No doomscrolling to see here! Yes, few things have gone according to plan in 2020, but after nine months and counting in quarantine, there has been no shortage of feel-good, heartwarming actions that brought Canadians together and gave us hope.
Outside of our tight-knit bubbles of Zoom calls and physically-distanced walks, the country has been abuzz with fundraisers, unexpected virtual reunions, rallying together after LGBTQ+-motivated vandalism, and change in the form of local stores shifting to online sales, or community outreach groups pivoting to apps. Let’s not forget the Canadian all-star rendition of the unity anthem Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” either.
WATCH: Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively donate to Indigenous women’s leadership initiative. Story continues below video.
While some Canadians lead with their chequebook, actions or endorsements, others carve out their own paths, and inspire us along the way. Besides, according to Ryan Reynolds, “In times of crisis, I think we all know it’s the celebrities that we count on most.” He makes our list, but here other feel-good stories of how Canadians gave back during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020:
Rachel McAdams shows her hometown hospital some love
Sure, the Oscar-nominated 42-year-old gave us a lot this year in the form of her quirky musical comedy “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” but she also donated $10,000 to her hometown hospital in London, Ont. back in April.
Calling in to the fourth hour of a COVID-19 stream-a-thon for the London Health Sciences Centre and its frontline workers, McAdams said the donation was in honour of her mom, Sandra. “My mom worked at University Hospital for 38 years and still has a lot of friends working there today,” said McAdams. “She was really excited and touched personally that so many people checked in [for this fundraiser].”
McAdams was also born at that hospital, and was raised in the nearby city of St. Thomas, Ont. Interestingly, in “Eurovision,” her character Sigrit’s big closing number is a performance of “Husavik,” better known as “My Hometown.” All in all, the London Free Press reports more than $50,000 was raised that day, thanks to contributions from McAdams and Olympic hero Scott Moir, among others.
Six-year-old Rosie Darling’s Métis pride goes viral
Ah, the wisdom of a confident young girl. This joyous six-year-old made her love for her heritage public in a reposted video on Louis Riel Day on November 16th.
Speaking from a playroom full of toys, the energetic Darling explained the history of the Métis people, calling their cultural acceptance a “rollercoaster ride.” She details the Métis origin story, and that the Voyageurs met “First Nations people who had lived here for thousands of years,” before noting there were many other generations since, including the Founders, Proud, Defeated, Shamed, Hidden, Lost and Found. But she says she is “proud to be Métis from day one!”
“Some day, my mom will teach me to bead,” said Darling. “Check out these moccasins my mom made me! So what’s the lesson here? Knowing who we are and why we’re proud of it makes us happy people. Happy people are nice to each other, and when we’re nice to each other, only good things can happen!”
Darling’s mom, Denise, who helped produce the video for the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, told CBC News her daughter has a natural interest in her cultural history, which makes her proud.
“Kids take in so much more than we give them credit for,” said Denise Darling. “By sharing the stories of our culture and by learning stories of other people’s cultures, it builds bridges of empathy for kids to understand where other people are coming from.”
Shay Mitchell’s social media giving and major $10M hand-washing partnership
This 33-year-old West Vancouver-raised actress always makes a big splash on social media, but after “nearly 6,500 hours” in quarantine, Shay Mitchell pledged a “little support” to a selection of her Instagram followers.
“If you’re worried about providing for your children this holiday season, paying that energy bill, or just need a little support, please share your story below,” wrote Mitchell in December, before noting that her team would reach out to select respondents with resources or funds via direct message.
Mitchell’s reach continues outside of her followers as well. Back in June, the “You” alum partnered up with Procter & Gamble brand Safeguard for a $10-million plan to help boost hand washing hygiene initiatives for kids, families, and those in underserved communities.
“Even though my daughter is not even a year old, I think it’s so important to instill these hand-washing habits with children from a very young age to ensure that they practice and understand hygiene health as they get older,” said Mitchell in a statement, published this summer by Forbes magazine.
Safeguard aims to distribute free hygiene products through Americares, Feeding America, and other organizations like Save the Children, which this mom dubs one of her “favourites.”
George Sully boosts fellow Black designers
The footwear designer behind the new “Starfleet Boot” on “Star Trek: Discovery” is used to filling shoe orders for over $500,000 worth of his designs, but in June, he decided it was time to bolster other Black-led brands.
The Ottawa-born, Toronto-based shoe creative launched the Black Designers of Canada interactive index in the summer, amplifying the voice of more than 170 companies in the interior design, graphic design, and fashion realms. Sully’s latest inclusive platform hit a fundraising goal of $20,000 in November, and he told Essence magazine that, “creating this [means to buy and invest in Black labels] is how I negate all of the excuses for exclusion in this system.”
Justin Bieber’s charitable side: Sandwiches, singles, and more
One of Justin Bieber’s biggest 2020 hits is his song “Yummy,” so perhaps it’s no surprise that the Stratford, Ont.-born pop star opted to make a delicious donation to frontline hospital staff in his hometown. Back in April, Bieber and his wife Hailey paid for more than 200 sandwiches for healthcare workers at Stratford General Hospital, even going so far as to place the order at local eatery, Sirkel Foods.
The Biebers spent the first few months of lockdown at his compound in Puslinch, Ont., where they filmed their Facebook Watch reality series, “The Biebers on Watch,” and also their at-home scenes for Justin’s “Stuck With U” duet with Ariana Grande.
According to his Instagram post, “the sales and streams of #StuckwithU will fund grants and scholarships for children of first responders who have been impacted by COVID-19 in partnership with the First Responders Children’s Foundation.”
