Year in Review: Our staff look back at their favourite stories of 2021

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Over the course of a year, our journalists write thousands of words on myriad events, people and issues relating to Edmonton, Alberta and beyond.

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While all of the stories are important, some leave an indelible impact, on the community as a whole, but also on the journalist who wrote or edited those stories.

As 2021 comes to a close, we asked our newsroom staff to sum up their favourite stories of the year.

They may not be the biggest news stories or ones that forced policy change, but they’re among the mattered most to the journalists who covered them.

Sarah Bugden reflects on how COVID-19 has impacted Edmonton’s Downtown

Of the hundreds of COVID-19 stories our newsroom has produced this year, one stands out for me most of all.

Although the day-to-day coverage of the virus is paramount, it was refreshing for us to be able to dig deeper to mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic that has upended our lives – and our city.

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Jeff Labine’s feature on how COVID-19 has impacted Downtown gave readers (and editors like myself) a window into a core that many Edmontonians have barely spent time in since March 2020.

It also highlighted the thoughts and feelings of an everyday person, as my favourite stories do.

Even now, with the Omicron variant putting a further wrench into the future, I find myself revisiting Jeff’s story regularly to give me some much-needed hope that Downtown will, eventually, be a place we return to in droves to live, work and play.

Read the original story, and watch our complementary video, here .

Allison Pelech reflects on the experience of keeping everyone up to date on COVID-19

I started as a digital editor with Postmedia this spring. A major part of my job is finding stories as they break and sharing them online and sent out to online readers as quickly as possible on our website and social media platforms.

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COVID-19 is a huge story that affects us all so we created a live blog to organize all the information and allow readers to access the newest and most important information in one location.

The most memorable days are ones when we have major announcements from the government or there is a new variant of concern , my fingers are flying across the keyboard to get the latest details to the public as quickly as possible.

The excitement of breaking news has always been what I love about working in this business and being a part of bringing that to our readers brings me a lot of happiness.

Read the daily COVID-19 live updates daily on the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun websites.

Edmonton nurse and standup comedian Siobhan Theobald will be featured in the virtual comedy show Laughter From The Frontlines on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.
Edmonton nurse and standup comedian Siobhan Theobald will be featured in the virtual comedy show Laughter From The Frontlines on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. Photo by Nicole Koch /supplied

Nathan Martin looks back on a local nurse doing comedy virtually during the pandemic

What really made this story stick with me was as someone who has done standup comedy a couple of times I could never really imagine doing it in front of a virtual crowd.

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During the interview with Siobhan Theobald, who had just started doing comedy right before the pandemic hit, she brought up this point that has stuck with me ever since.

Talking about how with comedy you’re looking for something relatable with your audience and we’ve now as a public have all gone through this event and what can be said uniquely about that in a comedic way.

It also made me think of the question, is the public even ready for comedians to make fun of the pandemic? It’s something that just stuck with me even months after writing the story.

Are we ready to laugh at this yet? And I don’t have that answer.

You can read the original story here. 

The Bear Clan Patrol are a group of volunteers help those struggling by bring food and drink along 118 Ave. in Edmonton, February 24, 2021. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia
The Bear Clan Patrol are a group of volunteers help those struggling by bring food and drink along 118 Ave. in Edmonton, February 24, 2021. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia Photo by Ed Kaiser /20092696A

Lauren Boothby recalls how the Bear Clan spread warmth on a cold night feeding homeless

I don’t get to write many stories that aren’t doom-and-gloom as a journalist reporting during a global pandemic.

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So, when my editors asked me to tag along with the Bear Clan Patrol in February I was excited to cover something positive for a change.

I was struck by this group’s innovative approach and dedication to just get out there and directly fill gaps they see in our social safety net themselves. I saw the volunteers’ friendliness and generosity as they interacted with strangers who passed by, and how those acts of kindness were met with smiles and gratitude.

At one point, the group’s leader paid for a taxi to sent two women to an overnight shelter out of her own pocket — two less souls left outside to freeze that night. That just hit me in the warm-and-fuzzies.

