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Farewell 2021: Reflecting on noteworthy newsmakers of the past year

Click to play video: 'From A to Z: Reflecting on 2021' From A to Z: Reflecting on 2021
WATCH: Reflecting on 2021 – Dec 31, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to dominate the news in 2021, but this year, terms like variants, booster shots and vaccine passports became a part of our volcabulary.

This past year also saw countless other unfolding news headlines including the discovery of unmarked burial sites at residential schools across Canada, Afghans desperately trying to escape the Taliban regime, rioters storming the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and the giant Ever Given blocking off the Suez Canal.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of the most notable news events that shaped 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video: 'Saying goodbye during COVID-19' Saying goodbye during COVID-19
Saying goodbye during COVID-19 – Mar 14, 2021

A final goodbye wave through a hospital window, or a tearful phone call is how many Canadians said their final goodbyes to loved ones.

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While many across the country were bedridden at home with the virus, or perhaps lining up to receive their first, second or third dose of the coronavirus vaccine, one group of Canadians experienced the pandemic over the last year in one of the most painful ways possible — the loss of a loved one.

More than 14,000 Canadians died from COVID-19 in 2021, according to data released by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

While the year started with optimism as hundreds of thousands lined up for vaccines, the emergence of the Delta variant and then the more transmissible Omicron variant continued to make the pandemic an all-encompassing news story.

COVID-19 did not discriminate on the age of the lives it took. Fathers, mothers, teachers and frontline workers were among those we lost this past year. On Dec. 16, Montréal’s CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital announced the death of an infant under the age of two months with cause of death determined to be due to the virus.

Read more: Montreal hospital says a healthy newborn baby has died from COVID-19

Despite these heavy losses, the WHO offered an optimistic suggestion that an increase in global vaccination rates could mean the acute phase of the pandemic ends in 2022.

“I want governments, industry and civil society to work with us on a campaign that targets 70 per cent vaccine coverage in every country by the start of July,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said.

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“I still remain optimistic this can be the year we could not only end the acute stage of the pandemic, but also chart a path to stronger health security.”

We would like to extend our deepest condolences to those who have lost the life of a loved one this past year.

Residential schools and unmarked burial sites

Margot King, 4, touches an orange flag, representing children who died while attending Indian Residential Schools in Canada, placed in the grass at Major’s Hill Park in Ottawa. Justin Tang / The Canadian Press

On May 27, surveyors sweeping the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School made a gruesome discovery. Ground-penetrating radar uncovered the buried remains of 215 children, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation shared in a public statement.

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“Some were as young as three-years-old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families,” Chief Rosanne Casimir said in the statement.

Ground-penetrating radar was also used near the Marieval Indian Residential school in Saskatchewan, where Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme announced the discovery of 751 unmarked graves.

Eagleclaw Bunnie Thom’s kohkum, Matilda Lavallee Bunnie, (circled on the left) is seen here during a class photo at Marieval. Thom’s family believes the child circled on the right is her sister, but does not know her name. Provided / Eagleclaw Bunnie Thom

Searches are also being conducted at former residential schools in Ontario and British Columbia.

“This is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. And it is a stark example of the violence the Canadian residential school system inflicted upon Indigenous peoples and how the consequences of these atrocities continue to this day,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said in a statement.

This year also marked the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, as a way to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools.

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“The hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear, and the government will continue to provide Indigenous communities across the country with the funding and resources they need to bring these terrible wrongs to light,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement in June.

As Canada moves towards reconciliation, the federal government pledged $40 billion for First Nations child welfare compensation during the fall economic statement.

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 4,000-page report, Canada operated 130 residential schools, with the last one closing its doors in 1996. More than 38,000 of the children sent to residential schools were subjected to sexual and serious physical abuse, according to the TRC.

The report outlines physical, emotional and sexual abuse that occurred at these schools, with 4,100 deaths reported at the institutions.

United States Capitol riot

On Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Congress was preparing to affirm president-elect Joe Biden‘s election victory. At the same time, thousands of people gathered at the U.S. Capitol as a show of support for former president Donald Trump amid his baseless claims of election fraud.

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The crowd gathered at the Capitol burst through the police barrier and swarmed the front doors, proceeding to disrupt a joint Congress session. Members of Congress scrambled for safety, fearing for their lives.

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(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, file)
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(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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Photo by Yuri Gripas/ABACAPRESS.COM
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(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Capitol Complex was placed under lockdown as lawmakers and staff were moved to safety. Rioters proceeded to assault law enforcement and vandalize property. As a result, five people died and many more were injured, including 140 security officers, the head of the Capitol Police officers’ union said.

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Click to play video: 'Evidence grows suggesting Trump stood by as Capitol riot unfolded' Evidence grows suggesting Trump stood by as Capitol riot unfolded
Evidence grows suggesting Trump stood by as Capitol riot unfolded – Jan 3, 2022

Repeated calls were made for then-president Trump to send in the National Guard to quell the mob. Trump instead shared a one-minute video on Twitter telling his supporters, “We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.”

