2021 in review: A look back at the P.E.I. stories that made headlines

From the COVID-19 vaccination rollout to an urgent push for reconciliation and a red-hot housing market, here's what made news on P.E.I. this year.

From the COVID-19 vaccination rollout to an urgent push for reconciliation, here's what made news on P.E.I.

For Sale sign in front of house.
The Island's housing market continued to heat up in 2021. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

It was the second year in which Islanders faced a global pandemic — but it was also a year of hope as the first COVID-19 vaccines were made available to the public, with a return to normal on the horizon.

As 2021 draws to a close, CBC P.E.I. is taking a look back at just some of the stories that made headlines this year.

1. Housing

P.E.I.'s hot housing market continued to skyrocket in 2021.

Home prices have nearly doubled in the last five years, giving sellers the upper hand and freezing out potential buyers.

The cost of renting on the Island continued to soar as well. The rising rents, coupled with chronically low vacancy rates — all of which was exacerbated by the pandemic — left tenants across P.E.I. struggling to find a place to call home. 

Students arriving on the Island to attend post-secondary institutions were left scrambling, one Island woman on a fixed income told CBC News she was facing homelessness and a family of seven was forced to live at a campground over the summer because they couldn't find a place to rent.

A grassroots campaign aimed at helping tenants make sure they aren't paying too much rent, as well as providing advice on challenging illegal rent increases, was launched early in 2021.

Housing advocates have long called for restrictions on short-term rentals, especially in Charlottetown, which they argue is making it even harder for Islanders to find long-term rentals.

The province has expressed support for the idea of a rental registry, but no such registry is currently in place.

2. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout

P.E.I.'s large-scale COVID-19 vaccine rollout began in 2021 — the first step toward the province reopening and some public health restrictions being lifted. 

Most eligible Islanders over the age of 18 were able to get their first doses in the spring, following a campaign to get health-care workers, seniors over the age of 80, members of Indigenous communities and rotational workers vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison got her COVID-19 vaccination at the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown on May 6, 2021. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Mass vaccination clinics started up across the province, as all eligible Islanders were urged to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. 

Premier Dennis King, Chief Public Health Officer Heather Morrison and Chief of Nursing Marion Dowling all received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine at a mass clinic with the media in attendance.

By late May, the province announced it was moving up the schedule for eligible Islanders to receive their second doses.

In the fall, the province announced a vaccinate-or-test policy for those working with vulnerable populations and introduced the P.E.I. Vax Pass, opening the door for restaurants and sporting events to up their capacity, and increase gathering sizes at weddings and funerals. Vaccination rates spiked following the announcement.

On Thursday, P.E.I. reported 169 new COVID-19 cases, marking a single-day record for new cases. As of Thursday, there were 680 active cases on the Island.

3. Reconciliation

Calls for reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous communities took on new urgency following the disturbing news that Indigenous leaders in B.C. discovered what were believed to be the remains of 215 children on the grounds of a former residential school — the first in a series of similar findings at residential schools across the country, eventually totalling several thousand possible remains.

'I remember all the stories every residential school survivor has told me. I remember all who never made it home. I make sure I take this day to remember,' wrote Patricia Bourque, a Mi'kmaq First Nation member on P.E.I. (Submitted by Patricia Bourque)

In June, the federal government announced the creation of a new federal holiday: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to be celebrated on Sept. 30. P.E.I. later announced it would recognize the date as a provincial statutory holiday as well.

Charlottetown's Catholic diocese posted a public apology for the church's role in Indigenous residential schools and some individual priests on P.E.I. did the same.

In July, Canadians marked the first Canada Day following the revelations. Mi'kmaw chiefs and communities on P.E.I. grappled with how to mark the complicated day, ultimately taking different approaches to celebrating and grieving.

In September, Indigenous leaders addressed the province's legislative committee for health and social development as the committee received a briefing on Indigenous reconciliation. Each outlined their path to reconciliation, and called on the province to take action.

In October, the province signed an agreement to transfer two parcels of land to Lennox Island First Nation — a move Chief Darlene Bernard called "a show of good faith."

While there were no residential schools on P.E.I., survivors of the Indian day school on Lennox Island tell similar stories of abuse and trauma at the hands of teachers, as well as Catholic priests and nuns. 

Until recently, day school students were excluded from initiatives to repair generations of damage imposed on Indigenous communities by the federal government under the authority of the Indian Act. Now, hundreds of Mi'kmaq on P.E.I. are preparing compensation claims for the abuse they suffered at day schools on the Island.

Until every single Canadian learns and acknowledges the truths, we will never have reconciliation.- Patricia Bourque

The discovery of the apparent unmarked graves sparked a national conversation — and a national reckoning of the abuse suffered by Indigenous Canadians.

Some members of the Mi'kmaw community on P.E.I. are hopeful that increased awareness is just the first step

"I know on P.E.I., what we need is healing," Judy Clark, an elder-in-residence at the University of Prince Edward Island, told CBC News. "We need a healing lodge. We need somewhere where we could go to heal."

The children of residential and day school survivors are left to grapple with the legacies left behind. 

Sisters Madlene and Shanna Sark, whose father Gilbert (Tommy) Sark passed away in 2013, are working to keep his memory — and his story — alive through art. Their project, Unweaving Living Knowledge, is a tribute to a life shaped by residential schools, the reservation system, the Sixties Scoop and a fierce determination to keep Mi'kmaw traditions alive. It's a story mirrored by so many on the Island.

Patricia Bourque, a Mi'kmaq First Nation member on P.E.I., wrote an essay for CBC P.E.I. on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation describing her own complex feelings about the new holiday. "Until every single Canadian learns and acknowledges the truths, we will never have reconciliation," she wrote. 

4. Sir John A. statue controversy

Amid increasing calls for reconciliation across the country this year, a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald prominently positioned at the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Row in downtown Charlottetown became the subject of a heated debate.

Indigenous groups called on the city to remove or amend the art installation, citing Macdonald's role in the creation of Canada's residential schools. The statue was defaced and tipped over several times while the city considered its position. 

In early May, city council voted to keep the statue with several changes aimed at telling the "true story of this individual and begin to address the trauma that its presence is continuing to perpetuate," including new signage and sealing the area off so the statue could no longer be used as a photo opportunity.

Indigenous community members organized an event with 215 pairs of childrens' shoes at the feet of the controversial John A. Macdonald statue in downtown Charlottetown in May. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

But a few weeks later, following the discovery of the mass graves in B.C., council voted unanimously to permanently remove the statue.

Less than 24 hours later, the statue was taken down.

5. Medical assistance in dying

The story of an Island couple who used medically assisted dying to "go out on their own terms" also made headlines in 2021 as the couple's children made the difficult decision to share their story.

Bob Wilson, 71, and his wife Margi, 73, died on the same day — May 25, 2021 — at Charlottetown's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. They planned it that way. 

Nicolle Hogan and Scott Wilson, two of Bob and Margi Wilson's three children, are shown in this photo taken June 2, 2021, in Cumberland, P.E.I. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Doctors told the Wilsons' three children they would be the first couple in P.E.I. to use medical assistance in dying (MAID) at the same time.

Although their parents handled their deaths privately, Scott Wilson and Nicolle Hogan agreed to talk to CBC News to celebrate their parents' bravery and try to reduce any stigma around MAID.

"He wanted to go with his love," Scott said at the time. "The pain of not going with her would have broken him." 

Canada became one of a small number of countries to allow certain adults to request a doctor's help in bringing about their own deaths in 2016. But in March, the federal government expanded access to include those experiencing intolerable suffering who are not near the natural end of their lives.