The pandemic, and all the fear, pain and anger surrounding it, faded in my mind for a short time, and I felt a spark of hope.

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Read the story here .

Glenn Werkman saw newsroom shine in producing long-form news feature

It was like the reader was along for the ride, going backwards, from the courtroom, to the apartment, to a crazy police chase down Jasper Avenue and starting at an assault on a police officer outside a football game at Commonwealth Stadium.

I really liked how the Postmedia Edmonton newsroom pulled together to produce an investigative news feature on what compelled Abdulahi Sharif to try to kill five people including a police officer on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017.

In an Insight feature published on Feb. 5, reporter Jonny Wakefield covered all the bases in a compelling and complete news story, filled with details. Photojournalist Ian Kucerak’s outstanding images captured during that fast-paced horrific night, coupled with videos that retraced the route of the high-speed chase, provided a stunning visual presentation that brought the events of that night to life.

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Sharif’s background, the investigation into possible links to terrorism, interviews with former associates and friends, his common-law wife, and a fact-finding mission involving many layers of law enforcement made this a must read.

Read the original story here.

Amarjeet Sohi celebrates with his wife Sarbjeet at the Matrix Hotel in Edmonton on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021 after being elected mayor of Edmonton.
Amarjeet Sohi celebrates with his wife Sarbjeet at the Matrix Hotel in Edmonton on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021 after being elected mayor of Edmonton. Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

Dustin Cook looks back on Edmonton’s historic municipal election

It was a historic vote on an October evening when Edmontonians elected new voices and perspectives to city hall.

In the 2021 municipal election, Edmontonians voted in four people of colour, including Amarjeet Sohi as the city’s first South Asian mayor. Eight women were elected to councillor positions, the most ever, and four incumbent councillors were defeated.

As the results rolled in, it was clear residents wanted to see change in the make-up of council. Edmonton is a diverse city and all voices need to be heard at city hall and be taken into account for council decisions.

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The importance of the historic results hit home at Sohi’s election night party at the Matrix Hotel when he took the stage with his wife and daughter, talking about the difficult road he faced as an immigrant from India to get to that stage. Coming to Canada “with nothing,” Sohi said he built a life in Edmonton with support from city services.

Edmontonians overwhelmingly decided diverse experiences like Sohi’s deserve to be heard and be at the city’s decision-making table.

Read the story from our election coverage here.

Barry Hanson remembers the face of domestic extremism as described in a Jonny Wakefield feature

To me, Jonny Wakefield’s feature on a man facing extremism charges is a not-so-subtle reminder that extremist views have long been a domestic issue, not some external threat.

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Want to know the circumstances that can lead to terrorist attacks? Just look at the kind of extremist community building and instruction available over the internet, as Wakefield burrows into the accused’s apparent activity in the anonymous world of 4chan.

Wakefield’s description of organizing get-togethers and group buys of ammunition, and the suspect’s apparent desire to venture out to public spaces while armed, all draw a picture of how extremism finds support, is encouraged and can grow right under the nose of Western society.

So for people like me, who grew up seeing news reports of terrorist activities in the middle east and Europe, and who was working in an Edmonton newsroom when the 9/11 attacks happened, Wakefield’s story hammers home the point the largest extremist danger can come from our own shores, from people in our own neighbourhoods.

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Anyone with a grievance, real or imagined, can potentially be fodder for online recruitment.

Read the original story here

Team Canada’s Alphonso Davies leaves the field after his team defeated Team Costa Rica 1-0 in a FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifier soccer match held at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Canada on Friday November 12, 2021. (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA)
Team Canada’s Alphonso Davies leaves the field after his team defeated Team Costa Rica 1-0 in a FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifier soccer match held at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Canada on Friday November 12, 2021. (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA) Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

Terry Jones on Phonzie fever with soccer in the spotlight at Commonwealth Stadium

The double-homecoming games for Alphonso Davies that were at the same time massive World Cup Qualifying games for Canada not only are my choice as the favourite event I covered this year but also ranks up there with many of the top ones of my entire 50-some years covering sports for the Edmonton Journal and/or Edmonton Sun.

