There will never be another year like 2021 in Manitoba, with a bevy of ups and downs that made it a head-spinning 12 months.

There will never be another year like 2021 in Manitoba, with a bevy of ups and downs that made it a head-spinning 12 months.

There were plenty of big storylines from January to now — some good, some bad, and some just plain weird. Now that 2022 has arrived, we’ll take a look at some of each.

THE GOOD


First vaccines go to the most vulnerable

Less than one year after work on vaccines to combat COVID-19 began, the first doses were delivered to Manitobans.

Scarce and precious shipments, sometimes containing only a few hundred life-saving vials, began to arrive in December and went, as they should, to health-care workers who had been battling the virus on the front line. The first three Manitobans to get their shot were Dr. Brian Penner, registered nurse Sherry Plett, and family urgent care physician Dr. Brian Sharkey.

<p>John Woods / The Canadian Press files</p><p>Registered nurse Sherry Plett celebrates after receiving her first COVID-19 inoculation — the second in Manitoba — from Danielle Kim, public health nurse.</p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press files

Registered nurse Sherry Plett celebrates after receiving her first COVID-19 inoculation — the second in Manitoba — from Danielle Kim, public health nurse.

In January, doses started to be delivered by the thousands to elderly residents of personal care homes, which bore the brunt of a brutal second wave.

And on March 1, the first vaccines were given to the general public.

Green-sticker selfies and hopeful press conferences

Winter was just the beginning. As the weather heated up, so did the vaccine rollout.

In early June, finally with plenty of supply to plunge into arms, Manitoba announced the 4-3-2-One Great Summer reopening plan, which would see industries reopen in lockstep with increasing vaccine uptake.

Supersites ramped up into high gear to deliver a dizzying number of jabs. On some days, they administered more than 20,000 doses.

It was a hopeful time, with people smashing likes on green-stickered "I’m COVID-19 Vaccinated" photos — which abounded on Twitter and Instagram — and faithfully checking every day to see if their age group was now eligible to get a first or second dose.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Viewers tuned in to see Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead, and Johanu Botha, co-lead, of the Vaccine Implementation Task Force during the COVID-19 vaccine update media conferences.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Viewers tuned in to see Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead, and Johanu Botha, co-lead, of the Vaccine Implementation Task Force during the COVID-19 vaccine update media conferences.

People hung on every word of Manitoba vaccine task force medical lead Dr. Joss Reimer and operations lead Johanu Botha. A pair of highly intelligent and competent individuals, they provided long and detailed answers on the vaccines and the rollout at lengthy press conferences that were the opposite of the doom and gloom many were used to.

People even enjoyed sharing that they felt like crap after getting their shot, knowing the importance of protecting themselves, their families and their communities.

By Sept. 1, more than one million first doses and more than 900,000 second doses had been administered, as people had more and more opportunities to get back to doing what they loved.

The Bombers’ Grey Cup-winning season

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had to wait an extra year for a chance to "Defend the Cup," but they did just that.

After the 2020 CFL season was cancelled owing to COVID-19, the CFL was back in action in 2021 with a 14-game schedule that kicked off in August (the Bombers did so against the Hamilton Ti-Cats in front of nearly 30,000 fans at IG Field on Aug. 5 and also unveiled their championship banner.)

The Mike O’Shea-led team — featuring many returnees from the 2019 championship season — did not disappoint. The class of the CFL posted a 11-3 record and finished first in the West Division, thanks to a potent offence led by quarterback Zach Collaros and a stout defence led by Adam Bighill and Willie Jefferson.

<p>Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press files</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (94) hoists the trophy as the Blue Bombers celebrate defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 108th CFL Grey Cup in Hamilton on Dec. 12.</p>

Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press files

Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (94) hoists the trophy as the Blue Bombers celebrate defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 108th CFL Grey Cup in Hamilton on Dec. 12.

Both the West Final and Grey Cup game were nerve-racking and neither was anywhere close to a cakewalk, but the best teams find a way to win. When it truly mattered, their big-time players made big-time plays.

A Kyrie Wilson interception in overtime at Grey Cup 108 in Hamilton last month cemented the Bombers’ 33-25 comeback victory against the hometown Ti-Cats, and ensured the shining silver trophy will remain in Winnipeg for another year.

Now, CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters, et al. will set their sights on a three-peat, which would entrench the Bombers as a dynasty. No team’s won three in a row since the then-Edmonton Eskimos won five straight between 1978 and 1982.

THE BAD


The third wave and Omicron surge

January was the tail end of a punishing second wave that ripped through personal care homes. Lower case numbers in February and March led to a partial reopening of some sections, but cases quickly spiked again in early spring.

<p>RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Vehicles wait to get into the Nairn Avenue drive-in COVID testing site.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Vehicles wait to get into the Nairn Avenue drive-in COVID testing site.

