From Space Travel to Soccer Gold, Our Favourite Feel Good News Stories From 2021
Canadian midfielder Julia Grosso celebrates after scoring the winning penalty during the penalty shoot-out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women's final football match between Sweden and Canada at the International Stadium Yokohama on August 6, 2021. Photo: Loic Venance/AFP/GettyImages
The year 2021 didn’t offer much of a reprieve from the misery of 2020, with fresh waves of the COVID pandemic and new (and more contagious) strains of the virus preventing life from truly getting back to normal. It’s also a year when words and terms like “anti-vax” and “insurrection” became part of the popular lexicon, while political debates over everything from vaccine mandates to women’s reproductive rights dominated headlines. Oh, and lets not forget the worsening threat that is climate change.
That said, there were numerous good news stories amidst the bad this year, and we’ve rounded up 10 of our favourites to put a smile on your face as we bid farewell to 2021.
Outta This World
At age 90, Canadian actor William Shatner — a.k.a. Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk — finally made it to the final frontier, travelling to outer space aboard Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard rocket in October, becoming the oldest person to do so. He claimed the title of oldest person in space from Wally Funk, 82, an American aviator, who just three months earlier had travelled to space aboard a Bezos rocket (she’s still the oldest woman).
Shatner’s brief 10 minutes in the blackness of the beyond touched him profoundly, something a fellow Montrealer hopes he too will experience. Businessman and philanthropist Mark Pathy’s US$50 million ticket will buy him 10 days in space in February 2022, eight of them involved in research on the International Space Station to discover more about the effect of weightlessness on the human body — including pain. He told an interviewer from The Canadian Press, “I didn’t have time to get a PhD before launch, so for the most part I have to play the role of lab rat.”
The Joy of the Jab
When the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines became available in Canada in December 2020, the first to get a jab were the most vulnerable seniors. Later, as shots became available to younger cohorts, long lineups of socially distanced, masked candidates became the norm — and so too was an almost palpable sense of relief and euphoria with that first shot.
Kids started their own lineup in May, when those 12 and older could get a COVID vaccine; the five-to-12-year-olds followed in November, receiving a lower dose. Parents and grandparents did a happy dance. Now, in December, booster shots are rolling out across Canada to help combat the Omicron variant.
With studies underway for children six months to five years old, Pfizer estimates vaccines for kids two to five years of age may be approved in the U.S. in the first half of 2022 and for six months to two years of age in the latter half of that year. With more people protected, we’ll be closer to herd immunity, that holy grail where the virus can’t easily find a susceptible body in which to replicate — and grandparents and everyone else can dance once more.
Canadian Women Rock at the Summer Olympics
A country’s first Olympic gold medal raises hopes, so when Canadian swimmer Maggie MacNeil powered her way through the 100-metre butterfly final in a Canada and Americas record 55:59 seconds at the Tokyo Olympics pool, Canadians wanted more.
Turns out that five of Canada’s seven golds at the Tokyo Olympics were won by women: Maude Charron, an amazing weightlifter (can you lift 236 kg?); the women’s eight rowers; Kelsey Mitchell, women’s track cycling sprint; and women’s soccer. (Then Damian Warner picked up a gold in decathlon and Andre De Grasse won gold for 200-metre sprint.)
Julia Grosso’s kick into the back of the Swedish net snared the gold medal for Canada and set off red-clad pandemonium on the pitch. Christine Sinclair, scorer of the world’s most career international goals by a woman or man, finally had her Olympic gold to hang beside two bronze from the 2012 and 2016 Games. Canadians couldn’t have been prouder. And there’s only three more years until the next Olympiad in Paris. You go girls!
The Queen’s Representative
Dignified, calm and strong. What more could you ask for in a Governor General in 2021? That she be Indigenous? Check. That she has had a distinguished career as an advocate for Inuit rights and as a diplomat? Check.
Enter Mary Simon, 74, Canada’s first Indigenous, and oldest, Governor General, who took over the post in July. One of Simon’s first duties as the nation’s 30th GG was to read the throne speech for the opening of Parliament in November, which she did in three languages, including Inuktitut — the first time any Indigenous language had been represented in the proceedings.
She mentioned the need for ongoing reconciliation and the urgent need to care for nature, subjects she had raised during her investiture.
But the subtle purple streaks in her hair — surely a first for a governor general — belied a playful side as she read the speech. And perhaps the prime minister was not surprised for, during her investiture speech, Simon had gently teased that her Inuk name is Ningiukudluk, which means “bossy little old lady.”
Sky Art with Heart
Wanting to send condolences after the tragic murders of 22 people in Nova Scotia in April 2020, Halifax native Dimitri Neonakis took to the sky, his small aircraft his paintbrush. He’d used GPS to work out a flight path that ultimately formed a heart over Portapique, where the mayhem began. It showed up on radar screens and soon went viral. In all he’s done at least 15 aerial images — a clenched fist for George Floyd’s death, a grad in a mortarboard and tassel for students who couldn’t have a normal 2020 graduation, a heart tied to an anchor to honour lost fishermen.
Neonakis, however, also treats seriously ill children to flights over Nova Scotia. Take Rama Alrashid — she and her family were Syrian refugees in Jordan who came to Canada so she could receive a bone marrow transplant. Now recovered, she had three wishes: to be a co-pilot, have her own kitten and to meet the prime minister to thank him for the family’s entry to Canada. Neonakis managed to grant the first two wishes in September of this year, and still hopes that Mr. Trudeau will fulfill Rama’s third sometime soon.
