15 Canadian Icons Who Stole Our Hearts In 2019

Without them, the year might have been a bust.

One wrote an oracular book, again, and obliterated several Canadian records. Another made history, tennis racquet in tow. One family continued to charm their way into our hearts; another group made our heartbeats quicken. It would be criminal to pretend this wasn’t quite a year for Canadians.

In honour of this, the end of a year and the beginning of a new decade, here are 15 Canadians who won 2019:

Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves — a.k.a. “the most wholesome person alive,” a.k.a. the “internet’s boyfriend,” — has been a de facto Canadian icon forever, but 2019 really fashioned him into the person everyone could agree on loving, in a time when no one agrees on anything.

This year, the Canadian actor has turned up in movies like “John Wick 3,” “Toy Story 4,” and “Always Be My Maybe,” not to mention in various internet threads documenting his lengthy history of just being a good guy. (Keanu secretly donating to charity, Keanu hanging out with a family of fans.)

And the Keanussance will be around a while: 2020 will see Reeves in the third sequel to 1989’s “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” plus the role-playing video game “Cyberpunk 2077.”

Sandra Oh

It seems Sandra Oh can’t lose.

Let’s start with the 2019 Golden Globes, where Oh: 1) became the first person of Asian descent to host the show; 2) became the first woman of Asian descent to win multiple Globes, and, 3) just to bring it home, became the first woman of Asian descent in 39 years to win a Golden Globe for best actress in a TV drama. And that’s just one award show.

She had a stunning hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live,” received the National Arts Centre Award from the Governor General of Canada, and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine.

Drake

Though he didn’t actually release an album in 2019, Drake was announced as Spotify’s most-streamed artist of the decade (makes sense: he’s released at least 179 songs on the streaming service since 2010) and was, soon after, credited by the New York Times as a pioneer of the whole rap-singing genre that many artists are doing now.

Celine Dion

She was away for six years, then returned to remind us who’s boss.

The legendary singer traipsed into the year with her first number one album since 2002, then signed her first major beauty deal with L’Oreal Paris, at the age of 51. She enchanted the world with her triumphant fashion choices. She pulled off a bowl cut. Drake pledged to get a tattoo of her. Like wine, or blue jeans, or, hopefully, love, Celine Dion only gets better with age. A quote to remember: “Let me be clear, c’est moi le boss. I’m not playing bossy. I am the boss.”

Domee Shi

If you happened to be at the movies with the rest of the world last summer, watching “Incredibles 2,” then you would have seen “Bao,” the preluding, tear-jerking animated short film about motherhood, empty nest syndrome, and a steamed bun that comes alive.

That was the work of Domee Shi, a Canadian storyboard artist and director for Pixar who became the first woman to direct a short for the studio. “Bao,” which is very clearly set in Toronto and functions as a sort of love letter to the city, won Best Animated Short at the Oscars this year. In January, it was announced that Shi had been hired to helm her first Pixar feature.

Margaret Atwood

As if 1985’s The Handmaid’s Tale wasn’t already enough — that dystopian novel about a totalitarian state that became, as you know, an award-winning TV series on Hulu — Margaret Atwood charged into this fall with a world-expanding sequel.

The Testaments co-won the 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction — in spite of Atwood’s admission that, at 80 years old, she might be “too elderly” to win — and marked the Canadian author’s second win and sixth nomination. That’s a big deal, considering it’s one of the most prestigious English-language literary awards.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

Is it premature to say that Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is a star? Maybe. The 17-year-old Mississauga, Ont. native beat out 15,000 candidates for a starring role on Mindy Kaling’s upcoming Netflix comedy series. But we know that stars aren’t born. They’re made. And it looks like, Ramakrishnan, whose biggest acting experience appears to be a high school production until now, is going to be a huge one.