First of all there was Davies, an Edmonton product that became a international soccer star with Bayern Munich touted as the best left back in the world.

Phonzie had never played before the paying public in Edmonton before and more than 100,000 tickets were sold for the two games.

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On freezing cold evenings in the middle of November fans gave Canadian soccer a historic happening.

The team responded with jumping-into-snow-bank wins over Costa Rica and Mexico to leave them first in the 14-game qualifying event.

It was the moment when, after the Canadian women won Olympic gold, we were finally recognized by the world as a soccer nation.

Hamdi Issawi reflects on hoarding, and the courage to talk about it

In October, Jaime Lauren Kyle offered a rare glimpse into the life and living space of someone who struggles with hoarding, a condition that’s often portrayed unfairly in popular culture.

When it comes to mental health issues, causes aren’t always apparent, so it can be easy (but wrong nonetheless) to peg a person’s condition to some moral failure when it’s no more intentional than catching a cold.

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The origins and expressions of hoarding, however, are more complicated, and deserves to be appreciated — not dismissed.

While reporting this, I learned that hoarding, at its worst, is a mental health disorder, but, for someone like Kyle, it’s more of a tendency — a habit to help cope with grief and loss — that’s also tied, inextricably, to her sense of self.

I was struck by Kyle’s candor and courage in coming forward, but I never realized the power of her decision to go public until later, when a reader wrote me asking for help, hoping to get a handle on her own hoarding habit.

Read the original story here .

Wearing a short-sleeve shirt, Nick Ross decorates Christmas Tree’s on the patio outside the Commercial Hotel – Blues On Whyte Pub, 10329 82 Ave., in Edmonton, Wednesday Dec. 8, 2021.
Wearing a short-sleeve shirt, Nick Ross decorates Christmas Tree’s on the patio outside the Commercial Hotel – Blues On Whyte Pub, 10329 82 Ave., in Edmonton, Wednesday Dec. 8, 2021. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Chad Huculak embraces the seasonal spirit with the Journal Holiday Blog

The older you get, the quicker time seemingly passes, and the holiday season especially goes by in the blink of an eye.

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Saddled by the usual holiday burdens, I always regret not engaging more in the Christmas season, which was one of my driving factors in helping produce the Edmonton Journal’s Holiday Blog. Through curating the seemingly endless Christmas stories and events Edmonton produces every December, I felt a part of the seasonal cheer, even if just as an observer.

Digging into the Journal archives to visit past Christmas celebrations and writing about current hot holiday topics (Eggnog! Krampus! Die Hard!), I lived vicariously through others’ yuletide cheer. Humanity is usually at its best in December and Edmontonians never disappoint in their charitable endeavours, which was a nice contrast to the typical doom and gloom news cycle.

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Check it out here.

Trevor Robb on the Cracks to Chasms series on senior care during height of pandemic

After years working in breaking news, I was named projects editor in the spring and given the opportunity to work on long-form features and delve more deeply into topics to get the story beyond the headline.

My first project came in the form of Elise Stolte’s Cracks to Chasms series analyzing COVID-19 outbreaks at continuing care facilities during the first, second and third waves. What struck me as we put the series together was just how much confusion there was for many residents and their family members.

This was the very front lines of the pandemic and yet somehow these areas seemed inexplicably unprepared for what was to come. Poor ventilation, staffing and supply shortages, and a combination of convoluted rules surrounding access and visitation served to highlight many of the existing cracks within the long-term care system that COVID certainly highlighted and exacerbated.

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As heartbreaking as it was to read and edit, these were stories that needed be told. Stories of fear and isolation, hope and connectivity. I hope we did the topic justice.

Keith Gerein laments the loss of Afghanistan

A total of 165 Canadians died in Afghanistan as a result of our 10 year campaign there — my Postmedia colleague Michelle Lang among them.

I was in the country as a reporter back in 2011, seeing first hand the bravery and industriousness of our troops, along with many locals who assisted their efforts.

So when Afghanistan again fell to the Taliban earlier this year, it was not just a news story to me.

