Top 5 Personalities/Heroes from Pickering to Ajax to Oshawa to Port Perry in 2021


Published January 7, 2022 at 4:24 pm

Port Perry Hospital emergency department staff

This story idea started out as famous Durham folks who had a good year in 2021 and eventually morphed into ordinary people who made a difference in year two of this never-ending pandemic.

The result, then, is a little bit of both. There’s way more than five (what can I say – there were a lot of ties) and they all changed our lives in some way, either through escapist entertainment, music, on the field of play or in ordinary life.

Personalities? Or Heroes? You decide.

  1. Crown Lands (Oshawa)

Formed in 2015, this progressive rock/heavy metal duo have seen their careers really take off after their 2020 self-titled record was released, capping the year with two Juno nominations, including a win Breakthrough Group of the Year.[3]

Kevin Comeau, the multi-instrumentalist from Oshawa who plays guitar, bass, keyboards and whatever else his feet can reach, and drummer and singer Cody Bowles, who is of Mi’kmaq heritage, channel prog bands Rush and Yes (with overtones of heavy metal) in their songs, which are written largely from an activist perspective. The band name Crown Lands refers to government-held land in Canada that was mostly stolen from First Nations and the duo actively campaign for indigenous rights.

After their success in 2020 Crown Lands released a couple of singles in 2021– Context: Fearless Pt. 1 and White Buffalo, and even worked in a few concerts before pandemic restrictions shut that avenue down.

  1. Emily Van Camp (Port Perry)

The Port Perry native rose to fame in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Shield Agent Sharon Carter, appearing in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, where she became the first woman to kiss Captain America since his plane went down in the frozen sea in 1945.

Van Camp also starred in the Fox Medical Drama The Resident from 2018 to 2021 and reprised her role as Sharon Carter in 2021 in the critically acclaimed Falcon and the Winter Soldier series on Disney + (where she was revealed to be the Power Broker) and the animated series What If

  1. Shawn Mendes (Pickering)

The Pickering crooner has been a star since he was signed to Island Records in 2014. Since then he has released four albums and each has topped the Billboard 200 charts.

Mendes has won 13 SOCAN awards, 10 MTV Europe awards, eight JUNOs and has been nominated for a Grammy three times. His fourth studio album, Wonder, was released in December 2020 and included a collaboration with fellow Canadian pop star Justin Bieber.

The pandemic limited his touring in 2021 but he has announced a global tour this year in support of the album. Much of Mendes’ fame in 2021 centred around his well publicized celebrity romance with Cuban-American singer Camilla Cabello, which ended in November.

  1. Nichelle Prince (Ajax)

The Ajax forward, a mainstay on Canada’s National Women’s Soccer team for seven years, certainly had an impressive year in 2021, the obvious highlight being Canada’s gold medal victory over Sweden in the Olympic final in Tokyo.

Her Olympic roomie, Kailen Sheridan of Whitby, who stepped in to tend goal for Canada when Stephanie Labbe – the Minister of Defence – went down with injury; Allysha Chapman of Courtice, who was stellar on the backline in the tournament; and Jayde Riviere of Pickering, who also saw action in Tokyo, were also worthy candidates for this list.

Prince, a budding legend with her NWSL club team in Houston and a bit of a social media star to boot, stood out to this writer. It’s too bad the only Olympic goal credited to her was a long-distance strike from Caroline Weir of Great Britain that deflected off Prince and wrong footed Labbé into the Canadian net in the final preliminary game.

Oh well, an ‘Own Goal’ is still a goal, right?

Prince is also active in standing up for women’s soccer in this country and had this to say about a NWSL team coming to Canada:

“We just won a gold medal without that support and those resources. I hope people see this and say, ‘wow, these women are really strong, really powerful, they do amazing things. It’s time to invest in them. The time is now to do it.”

  1. Durham’s front-line workers

From doctors and nurses, firefighters and EMS folks, police officers and health care workers to those who worked through these pandemic times to keep the lights on, the burgers cooking and the streets plowed, there were – and still are – plenty of everyday heroes out there helping us all get through this.

There was Vivian Stamatopoulous, an associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University who became a leading advocate for long-term care homes during the pandemic. Through numerous investigations into outbreaks at LTCHs like Orchard Villa in Pickering, she believed the Ontario government didn’t do enough for seniors during the worst time and called many of the deaths from the virus preventable. “We need to really overhaul the inspection regime,” she said last year, “and make sure that we are properly holding to account, frankly, the slew of bad actors that exist in this sector.”

There’s Stephanie Skopyk, the lead nurse practitioner at the Canadian Mental Health Association and Oshawa’s Back Door Mission, who has a laser focus on the city’s most vulnerable, especially those who get lost in the system, and there are Melissa Schneider and Andrea Brum, who have volunteered their time – and considerable expense – to help the homeless during the pandemic. The two have been driving around Oshawa for year, in fact, providing shelter in winter, a hot meal and a hand up.

Vax Hunters are on top of most people’s lists for heroes of the pandemic for the volunteer group’s tireless efforts to ensure the locations of vaccination clinics around the GTA are well publicised. The founders are Toronto folk but their web is large and some of the volunteers do live and work in Durham Region.

Dr. Dan Riccuito is one of three doctors who have overseen the pandemic response at Lakeview Health during the pandemic, and Dr. Joel Kennedy is the division lead for hospitalist medicine at Lakeridge Health. Kennedy was also on the ground at Orchard Villa during the worst outbreak in Durham Region.

The Durham Children’s Aid Society put on the super hero cape in 2021 as well, providing families with food and clothing before transitioning to laptops and cell phones to support online learning for the children. And we can’t forget the many, many nurses and PSWs, like 71 year-old PSW Eileen Hindorff – who have been working through the worst of times in 2021 to keep their patients – often elderly and among our most vulnerable – safe.

Heroes, one and all.

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