Brooke Lynn Hytes

Canadian drag queen Brooke Lynn Hytes made history this year when she became the first Canadian contestant to compete on the Emmy Award-winning reality competition series “Rupaul’s Drag Race.” She finished in second place, breaking records by winning nine challenges on the show.

The queen went on to pick up a People’s Choice Award for “most hype worthy Canadian” and then triumphantly announced as a full-time judge for the “Drag Race Canada” spinoff, which is sure to cement her legacy whenever it finally reaches our TV screens.

The Toronto Raptors

When the Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors to become the NBA champions, the momentous win — the team’s first-ever NBA championship — seemed to galvanize not only Toronto, but also the rest of the country.

This made them the first Canadian team to claim a championship among the four major North American leagues since the Blue Jays nabbed the World Series way back in 1992 and 1993. (Oh, and The Canadian Press just named them team of the year. Obviously.)

Bianca Andreescu

Bianca Andreescu, 19, seemed to explode out of the ether this year when, at the US Open, she defeated Serena Williams (a true great) to become the first Canadian tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title. She also became the first Canadian to capture the Rogers Cup in 50 years.

Andreescu is currently the highest-ranked Canadian in the history of the Women’s Tennis Association, sitting at number five on the charts. This month, she won the 2019 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year.

The whole cast of “Schitt’s Creek”

What more can you wish for in a TV show cast? You have Dan Levy, who won several Canadian Screen Awards for the show that he co-created. You have Eugene Levy, who was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

You have Annie Murphy, whose performance as a spoiled socialite daughter won her an acting Gracie award. Then you have the 65-year-old powerhouse Catherine O’Hara, who secured her first-ever Emmy nomination for a lead role and whose performance is so magnetic, so lasting, that you’ll laugh about it for hours after seeing her switch wigs on-screen.

Of course, we have to mention the many strides the show and its cast have taken not only to create fuller representations of LGBTQ life on screen, but also to spread messages of love and inclusion in the world beyond the TV.

Autumn Peltier

“We can’t eat money or drink oil,” Autumn Peltier, the 15-year-old Anishinaabe-kwe activist, told hundreds of international guests at the United Nations in September. No big deal. All in a day’s work for the teenager.

Peltier is an internationally recognized Canadian Indigenous advocate for clean water, and this year, she was named the chief water commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation, received the Water Warrior Award at the Water Docs Film Festival in Toronto, was named Top 30 under 30 in North America for environmental education, and was included in the BBC’s 100 Women list for 2019.

Oh, and she was nominated for an International Children’s Peace Prize … for the third time.

Lilly Singh

Lilly Singh posted her first YouTube video in 2010, and the rest is history. She became beloved for her humour, honesty, and relatability, and frequently turned to her Punjabi culture as a source of inspiration.

In September, she made her debut as the executive producer and host of a late-night talk show on NBC called “A Little Late with Lilly Singh,” and officially became the only openly LGBTQ person — and the first woman of Indian descent — to helm such a series on a major network.

Karla Welch

If you’ve never heard of Karla Welch, it might mean that she’s doing her job well. She’s supposed to be invisible, a spectre who works behind the scenes. But you’ve certainly seen her work, given the Canadian celebrity stylist’s clientele boasts some of the starriest names in the entertainment world, including Tracee Ellis Ross, Justin Bieber, Lorde, Elizabeth Moss, and Olivia Wilde.

Fast Company named Welch one of the year’s “most creative people,” citing her talent “for influencing what everyone wears.”. There was even a big profile of her in the April 1 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

Brian Jungen

Brian Jungen's artwork at his summer exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Brian Jungen's artwork at his summer exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

“Unofficially, [2019] was Canada’s year of Indigenous art,” wrote Kate Taylor, the visual art critic at the Globe and Mail. If this is true, then it follows that Brian Jungen — whose buzzy summertime exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario was a consideration of settler and Indigenous cultures, consumerism, and the environment, among other things — has emerged not only as one of the year’s best artists, but also as one of the nation’s most talented and most essential.

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