Despite warnings from doctors in April to lock down quickly, Manitoba implemented only marginal restrictions. By mid-May, cases had spiked to all-time highs. The high rate of infection pushed the health-care system to the brink and intensive care units could not handle the capacity. In total, 57 Manitobans were sent out-of-province for care.

High vaccine uptake had life back to some semblance of normal through summer and fall, but the arrival of the highly contagious Omicron variant — which has proven capable of infecting even double-vaccinated people — last month has brought a new threat and spiked cases to levels not seen in any wave thus far.

Distressing drought

Bone-dry lawns and rivers down to a dribble were two unfortunately common sights this year; the Manitoba Drought Monitor says many portions of the province are in still "experiencing extreme drought conditions."

Winter was less snowy than usual, with only 50.4 centimetres falling between January and April.

Then, a prolific heat dome sat over Canada for almost all of July — Winnipeg’s driest since records began being kept in 1873 — there was just 8.5 millimetres of rain, with the average being 75.8.

While significant rain did fall in late August, it was too late for farmers to salvage most of their crops. Many cattle farmers sold portions of their herds because they simply didn’t have enough water to grow food to feed them.

<p>JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Cattle farmer Tom Johnson experienced draught conditions on his Oak Point farm this year.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Cattle farmer Tom Johnson experienced draught conditions on his Oak Point farm this year.

The Red and Assiniboine rivers looked as if they could be waded across at many points. In May, historically low levels on the Assiniboine near Osborne Village revealed long-obscured antique glassware and ceramic from breweries of yore. Lake Manitoba recently reached its lowest level since 1942.

At a news conference last month, Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said, "If we get low snowfall, lots of above-average warmer temperatures and lots of sunshine, which could cause snow sublimation, Manitoba could see a very difficult growing season for 2022.

"We’re facing the potential of a very catastrophic event of nature," Schuler said on Dec. 17. "If we don’t get at least 100 centimetres of snow, we may be in front of you in spring having a fairly dire report."

The recent snowstorm is a good start, and while many Winnipeggers won’t want to hear it, the province needs more of the white stuff to make up for the moisture deficit.

THE WEIRD


An eight-month golf season

Mother Nature was benevolent enough to provide ample time to enjoy what is perhaps the all-time greatest socially distant group activity — especially for those who spend a lot of time in the rough.

City-owned golf courses opened April 1 — almost three weeks earlier than usual — but people were already hacking and smacking the ball at private courses in March. Winter’s chill lifted early and temperatures that often soared into the single (and even double!) digits made quick work of the little snow there was.

<p>MIKE SUDOMA / Winnipeg Free Press Files</p><p>Graham Wilton was excited about the extended season at Lorette Golf Course on Oct. 20.</p>

MIKE SUDOMA / Winnipeg Free Press Files

Graham Wilton was excited about the extended season at Lorette Golf Course on Oct. 20.

One golfer at Southside Golf Course, playing a round on a balmy 12 C March 18, told the Free Press, "I would’ve never guessed I would be playing this early. I’ve been golfing for 40 years and I don’t think I’ve ever played in March in Winnipeg."

Eight months later, and people were still driving, chipping and putting. An early-November temperature surge caused by a warm upper ridge led to some courses reopening, including Southside and Shooters Family Golf Centre.

"We always take advantage of great weather, whether it’s early spring or fall," Shooters owner and club president Guido Cerasani told the Free Press.

"Any time that people can get out there and play golf in Manitoba, especially in November, it’s a bonus."

Maxime Bernier’s ‘Mad Max’ tour

The People’s Party of Canada founder came to Manitoba to rail against lockdowns, but ended up finding himself locked up.

A former Conservative Party federal leadership candidate, Bernier brought his "Mad Max Freedom Tour" — where he planned rallies and spoke in opposition to public-health measures in a number of small towns — to southern Manitoba in early June.

<p>JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p><p>About 400 people gathered to hear Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, speak at The Forks.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

About 400 people gathered to hear Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, speak at The Forks.

On June 11, after speaking at a poorly attended rally in St-Pierre-Jolys, he got in his vehicle to head to St. Malo, but was pulled out by RCMP, handcuffed and detained for violating public-health orders — namely, assembling a gathering at an outdoor public place and for failing to self-isolate once he arrived in Manitoba.

Bernier returned to Winnipeg in early September to speak at an anti-proof-of-vaccination rally at The Forks and an election campaign event.

Last month, the Free Press reported Bernier’s plans to return to Manitoba in 2022, even if federal restrictions preventing unvaccinated individuals from flying remain.

"I hope I’ll be able to be on the road in 2022. If I cannot fly I will use my car and be on the road to speak with Canadians," he said.

So many smoky skies

The lack of rain and pervasive dryness led to a large number of severe forest fires raging in northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan throughout the summer.