I was angry for our part in allowing it to happen. I was saddened for the troops who died or came home with untold variety of wounds. I was scared for the Afghans we cruelly left behind after they gave us their trust.

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The column I wrote in the aftermath was borne of those emotions. It was something I had to get out. And though it was incredibly difficult to write, I do feel it stands as a truthful account of how many Canadians have come to conceive of a costly war that never really had a clear purpose.

Read the original column here .

Dancers perform at the Israel pavilion during the Edmonton Heritage Festival in Hawrelak Park on Sunday August 1, 2021. (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA)
Dancers perform at the Israel pavilion during the Edmonton Heritage Festival in Hawrelak Park on Sunday August 1, 2021. (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA) Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

Kellen Taniguchi reflects on his first Heritage Festival

I joined the newsroom this summer and have been able to cover a wide-range of topics, but one story stands out to me.

When I moved to Edmonton in July I didn’t know much about the city besides its sports teams. Heritage Festival was one of the first events I covered and I enjoyed being immersed into all of the city’s cultures.

Being on the ground, speaking to people at each pavilion and eating cultural food allowed me to get to know all the different people that call Edmonton home. It was also the first time I had shawarma and I now understand the hype and why I can find a shawarma restaurant almost anywhere I go in the city.

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I am from Winnipeg, Man. and have been away from home since March 2021. Attending Heritage Festival also felt a little bit like being at home because Winnipeg holds Folklorama every year — an event similar to Heritage Festival with each pavilion scattered at venues across the city.

Bill Mah remembers a day of hope during the pandemic

Over the course of two years, the pandemic has featured varying degrees of bleakness; For Alberta, one of the darker periods was the spring of 2021 during the third wave. The province led the country with the highest active per-capita rate of cases and Premier Jason Kenney had just rolled out the strongest restrictions to date — closing schools to in-person learning, restaurants were limited to takeout and delivery and retail stores allowed only 10 per cent of their capacity. Hair salons were shuttered, church services were capped at 15 people and funerals at 10. You couldn’t gather together more than five people outside.

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Amid this bleakness, there finally came a long-awaited double-dose of good news on May 5. First, Kenney finally announced that the eligibility for COVID vaccines would be expanded to those 30 and older and as young as 12. Second, the province vowed to get tough on COVID scofflaws with stiffer fines and more aggressive enforcement.

Yes, Alberta is still plagued with anti-vaxxers, those who flout the rules and yet another wave but those two developments back then provided a welcome glimmer of hope. Read the original story here.

Haiqa Cheema poses for a photo in Edmonton, Friday Oct. 15, 2021. Haiqa is a hate crimes policy advisor who has been following the string of attacks on Muslim women in Edmonton this year.
Haiqa Cheema poses for a photo in Edmonton, Friday Oct. 15, 2021. Haiqa is a hate crimes policy advisor who has been following the string of attacks on Muslim women in Edmonton this year. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Jonny Wakefield on the complicated reality behind a string of hate-motivated assaults

The story that left the biggest impression on me this year was the one that scared me the most.

In the past year, Edmonton saw a string of allegedly hate-motivated attacks on Black and Muslim citizens, the majority of them hijabi women. The violence terrified the city’s Muslim communities and sent people scrambling for answers.

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As a court reporter, I had a chance to sit in on the proceedings and learn more about the people charged with these crimes. The picture I got was really complicated.

Three of the five people charged were homeless when they lashed out at Muslim women. All three are Indigenous, and struggled with mental health issues, addictions, the legacies of residential schools, or all of the above.

Needless to say, if framed in the wrong way, reporting this fact could be really inflammatory. Fortunately, many smart people were very generous with their time and helped me contextualize the factors that put these defendants and these victims in such vulnerable circumstances. I hope it informs the response to this very serious problem.

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Read the original story here.  

Lisa Johnson reflects on the wait for a federal childcare announcement in Alberta

Although Ottawa announced it’s plan for a national child care program with its budget in April, it took months of negotiations before a $3.8-billion, five-year deal was finally inked with Alberta in November .