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization uses underwater microphones to listen for sound waves generated by nuclear bomb tests. Turns out these hydrophone recordings have found more benign signals — earlier this year they helped discover an overlooked population of pygmy blue whales.
Marine scientists from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, studied the data from the Indian Ocean and made the discovery. The pygmy whales are a sub-branch of blue whales, the biggest mammals in the world, which can reach up to 30 metres long. The pygmy blues measure a mere 24 metres (two bus-lengths) long by comparison. Happily, the UNSW team thinks the bomb detector information shows there are more blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere than anyone suspected but, because they don’t leap out of the water and live far from shore, no one sees them. The scientists will use the technology to study migration patterns and even the mammals’ response to climate change.
Never Too Late
Her kids think their mother is cool — and wouldn’t you? Smiling with excitement, Oorbee Roy, 46, drops into a bowl on her skateboard, her vivid sari streaming behind her. It’s a sport the Toronto mom relishes, although she’s only been at it for a few years. But as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, she realized many people were suffering mentally, herself included. To combat that, she revived a funny improv character she’d created some years ago. Instead of that fussy aunty who tries to scold you into being her best you, Roy began posting as the more inspirational Aunty Skates on TikTok and now has well over 100,000 followers.
Lost and Found
A teddy bear was tucked in a backpack that was stolen during a move in Vancouver in July. But this was no ordinary bear to Mara Soriano. It held a message her mother had lovingly recorded for her before cancer ended her life. Soriano hunted frantically through the area without luck, finally resorting to social media. Actor Ryan Reynolds even offered a $5,000 reward and urged millions of his Twitter followers to watch for the beloved bear. Ultimately it was Soriano’s security footage that cracked the case — Good Samaritans recognized the thief and retrieved the teddy. For Soriano, it was a message directly from her mother — because the recording said she would always be with her daughter.
Yup. It’s official. We’re in love with Ryan Reynolds. Steven Page (a former Barenaked Lady) has told us so. Reynolds was presented with a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in November (the National Arts Centre Award) and Page assured him that “Canada Loves You Back” through a catchy song he wrote and performed outdoors with the backing of the National Arts Centre Orchestra and Choir. The line, “Of all the Canadian Ryans, you’ve got to be in the top three,” had Reynolds laughing, but ultimately Page’s performance had him in happy tears — “It’s just maple syrup,” he later tweeted.
Fun, but the video also pointed out the actor, producer, entrepreneur, activist and screenwriter’s generous involvement in at least 13 different organizations, including the SickKids Foundation, Food Banks Canada, Inuujaq School in Alert Bay, the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Reconciliation Canada. No wonder we love the guy.
Of course we’ve always room in our hearts for Catherine O’Hara, 67 — who was granted the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement in Broadcasting and Film — who’s had us laughing from SCTV, through films like Beetlejuice and Home Alone and up to her award-winning turn in Schitt’s Creek. Noah Reid, O’Hara’s Schitt’s Creek cast mate, saluted O’Hara musically with Joni Mitchell’s poignant “A Case of You” in honour of the achievement. But as the camera cut to different angles, Reid casually sang and played the grand piano in a series of wacky wigs worn by O’Hara’s character, Moira Rose, on Schitt’s Creek. And yes, there were happy tears.
This year’s lifetime artistic achievement award winners included the great Tantoo Cardinal, 71, the Métis actor who, over a 50-year career of performing on stage, film and television, has been dedicated to revealing authentic Indigenous stories and realities. From background “colour” roles to the lead in Falls Around Her, the arc of her career is trending upwards. Look for her in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film Killers of the Flower Moon, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.
Also hailed for their lifetime of artistic achievement were Alexina Louie, 72, a classical music composer with a large body of work acclaimed worldwide (one involving two Inuit throat singers), and Zab Maboungou of Montreal, a choreographer who has integrated traditional Central African dance in her choreography and expressive movement. The Innu musician Florent Vollant, 62, is a singer and guitarist who also mentors Indigenous artists through a recording studio he developed and through songwriting residencies.
Lynda Hamilton, recipient of the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in Performing Arts, has been particularly supportive of dancers as they transition through and out of their careers.
Lorn Cardinal insisted on staying with his animals, though only a miracle could save them. Marooned on a broken piece of highway as the flooded Nicola River ravaged his property near Spences Bridge in British Columbia in late November, he’d watched as his wife Kim and a stranded RCMP officer were lifted out by a helicopter crew.
But intrepid Kelly Kennedy of Sageview Ranch, a rescue centre near Kamloops had an idea. (She’d been rescuing horses with her trailer during forest-fire season.) She called Summit Helicopters in the nearby Kamloops airport and asked if they’d help her save the Cardinals’ pets: Winter, a shaggy white horse, Spicey, a miniature horse and Moxey, a pony. The airborne manoeuvre would be a first in B.C., if not all of Western Canada.
Lifting horses up is dangerous for them and for handlers. But the one livestock sling Kennedy located in the province was the only chance to move the big horse safely. Buckled in securely, Winter kicked and bucked briefly at take-off, then settled in for the seven-minute ride to safety. The smaller equines flew unharmed in giant grain bags, while several dogs, puppies and cats travelled first-class.
But Kennedy wasn’t done. The next day, she flew out two goats and a pregnant Jersey cow belonging to the Cardinals’ neighbours, noting that the cow was easier to fly than Winter.
She had calmly walked onto the spread-out cargo net and stood while they folded it up around her.