Although they were far away from the city, they still made their mark and reminded Winnipeggers about the impacts of climate change.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Smoke from forest fires east of Berens River and west of Red Lake hangs over downtown Winnipeg in July.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Smoke from forest fires east of Berens River and west of Red Lake hangs over downtown Winnipeg in July.

Far too frequently, a thick, nose-wrinkling blanket of smoke — coaxed by northeastern and eastern winds — hung over the city. Blue skies were blotted out, the sun took on a sinister red hue, and the city often looked like something out of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film.

July 2021 was the smokiest July in Winnipeg’s history, with 137 hours of hazy conditions. Government of Canada statistics show Winnipeg had 239 total hours of smoke, the second-most since 1953 and 16 times above normal.

‘The House’

What should have been a standard move instead became a supreme meme.

The saga of "The House" began on Aug. 7, when a crew tried to transport an oversize display home down Roblin Boulevard on a sleepy Saturday but soon realized structure was too wide to clear mature boulevard trees.

When the Winnipeg Police Service arrived to provide a previously scheduled escort, they discovered the truck’s driver had fired up a chainsaw and sawed down no fewer than 17 trees in an attempt to clear the way. This led to outrage and disgust from Charleswood residents and city councillor Kevin Klein.

<p>Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Files</p><p>Felled trees line the median on Roblin Boulevard from Scotswood Drive almost all the way to Perimeter Highway. The destruction was the aftermath of a house that was being moved in Charleswood.</p>

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press Files

Felled trees line the median on Roblin Boulevard from Scotswood Drive almost all the way to Perimeter Highway. The destruction was the aftermath of a house that was being moved in Charleswood.

In total, 23 Siberian elms were either removed or badly damaged, including six trees city forestry staff later determined had to be cut down, the Free Press reported.

The unauthorized arborist was arrested and charged with mischief over $5,000, and police stopped the move. But four days later, the house was on the go again, this time smashing into an overhead sign on Wilkes Avenue.

It was about then the house went viral, with sightings and discussion becoming frequent on Reddit, and Photoshop-savvy Winnipeggers placing it in a variety of locales, including the Pinawa Channel, downtown on Portage Avenue, a Tim Hortons drive-thru and the Yellow Brick Road.

The house eventually reached its destination on Aug. 24 and in November, the city and the moving company reached an agreement for restitution. New trees are expected to be planted in spring.

The Progressive Conservative leadership race

A short time frame that kept potential candidates from running, the candidate who sold the most memberships disqualified, the loser of an election saying "I am the premier," a protracted court battle decided just before the holidays — the Manitoba Progressive Conservative leadership race was downright bizarre.

After former premier Brian Pallister stepped down in the wake of comments he made about Indigenous people and colonization that were widely condemned as revisionist and inappropriate, the PC party needed someone new to take the helm.

When then-health minister Heather Stefanson began her campaign in mid-August with the support of 24 of 35 MLAs, she seemed a shoo-in. The short time frame and the onerous requirements to get on the ballot were also seen as obstacles to outsider hopefuls, but former MP Shelly Glover, McPhillips MLA Shannon Martin and former PC party CFO Ken Lee also tossed their hats into the ring.

<p>John Woods/ The Canadian Press Files</p><p>Heather Stefanson, right, Manitoba’s newly elected Progressive Conservative Leader and the province’s new premier, greets opponent Shelly Glover at a victory party.</p>

John Woods/ The Canadian Press Files

Heather Stefanson, right, Manitoba’s newly elected Progressive Conservative Leader and the province’s new premier, greets opponent Shelly Glover at a victory party.

Martin withdrew and Lee was disqualified with no specific explanation as to why, despite meeting the requirements of getting 50 nomination signatures from party members, selling 1,000 new memberships, and paying a $25,000 entry fee.

Lee had garnered support by opposing COVID-19 health measures, proof-of-vaccination requirements and climate-change-mitigation measures. Lee and his supporters later protested in front of the PC Party headquarters downtown.

A short campaign between Stefanson and Glover to become Manitoba’s first female premier followed, with critics accusing Glover "of courting the anti-vaccine vote and signing up thousands of Manitobans who would otherwise have no connection to the party," Free Press columnist Tom Brodbeck wrote recently.

A leadership vote took place on Oct. 30, despite problems with ballot distribution to party members.

Stefanson prevailed by 363 votes. But Glover refused to concede, citing a number of irregularities and discrepancies she believed materially impacted the final outcome. When contacted by the CBC a few days later, Glover said "I am the premier, not her."

Glover sought an order of the Court of Queen’s Bench to declare the election results invalid and that a new one take place, but on Dec. 17, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice James Edmond dismissed the challenge.

declan.schroeder@winnipegfreepress.com