Anxious parents in Alberta watched as eight other provinces, one by one, announced their own deals with Ottawa to begin work on delivering an average $10-day child care by 2026.

There was plenty of political mud-slinging, with Premier Jason Kenney at first being dismissive of the federal plan, then focused on fighting for flexibility, while Alberta’s Opposition NDP continuously prodded the UCP to commit to it.

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In April I spoke with Heidi Bergstom, a parent who described the potential implications for her family: could they have another child? Or would they move to a province that was more eager to get on board?

For Bergstrom the consequences were deeply personal, and her words put the political back-and-forth into perspective, sticking with me for months.

You can read the original story here . Some of the details about the deal in this piece are out-of-date.

Rob White (centre), died after attempting to rescue a stranger’s dog from river ice on April 6, 2021. He is seen in this mid-2000s photo with his sons Strider (left) and Alliance and wife Roberta
Rob White (centre), died after attempting to rescue a stranger’s dog from river ice on April 6, 2021. He is seen in this mid-2000s photo with his sons Strider (left) and Alliance and wife Roberta Supplied

Nicole Bergot on the legacy of an Edmonton father who perished in river rescue of dog

One of the greatest joys of being in the business of storytelling — the telling of the incredible attributes of regular citizens — is the honour of printing for time immemorial the stories of deserving men otherwise forgotten as the centuries pass.

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When it comes to Rob White, no one in his close circle of friends, nor his wife and magnificent children, will let his memory slip away in the decades to come.

In the midst of a pandemic, a nudge from a reader pressed us to pursue more about Rob, the dynamic, loving, true-to-himself Edmontonian who tied his dog to a tree before rushing onto the April ice of the North Saskatchewan River to rescue a stranger’s dog in distress.

But despite the efforts of our city other angels — those teams of firefighters, paramedics, police — Rob himself was taken forever by the river’s cold currents.

The power of his resilience in life, in love, in fatherhood, in art, and the art of giving, lives on through words his children, wife, and friends shared with Postmedia.

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Read the original story here.

Anna Junker reflects on Edmonton’s growing drug poisoning crisis

As health-care workers and first responders continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, another crisis has been unfolding simultaneously and for a lot longer: surging drug poisonings.

In August, I looked at how Edmonton firefighters, paramedics, and doctors have seen a significant increase in drug poisoning patients due to unsafe supply, with many more severe outcomes requiring multiple doses of Naloxone, ICU admittance and deaths.

Time and again, those on the frontlines are saying the number and frequency of overdoses is the worst they’ve ever seen.

There are many ways Albertans are being affected by the crisis, this is just one part of the unfolding story.

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This year, Alberta is on track to see the deadliest year for drug poisoning deaths since the province began tracking in 2016. Between January and August, there have been 1,026 accidental overdose deaths, while 2020 saw a total of 1,316 fatalities recorded.

As we enter a new year, hopefully more is done to prevent further pain, suffering and needless death. We’ve already seen enough for a lifetime.

Read the original story here .

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw gives a COVID-19 pandemic update from the media room at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw gives a COVID-19 pandemic update from the media room at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

Ashley Joannou reflects on the changing perception of public health officials

In early 2021, Postmedia published a series of feature articles to mark one year of COVID-19 in Canada. I find myself thinking about that series a lot as we near the end of year two.

I wrote about the changing perception of Canada’s top public health officials from almost cartoonish hero-worship to facing constant criticism, even death threats, from both people who say Canadians could be doing more and those who insisted the threat is being overblown.

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Experts told me that public health officials are advisors and major decisions around managing the pandemic are made by elected officials.

That’s the position that Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has taken since day one. But as case numbers soared during Alberta’s fourth wave, questions remain about how decisions were made and what advice was provided.

Sometimes I think about the quote from Alberta chief medical officer of health Jim Talbot at the end of the article. In talking about how none of the top public health officials had resigned, he said:

“But I’m sure, you know, a couple of years from now, when I get to talk to my colleagues over a beer, we’re going to find out exactly how many episodes there were that came close to that.”

I wonder if they have had a chance to have that beer yet?

You can read the original story here .

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