Bieber’s hit collaboration with Chance the Rapper, “Holy,” was also remixed with the Lewisham And Greenwich NHS Choir to help raise funds for the National Health Services Charities Together, and the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust Charity.
Bieber’s charitable side does not stop there; in February, he donated to COVID-19 relief funds at the Beijing Chunmiao Children Aid Foundation, thanks to a conversation he had with friend and Chinese-Canadian actor and singer, Kris Wu.
Shawn Mendes’ gift card love, and pediatric philanthropy
Much like his “Monster” collaborator Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes also sent support to hospital staff in the form of Tim Hortons gift cards for frontline employees of Toronto’s Sunnybrook and Toronto Western hospitals.
Mendes has an endorsement deal with the famed Canadian doughnut and coffee brand, and also mobilized The Shawn Mendes Foundation to present $175,000 to Toronto’s SickKids Hospital for COVID-19-related safety equipment and supplies.
“Hope Blooms” sprouts after influx of community and government love
It’s a “Dragon’s Den” success story that is only blossoming with good deeds. After planting the seed on the famed CBC show in 2013 with a $40,000 investment into their community garden, greenery, and food security outreach program initiatives for Black youth, the Halifax-based Hope Blooms organization continues to see its reach grow.
Kolade Kolawole-Boboye joined the organization as an eight-year-old, as a means to seek community amidst anti-Black racism in Halifax. Now 20, he told Global News he remains an active part of the organization. And in August, Kolawole-Boboye stood by Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, when the federal government announced they would gift a non-repayable sum of $250,000 to the organization for a new 3,000 square-foot facility for their new community kitchen.
Beyond the free organic produce for nearby residents, Hope Blooms aims to use salad dressing sales for a post-secondary education fund for its young members.
Dan Levy’s free online Indigenous course registration spawns a movement
Although his “Schitt’s Creek” television alter-ego David Rose tries “very hard not to connect with people right now,” Levy does the opposite. In August, the now-four-time Emmy winner registered for a free, 13-week online learning program about Indigenous history at the University of Alberta, and encouraged his fans to do the same.
Regularly engaging with fans through modules on his YouTube channel, and social media pages, fast forward to November, and Levy matched up to $25,000 of donations and wrote the cheque to the university’s Faculty of Native Studies.
But his influence kept going. On Dec. 1, the University of Alberta revealed more than 200,000 people participated in their Indigenous Canada online learning program, and thanked Levy for amplifying their educational cause.
Aurora James: Vogue cover girl, retail changemaker
It’s not every day that a portrait of a fashion designer covers Vogue’s most coveted September issue … especially when that designer hails from Mississauga, Ont.! But it’s a celebration of all of Aurora James’ changemaking achievements thus far.
Not only is the now-Brooklyn-based James the architect behind the sustainable label Brother Vellies, but on May 29, she hatched the “15 per cent pledge;” a plan to push major retailers in Canada and the U.S. to commit to showcasing 15 per cent of their products from Black-owned businesses.
And her push for inclusion in the retail space is gaining momentum quickly. Book and gift chain Indigo was the first major Canadian retailer to agree to the pledge by the end of 2021, and high-end department store Holt Renfrew plans to do the same by 2022. Beauty company Sephora, and fashion outfitter Rent the Runway were early adoptees back in June, and furniture chain West Elm followed suit in July.
The Weeknd donates millions to causes close to home
The Weeknd normally evades the media, but in 2020, he proved he was very much unlike his No.1 song, “Heartless.” The “Blinding Lights” singer donated $500,000 to MusiCares’ COVID-19 relief resources for the music community in June, and another $500,000 for his hometown frontline workers at the Scarborough Health Network (SHN).
Variety reports matched proceeds from The Weeknd’s XO face masks also went to SHN, totalling nearly $2.7-million.
“I was raised in Scarborough and felt it was important to give back to the community that raised me during the hard times of this pandemic,” the singer said in a statement.
And his giving streak kept going. A TikTok virtual concert in August helped raise $350,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative, and donated $300,000 to Global Aid for Lebanon that same month. Another cause that caught his attention was the Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defense Initiative, to which he donated $200,000. And in November, he sent another $30,000 to the University of Toronto’s Ethiopic Studies program, which he helped launch.
Then there’s every cause Ryan Reynolds publicly supported in 2020 ... so far
Ryan Reynolds really showed up in 2020. Outside of his annual SickKids hospital fundraising drive — which also wrapped the hospital in a giant holiday sweater made of lights — the Vancouver native was a major supporter of the Conquer COVID-19 volunteer-driven organization, which helped secure more than three million pieces of PPE for frontline workers.
Working alongside Hockey Hall of Famer-turned-doctor-to-be Hayley Wickenheiser, these two did what they could to secure as much PPE as possible. And of course, Reynolds’ sarcastic flair was all over his many contributions this year.
Take a deep breath, because here is a list of the other (mostly Canadian) causes Reynolds supported publicly in 2020:
- $500,000 to Covenant House BC
- $200,000 to Indigenous Women leaders
- $1-Million to Feeding America, $1-Million to Food Banks Canada
- $5000 to Edmonton Food Bank (plus another $4000 from fellow Canadian, Nathan Fillion)
- $5000 to an Edmonton toddler seeking a $2.8-million cure
- Uses his own salary to hire 10 - 20 BIPOC crew members on Vancouver-based Netflix film set
- Donates 300 parkas to Arctic Bay, Nunavut
- Donates $2,000 to Ottawa distress centre
- Donates undisclosed amount to Ottawa Food Bank
- Donates $10K to Canadian bartenders
- Donating 30 per cent of Aviation Gin proceeds to out-of-work bartenders
- Donates $200,000 to NAACP Legal Defense Fund
WATCH: Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively donate $500K to support homeless and at-risk youth.