Canada's gifts to the world this year

On the occasion of Canada Day, thought we would toast the birthday child not by showering it with presents, but rather by looking at what gifts it has bestowed on the world in the first half of 2011.
Canada's Milos Raonic plays a return shot to Tunisia's Marc Gicquel at Wimbledon on June 20. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

On the occasion of Canada Day, thought we would toast the birthday child not by showering it with presents, but rather by looking at what gifts it has bestowed on the world in the first half of 2011.

There have been quite a few, as it turns out.

Here's a list of 10 notable Canadian events and newsmakers who have emerged so far this year — some of them are laudable, others maybe not so much.

Arcade Fire's award-show run

Arcade Fire members pose with their awards during the 53nd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 13. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty)

Creators of spine-tingling, epic rock, members of Montreal's Arcade Fire left the blogosphere gobsmacked in February when they took Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards over more flashy performers like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. The unexpected winners faced the wrath of jilted and confused pop fans on the internet immediately after the awards, many of whom had never heard of the band. Then they made it two for two when they nabbed Album of the Year at the Brit Awards, and scored a hat trick by gaining the same honour at Canada's Juno Awards in March.

A sturdy hand in NATO's Libya offensive

On March 19, NATO began its United Nations-mandated mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and Canada is playing a major role. In fact, a Canadian is commanding the 17-country mission: Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard. The goal of the mission, which Parliament voted to extend by another three months on June 14, is to protect civilians and bolster rebels fighting against the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

The BlackBerry PlayBook

The BlackBerry PlayBook has failed to inspire confidence in its manufacturer, Research in Motion. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Developed by Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion, the BlackBerry was a game-changing device. Problem is, RIM competitor Apple seems to change the game every few months. Hoping to challenge the supremacy of the iPad in the tablet market, RIM released the PlayBook in April — to withering reviews. Many of the apps were non-functioning at the time of launch, and critics bristled at being unable to access the internet without tethering the PlayBook to a BlackBerry. Some observers hold out hope for future iterations of the PlayBook, but almost everyone agrees it could have benefited from some additional R&D.

Becoming the world's lone defender of asbestos

The documentation on asbestos makes it clear: the stuff gives you cancer. But there are developed nations that continue to use it as insulation. And there's a small town in Quebec that continues to produce and export it — to the tune of $80 million a year — which is why in June, Canada became the sole country to block the inclusion of asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention, a UN-sanctioned list of hazardous materials.

Milos Raonic

Born in Montenegro and raised in the suburbs of Toronto, 20-year-old Milos Raonic has emerged as the most exciting force in Canadian tennis since Greg Rusedski (though, to be fair, Rusedski played for the U.K. for most of his career). In 2011, Raonic rocketed up the world tennis rankings, from No. 152 to No. 37 in just one month. With a few more wins under his belt, he is now World No. 25. His killer 241 km/h serve is just shy of the all-time world record of 251 km/h, and Raonic shows no signs of slowing down.

More Justin Bieber merchandise, anyone?

Toy buyers are touting a singing Justin Bieber doll as the must-have trinket for the coming holiday season. Justin's devoted Beliebers keep snapping up concert tickets, DVDs and music, which made the 17-year-old $53 million in the past 12 months alone.  In other news, the little moppet from Stratford, Ont., recently released his second fragrance, Someday — this one's for the ladies.

The Vancouver Canucks' playoff run

A couple embraces on the street amid rioting that followed the Vancouver Canucks losing the Stanley Cup final to the Boston Bruins on June 15. (Rich Lam/Getty)

The Canucks' valiant bid for the Stanley Cup had the effect of turning Canada into a nation of Vancouverites. Sadly, the on-ice drama was overshadowed by the riot that followed the team's loss, giving the world the (false) impression that we're a bunch of police-car-igniting hoodlums. On the plus side, all that bedlam produced a truly iconic image of a couple in a supine embrace while Vancouver burned.

Parliamentary firsts

Maybe a slightly dubious achievement, but in March 2011, the federal government was found in contempt of Parliament. Previously, only individuals had ever been subjected to this kind of official censure. The finding led to a federal election. The whole matter might be ancient history to Canadians, but in the more than 30 countries that use the British-modelled Westminster system of government, this set an important precedent.

Canadian film of the year — Incendies

Haunting and visceral, Quebec director Denis Villeneuve's film Incendies was feted at this year's Genie Awards, winning eight trophies, including Best Motion Picture. The film follows the journey of two siblings from Canada to their homeland in the Middle East to try to understand their mother's mysterious life. Widely acclaimed by film critics in Canada and abroad, Incendies was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but lost to In a Better World, a film from Denmark.

Man! I feel like a comeback — Shania Twain

Canadian country music songstress Shania Twain has spent most of the past few years out of the limelight after a painful divorce and issues with her voice. But on New Year's Day this year, she turned over a new leaf and married Swiss businessman Frederic Thiebaud. Then in May, she burst back on the scene with a tell-all memoir, From This Moment On, and a show on Oprah Winfrey's new TV channel, OWN. On June 12, Twain released her first new single in six years, called Today is Your Day. A fifth studio album is on its way and Twain has signed up to headline Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas for two years beginning in December 2012.