his office to take control of the Arkansas National Guard and send United States Army troops there. For the first time since the American Civil War, the United States government was sending troops to a state which had risen against it. The tension was at its highest. Day after day, soldiers kept a dangerously hostile crowd away from the Little Rock Nines, as the 9 students became known. The 1957-58 school year was a constant nightmare for these young people. This being said (typed?), the Little Rock crisis was indeed a turning point in American history. Systemic racism is no myth. Black lives matter!

If I may be permitted, I would like to mention as delicately as possible the fact that, contrary to what Wilson thought, South Africa was not under British dependency. Nor was it an island. It was in fact a dominion just as independent as Canada, a dominion whose government, formed since May 1948 and until April 1994 by the Nasionale Party / National Party, was gradually building a monstrous edifice, apartheid, an institutionalised system of racial segregation which would have filled the hearts of many residents of Little Rock – and beyond – with joy and gladness.

A dominion which left the Commonwealth in 1961 when its request to remain within that organisation as a republic was strongly opposed by Nigeria, Malaysia, India, Ghana and Canada, member countries strongly opposed to apartheid.

The Prime Minister of Canada, John George Diefenbaker, a gentleman who has been mentioned several / many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since October 2020, played a leading role, a role that every Canadian should be proud of, during the meeting of Commonwealth prime ministers, in London, England, in March 1961.

But back to our topic of today.

Who was that Wilson, you ask? A good question.

Yours truly apologises in advance for the length of the biographical text which follows but Wilson deserves it.

Victor Emmanuel Roberto Wilson was born in November 1928, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, into a seemingly well off family. He indeed studied fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia,… Pennsylvania, and may, I repeat may, have taken courses of an undetermined nature in Caracas, Venezuela, possibly at the Universidad Central de Venezuela.

During his youth, Wilson contributed to a short-lived Haitian comics magazine, Zobopes. An actor, decorator and playwright in the Société nationale d’arts dramatiques, he may also have done a little radio.

Wilson visited Québec, the Lac Saint-Jean region it seemed, around 1949-50 and fell in love both with that part of the world and with one of its young residents, Lorraine Poirier. This being said (typed?), he soon returned home. Poirier then went to Haiti where she married her sweetheart, in 1951.

The couple settled in Québec, in the Lac Saint-Jean region, towards the end of 1952 or the beginning of 1953. A clerk, even a lumberjack perhaps, for a brief time, Wilson joined the staff of a daily newspaper in Chicoutimi, Québec, Le Progrès du Saguenay, where he held the position of advertising editor and designer.

Wilson was undoubtedly one of the first members of a non-Aboriginal visible minority to live in the Lac Saint-Jean region. He later readily admitted that the lumberjacks he had worked with found his attempts to duplicate typical Québec swearing and blasphemy absolutely hilarious.

Around September 1953, Wilson launched a comic strip, a first in Québec, even in Canada, for a black cartoonist / scriptwriter, in the pages of the weekly Le Régional de Chicoutimi. Subsequently published in several other weeklies in the Lac Saint-Jean region, not to mention a newspaper in Ontario (Cornwall?), “La caverne au trésor” appeared until around 1955.

That very year, Wilson launched Aventures, a sports and cultural magazine of which only one issue appeared, in June.

Heavily involved in his community, Wilson produced “Le vainqueur du Saguenay” in 1956. That album of a dozen 12 pages, including 4 of comic strips, aimed to help a swimmer from the region, who had suffered from poliomyelitis during his childhood, to raise the funds allowing him to participate in a marathon swim in Lake Ontario, in Ontario in fact, between Niagara on the Lake and Toronto, in August 1956.

Robert Cossette, a Québec / Canadian giant of open water swimming, unfortunately had to withdraw, just like the other participants, 8 male swimmers and 1 female swimmer, all defeated by the cold waters of the lake. Cossette finished in 3rd place.

By the way, the first person to successfully cross Lake Ontario, in September 1954, was not yet 18 years old. Marilyn Grace Bell was from Ontario, but back to Wilson.