To date, more than 700 people have been arrested in connection with the attack. An investigation remains ongoing to determine if the former president holds any responsibility for the events of the day.

The Ever Given threatens the world's supply chain

Click to play video: 'Huge container ship gets stuck in Suez Canal, blocking all traffic' Huge container ship gets stuck in Suez Canal, blocking all traffic
Huge container ship gets stuck in Suez Canal, blocking all traffic – Mar 24, 2021

A container ship named Ever Given made headlines in March after becoming stuck in Egypt’s Suez Canal, halting much of the world’s shipping channels.

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The 400-metre behemoth owned by Evergreen Marine Corp. was on its way to the Netherlands when a sandstorm caused the ship to run aground after it entered the canal.

The drama only heightened when initial efforts to move the ship failed, and two pieces of equipment were brought in to attempt to push the Ever Given back to water.

This, in turn, triggered a flood of memes, with some likening the ship and the excavator to the Biblical characters of David and Goliath.

As days went by, global shipping losses mounted as no container ships were able to bypass the trapped vessel. This resulted in the halt of billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce. Egyptian officials offered apologies and the Dutch were called in to aid in the efforts.

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Six days later, the Ever Given was freed.

Taliban take over Afghanistan

Click to play video: 'Chaos, uncertainty reigns as Taliban seize power in Afghanistan' Chaos, uncertainty reigns as Taliban seize power in Afghanistan
Chaos, uncertainty reigns as Taliban seize power in Afghanistan – Aug 16, 2021

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15 after the United States withdrew its remaining troops to bring to an end a two-decade-long war.

The Taliban quickly captured cities, including the capital Kabul, in just a matter of days. Images of Afghans and foreign nationals attempting to flee the country by land and air flashed across screens internationally.

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Many feared the Taliban would reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that the country had previously seen when they held power from 1996 to 2001.

Images coming out of the country depicted civilians waiting at the airport, with some seen climbing the boundary wall of Hamid Karzai International Airport. Some were so desperate for escape that they clung to an American military jet as it took off.

U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load passengers aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) on Aug. 24, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa via Getty Images)

Global efforts were launched to assist those seeking refuge, with the Canadian government initially promising to settle 20,000 refugees and in September, doubling the number to 40,000.

But just over 1,350 privately sponsored Afghan refugees have already landed in Canada and a parliamentary committee has been struck to investigate the government’s handling of the crisis. 

“I’m happy that it’s going to be looked into because Canadians need to understand the magnitude of the challenge and of the humanitarian crisis that we are facing,” retired Canadian major-general David Fraser, a former commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, said earlier in December.

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“This is far from over, and yet at the same time, the situation is becoming absolutely critical. We need to know what the government is going to do about ameliorating this situation. This committee is an audit to find out that information and inform Canadians.”

Billionaire space race

Rocket launches were a hot topic in 2021 as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic competed to revolutionize and commercialize space travel.

The year saw the oldest and youngest people travel to space, the first Chinese woman to perform a spacewalk and a flight made up of private citizens successfully leave orbit.

Click to play video: 'William Shatner blasts off to space for 1st time aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin spacecraft' William Shatner blasts off to space for 1st time aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin spacecraft
William Shatner blasts off to space for 1st time aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin spacecraft – Oct 13, 2021

Blue Origin, the brainchild of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, completed three successful spaceflights over the past year.

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Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson, completed two successful launches over the past year, allowing pilot Dave Mackay to break the record for reaching space twice in one calendar year.

While Bezos and Branson focused on shuttling private citizens into space, billionaire Elon Musk and his company SpaceX seemed to focus more on the advancement of rocket technology. By December, SpaceX had completed 31 successful launches.

Canada battles the climate crisis

Climate change experts say wildfire losses — forests, homes and lives — will worsen without drastic change.
Climate change experts say wildfire losses — forests, homes and lives — will worsen without drastic change. Carlee Sparkes

Forest fires and devastating flooding wreaked havoc on British Columbia.

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Record-breaking temperatures and lightning strikes saw 1,610 fires burn over 868,203 hectares between April 1 and Sept. 30, according to BC Wildfire Service.

Fires destroyed the village of Lytton and levelled several other interior regions.

Read more: Fires, floods, smoke and wind — Canada’s most intense weather events in 2021

The summer ended and transitioned to a wet fall bringing torrential rainfalls and atmospheric rivers, and resulting in flooding across much of British Columbia.

Over the course of November, the province was slammed with seven atmospheric rivers and three weather bombs. The one that struck B.C. between Nov. 14 and Nov. 15 dropped nearly 300 millimetres of rain in just two days in parts of the Fraser Valley, according to the government of Canada.

Six people and 1.3 million animals died and more than 15,000 people had to evacuate their homes as rail lines and highways were washed out.

Click to play video: 'B.C. floods: The devastation and the road to recovery' B.C. floods: The devastation and the road to recovery
B.C. floods: The devastation and the road to recovery – Dec 28, 2021

Rebuilding efforts remain underway across British Columbia, but the effects are still being felt in the supply chain across Canada.

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The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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