10 people in 2015 who made Hamilton a better place

There are pranksters, rat enthusiasts, a hero, a teacher and more. Here's a list of 10 people who made Hamilton a better place, or at least a little more interesting, in 2015.

Hamilton is an interesting place - Here are 10 interesting people we met in 2015

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      There are pranksters, rat enthusiasts, a hero, a teacher and more. Here's a list of 10 people who made Hamilton a better place, or at least a little more interesting, in 2015.

      10. Al Wilson: Devil's Brigade veteran dies 1 day before getting U.S. medal

      The Hamilton man who died the day before he was to receive a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Devil's Brigade, a legendary special service force so revered that it served as the model for the U.S. Navy SEALS. He died in early February after a bout with pneumonia the day before he was to receive the medal.

      The Devil's Brigade inspired a Hollywood movie based on a book co-written by Brigade member Col. George Walton. Wilson moved to Hamilton in the 1950s to work in the local police service. He had a 35-year career, retiring as a sergeant about 30 years ago.

      9. Vallary Halladay: Love song raises money for paralyzed Grimsby woman

      Grimsby woman Vallary Halladay and her boyfriend Kirk Thomas had only been dating for a month when she suffered a horrible spinal cord injury after a diving accident at her boyfriend's pool in July of 2014. They planned a pool party so their parents could meet for the first time. She said "Kirk went to the front of the house to greet his parents and for some weird reason I felt like I should go for a dive."

      After the accident Kirk, a musician, recorded a song and put it on iTunes for 99 cents per download donating all the proceeds to a trust fund for Vallary. A shower chair costs over $5,000. A critical care bed will cost over $10,000. Her entire home still needs to be renovated—walls removed, bathroom expanded.

      Kirk received a note from iTunes stating his song was among the top 10 downloaded tracks in his genre (acoustic folk) in the first weekend.

      8. Ankixa Risk: Hamilton taxidermist makes 'cute forever friends' with dead rats
      Rats. For arts sake. (Adam Carter/CBC)

      Ankixa Risk will skin a rat for art's sake. A favourite is the rat riding a bike. There is graffiti artist rat holding a spray can. Or the rat Jackalope – a jackrabbit with antelope horns. Risk skins the rats then takes the meat from the animal to reptile zoos to be served as dinner. She'll teach you her secrets... like how to skin a rat and stuff it with cotton fibre and pipe cleaners. What good is art if you can't learn how do stuff a dead rat?

      After the stuffing — accessorize. How do you dress a dead rat? "They're almost Barbie-sized – just with a more realistic waist." Now you know. You can find Anixa Risk at "casual taxidermy." 

      7. The Happy Couple

      Kevin Patrick Robbins and Shelagh Moore win the award for Hamilton prank of the year. When these two commit to a prank, they commit... even when they are not committing. They faked a month's long relationship then announced their engagement helped by professional photos from a wedding photographer to make it look real. 

      The fake couple even bought an engagement ring. $4 from Old Navy. It turns out fake engagements are much cheaper than real ones. Some family members were fooled — even though they announced their engagement on April 1, 2015.

      After the engagement shoot went up on Facebook, Moore got an extremely annoyed call from her sister, livid that she had to find out online that her sister was getting married. Moore said, "I told her to think about what day it was, and it dawned on her."

      6. The secret to life as revealed by 106-year-old Isabella Brearley

      Isabella Brearly is 106. And she has some advice for you about life, and how to live it. The CBC's Jeff Green interviewed Brearley in March at her birthday party. Five generations of family were there. 

      She came to Canada in 1927. "On my fourteenth birthday, I was sitting in the kitchen with my mother and I looked at her for a minute and I said, 'I'm going to tell you something, you're not going to like it, but I'm going to tell it to you so you're prepared,'" she said. "I said to her 'I am 14 today, but four years from now I will be 18. And as an 18-year-old woman I have the right of choice.'"

      Click on the video in the story to read what Brearley had to say about the secret to a good, long life.

      5. Marufa Shinwari: Banned by Taliban, returned to build women's studies program

      At the university where Marufa Shinwari was once forced to stop teaching because she's a woman, there's now a gender and women's studies Master's degree program. 

      And Shinwari, who moved to Hamilton as a refugee in the mid-1990s, helped set up the curriculum, inspired in part by her own studies as a Master's student at McMaster University. "Gender issues in Kabul is becoming widely known among the people," Shinwari said. "Slowly — it's long-term — but the dynamic will hopefully change."

      The Afghan native knew many educated, professional women when she was teaching law at Kabul University. But when in the early 1990s the fundamentalist Taliban overthrew the Soviet-backed government and instated Sharia law, Shinwari was not allowed to continue teaching.

      4. Julie Cowell: Grieving family trying to ban 'victim blaming' murder defence
      Julie Cowell fights for her sister-in-law Tania. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

      Julie Cowell never thought she'd become an activist. She never thought she'd be writing to MPs, and distributing petitions, and co-founding a grief counseling group with the families of homicide victims.

      But it's strange what a death in the family can do.

      The Ancaster teacher has made it her mission to lobby the government until a controversial legal defense in murder cases called provocation is gone for good. In March 2013, Haiden Suarez Noa stabbed Tania Cowell — Julie's sister-in-law — in the chest 11 times and killed her. 

      3. Ama deGraft-Johnson: Anesthetist was a pioneer in Hamilton hospitals

      Ama deGraft-Johnson says "When I got hired, I was the only female in a group of 17 men. Prior to my coming on staff, there hadn't been a female on staff for at least 10 years. I worked harder than the men. Much harder than the men. Because I didn't want to be the reason for the department not hiring another female."

      Johnson was hired in 1976. Retiring after more than 30 years in Hamilton she says "I've faced a lot of, I will say, bigotry and prejudice. Everybody thinks everyone from Africa is poor and we are blessed to be here. Just because maybe we don't speak the same way, or use the same vernacular. I will say to them, I learned what poverty is when I came to North America." 

      2. Jay Keddy: Kindergarten teacher killed biking on Claremont Access

      A school and a church community grieved after 53-year-old cyclist and teacher, Jay Keddy, was struck and killed on the Claremont Access on his way to a prayer meeting in December. Keddy was a kindergarten teacher at Prince of Wales School. Teachers and counsellors had to explain to four and five-year-old students that there teacher had been killed.

      Keddy's death angered Hamilton cyclists who gathered to remember him setting up a "ghost bike" memorial near the spot where he was killed. Hundreds of ghost bikes have been installed in similarly grim sites elsewhere in Canada and around the world. 

      Soon after the accident city officials called for a study of a separated bike lane on the access. Coun. Terry Whitehead said he knew Keddy through the West Highland Baptist Church, where Keddy was a deacon and board member. 

      1. Godfrey Coutto: Random act of kindness
      A random act of kindness. (CBC)

      Godfrey Coutto is the McMaster University student who showed kindness to a middle-aged man with special needs on a Hamilton in October. He held hands with the man, comforting him, as the two rode the bus, not noticing that he was being photographed by another passenger.

      The picture was posted online, where commenters started praising his humanity and continue to applaud the act. Coutto says he didn't do anything special but others disagree. The Amalgamated Transit Union thought the gesture was worth a $2,000 award, which they presented him at McMaster's Kenneth Taylor Hall building. He says he plans on saving the money for school. Watch his video with the CBC's Diana Swain.


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