Ace Burpee Winnipeg radio jock has compiled his listing of the Top 100 Fascinating People in Manitoba ….. somehow Brandon and Western Manitoba was not included. Leah Hextall a former CKX TV announcer was named in this listing.
Similar to every year I’ve done this list, the hardest part is keeping it to 100 names. We have so many truly amazing people in this province. People doing life-changing research. Advocating. Entertaining. Leading. Innovating. Saving lives. Offering hope. Every year it’s all new people who have never been on the list before, yet I end up with dozens of possibilities that carry forward. All the best to you, and Happy New Year.
Sadaf Saberi & Graydon Kirkness: The two Gordon Bell High School students were both recipients of the prestigious Leaders of Tomorrow scholarship from the University of Manitoba. Saberi will study civil engineering and pursue an interest in improving water access to communities in need. Growing up in Afghanistan, her family found refuge in Pakistan before coming to Canada in 2018. She had previously opened a tutoring centre in her home in Afghanistan and was a volunteer English teacher at 14 years old. Kirkness plans to indulge a passion for physics and math by studying mechanical engineering. He founded an Indigenous student committee at Gordon Bell, offering a safe space and tutoring.
Antoni Klonowski: He won the 2021 Canadian Institutes of Health Research National Brain Bee. The Brain Bee tests high school students’ knowledge of neuroscience and brain function. Antoni placed first in Canada despite only being in Grade 9, while the majority of the field was made up of Grade 11 and 12 students.
Jocelyn Gould: The Winnipeg born and raised artist took home the Juno award for Jazz Album of the Year: Solo, for her debut solo record Elegant Traveler.
James Van Niekerk: He’s a board game creator whose second major fantasy game project, Valor and Villainy, took off in 2021. Originally looking for $60,000 on Kickstarter (these are essentially just pre-orders of the game), fans overwhelmingly responded by buying literally thousands of copies of the new game. Awesome.
Jill Fast: Fast made history this year as the first-ever female varsity football head coach in the Winnipeg High School Football League, taking the reins of the Portage Collegiate Institute Trojans.
Olivia Meier: Competing at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Olivia became the first-ever Canadian to represent our country in badminton.
Anna Stokke: Stokke was recognized with a 3M National Teaching Fellowship, one of the most prestigious awards of excellence and educational leadership at the post-secondary level. Professor Stokke has brought passion, innovation, accessibility and leadership to countless mathematics students and future teachers at the University of Winnipeg.
Sacha Paul: A lawyer with Thompson Dorfman Sweatman, Paul will take over as vice-president of the Law Society of Manitoba. In doing so, he will be the first Indigenous lawyer to assume the position.
Kaili Juliak: Upon hearing of questions about COVID-19 vaccines in her North Point Douglas neighbourhood, Juliak took it upon herself to distribute correct information and help address concerns. Partnerships with the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre and the Bear Clan Patrol saw thousands of pamphlets distributed and helped keep her community safe.
Nolan De Leon: De Leon set a new Guinness world record for heaviest weight lifted by Turkish get-up. In one hour he completed 184 reps with a 70-pound kettlebell. That’s over 13,000 pounds lifted, destroying the previous record of 10,000. Turkish get-ups are hard to describe in writing, but just know they’re an amazingly brutal exercise. In addition to the world record (and just as important), he raised over $3,000 for the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba.
Tristan Peters: After batting .355 with 55 RBI in 60 games as a sophomore at Southern Illinois University, Peters was selected in the seventh round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Rylee Nepinak: Motivated by a state of emergency In Tataskewayak Cree Nation, Nepinak cycled across Canada raising money and promoting awareness about Indigenous youth suicide. A member of Sagkeeng First Nation, Nepinak, who had no previous experience as a cyclist, raised tens of thousands of dollars that were dedicated to youth programming in Tataskewayak.
Paisley Cadorath: In her first-ever film audition, nine-year-old Paisley landed a starring role in Nobody, featuring Bob Odenkirk. The film — largely shot in Winnipeg — did incredibly well and Paisley was really, really good.
Mirjana Roksandic: Earlier this year, researchers announced the name of a newly discovered species of human ancestor: Homo bodoenis. It’s a remarkable discovery, and University of Winnipeg anthropology professor Roksandic was the study’s lead author.
Steffan Reimer: Running a marathon in under three hours is really, really good. Reimer ran the Manitoba Marathon in two hours and 50 minutes while dribbling a basketball the entire time. His time smashed the existing Guinness World Record.
Naomi Finkelstein & Alba Lopez Gomez: The pair met about 15 years ago in a support group for parents and friends of members of the LGBTTQ+ community. Each had a child who had recently come out as transgender. Concerned over the dearth of information regarding being transgender, the pair started a support group at Rainbow Resource Centre called Parents, Family and Friends of Trans Individuals. They have co-facilitated the group for over a decade, and this year received one of the highest honours for service from Volunteer Manitoba.