Before I forget, please note that Wilson was a radio host for stations in Chicoutimi and Roberval, Québec, during the 1950s.

Wilson began a relatively long collaboration with L’Action Catholique in 1956. In December, Wilson launched the detective comic strip “Les aventures de Robert et Roland,” undoubtedly his best known work. The general manager of that extremely conservative daily, a historian / journalist / speaker / teacher / writer, the catholic priest Paul-Émile Gosselin, initially wrote the texts of the adventures of 2 young boys from Québec, the city of course, I think, Robert and Roland, who played detective.

The title of the first adventures of these young people, “L’hôtel des Sauvages,” was shocking to say the least. The latter word, translated in English as savages, indeed referred to the First Nations of Québec because that often was how many French-speaking Quebecers of the time called their indigenous neighbours. The mind boggles. But back to the adventures of Robert and Roland.

The last strip of that comic strip appeared in December 1959.

In April 1957, during Holy Week, L’Action Catholique published the 4 pages of a comic strip by Wilson, “La Passion of N. S. Jésus.”

And yes, the letters N. S. stood for notre seigneur, in English our lord.

Wilson may very well have been working at that time on the script for a television play, the first television program of that type to be broadcasted in the Québec region. Broadcasted live in May 1957, Le fruit défendu was an adaptation of the eponymous play of French director and playwright Gabriel Imbert, then, perhaps, director of the Conservatoire d’arts dramatiques in Port-au-Prince. The fruit in question was of course the one which resulted in the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise / garden of Eden.

Wilson took on the role of the Serpent, a role which perhaps came to him due to his tall stature (about 1.95 metre / about 6 feet 5 inches).

Would you believe that Wilson wrote the screenplay of a movie and directed it? Yes, yes, a movie. La vie… La réalité et le roman came out at the end of November 1962. One of the main interpreters of that modest work of fiction was called… René Lévesque. And no, the René Lévesque in question was not the Ministre des Richesses naturelles of Québec, a gentleman, what am I saying, a giant from Québec, whose political career had only just begun.

Wilson also wrote the screenplay for another modest work of fiction, La légende arawak, released in November 1961. While the main characters in that film were played by non-indigenous actors, the presence of many cast members the Cabir Coubat dance group, made up of members of the Wendat First Nation, should be noted.

Incidentally, the term Arawak or, to use the term apparently used today, Tainos, referred / refers to an indigenous people who lived in the Greater Antilles at the time when Cristobal Colom / Christoforo Colombo, an individual better known as Christopher Columbus, arrived in the region in October 1492.

Having become a Canadian citizen in May 1961, Wilson entered the Québec public service, at the Ministère des Affaires culturelles it seemed, in 1964. He successively occupied, I think, the positions of information officer, cultural officer and director of interparliamentary relations of the Assemblée nationale du Québec.

Another word of warning. The next paragraph is very, very disturbing.

In October 1970, Wilson was the private secretary / executive assistant of the Ministre de l’Immigration and Ministre du Travail et de la Main-d’œuvre of Québec. Kidnapped in October by the Chénier cell of the Front de libération du Québec, Pierre Laporte was killed under circumstances no one really knows and by a member of the Chénier cell no one ever identified.

Wilson published his first book, a dramatic poem, Aguanamo – Légende Arrawak, in 1974. Le Général Alexandre Dumas – Soldat de la Liberté followed in 1977. Simon Bolivar vu par un citoyen du Québec appeared in 1983. Wilson published his last book, L’extraordinaire odyssée: Christophe Colomb, 1492-1992: il y a cinq siècles, l’aventure du navigateur qui changea le destin du monde, in 1991.

Victor Emmanuel Roberto Wilson died in Québec, the city, in December 1995, at the age of 67.

A Prix Roberto Wilson was created in 2014. It rewarded / rewards the favourite of the jury of an annual event, the oldest bande dessinée festival in Canada (1988), the Festival Québec BD, for a French-language comic book resulting from a translation.

You enjoyed that long digression, did you not? That is what I thought. Wilson deserves to be better known, but back to Laika and Sputnik 2, but only next week. Sorry.

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Rénald Fortier