Ryan Steel & Christina Hajjar: Both made exceptional short films that were accepted into the Gimli Film Festival. Steel’s Portage Place Mall (With Love) and Hajjar’s Don’t Forget the Water were co-recipients of the audience choice award for Best Manitoba Short Film, sponsored by Eagle Vision.
Tara Woodbury: She’s the executive producer of CTV’s highly successful Transplant, and was the producer of the dystopian drama film Night Raiders. This year she was named the first-ever Canadian content executive for Netflix. She will be developing and commissioning scripted series for the streaming giant in Canada. Super cool.
Blake Morden, Cynthia & Jason Cherewayko: I would need an entire page to describe the dramatic scene that played itself out at Grand Beach in late May. Just know that these three absolute heroes rescued two little children from drowning through sheer determination and absolute selflessness. The entire story is here: wfp.to/rescue.
Tasha Spillett-Sumner: Her graphic novel series, Surviving the City, has received enormous acclaim. Awards for the series have come from the American Library Association and the Indigenous Voices Awards. Her latest book, I Sang You Down from the Stars, impressively debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Massive talent.
Isaiah Binns: While in high school, he was a recipient of a personal achievement award at the Manitoba Indigenous Youth Achievement Awards. This year, Binns saw a bold idea become reality via a partnership with Richlu Manufacturing, makers of the Tough Duck workwear brand. A logo he designed in advance of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (it’s incredible) now adorns a special Tough Duck line. Great job, man.
Tessa Blaikie-Whitecloud: After doing an incredible job running various programs supporting Winnipeg’s most vulnerable with 1JustCity, Blaikie-Whitecloud stepped into a new role in 2021 as CEO of Siloam Mission. A tremendous asset and advocate to thousands.
Taylor Gregory, Mackenzie Kolton, Katrina Lengsavath and Carly Rackal: Together they formed Meraki Theatre Productions. It’s theatre that is accessible and inclusive, with a mission to create change and nurture compassion. They did some incredible and vital programming around mental health in 2021. Tremendous job.
Renata Bandel: For her incredibly brave effort in saving the lives of two teens swept away on Lake Manitoba, Bandel was one of a very small group of North Americans to receive a Carnegie Medal this year. The award is presented annually to civilians in Canada and the United States whose heroics have gone above and beyond. An absolute hero.
Dr. Ken Hahlweg: He had no time to think, only react. Dr. Hahlweg acted out of pure instinct to tackle a man at Seven Oaks General Hospital who had just stabbed a woman. The incident — while horrendous — would have been even worse were it not for his actions. Unreal.
Wilfred Sam-King Jr., Michelle Gazze, Abneet Sidhu, Yuna Le Berre, Alhaji Mansaray & Drew Nepia Gonsalves: Together, they make up the Rising Stars Foundation. They work with youth from underserved communities offering support, education, mentorship and hope. They do some incredible work and continue to produce future community leaders that make us all better.
Levi Sobering: His day job is teaching at Glenlawn Collegiate, but his side hustle is duct tape. Sobering creates incredible custom pieces of art using only duct tape. Super cool stuff. Check him at ductape_dynasty on Instagram.
Sheila Lotuaco: She fulfilled a lifelong dream of starring in a movie, and the movie turned out to be a massive indie hit. On almost a whim, Lotuaco put together an impromptu screen test in her basement and put her name forward for a film called Islands. Her acting debut drew rave reviews, and the film was fêted at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, and screened at Toronto’s Reel Asian Film Festival. Incredible debut. Love it.
Nihad Ademi: We lost an absolute legend in Nihad this year. A filmmaker, actor, photographer, deep-thinker and friend to all, Ademi made this a cooler and better town, and he will be sadly missed. Love this man. RIP, Nihad.
Paul Rabliauskas: This is going to rule. Rabliauskas is starring in a new sitcom called Acting Good, loosely based on his life growing up and returning to his home on Poplar River First Nation. An incredibly gifted storyteller and a legend on the comedy scene in Manitoba, his show will air on CTV’s Comedy Channel next year.
Chanel Higheagle: Upon the opening of an amazing new skatepark in Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, Chanel started skating. Soon after, she helped start up learn-to-skate programs for youth, introduced girls to skateboarding and was involved with several other initiatives in her community. Skateboarding rules, and so does Chanel.
Dr. Joss Reimer: Dr. Reimer is medical lead and one of the leading voices and faces of the largest immunization effort in the history of Manitoba. She did an incredible job communicating information and was empathetic to all concerns, questions and hesitations. A vaccination undertaking of this magnitude requires a very specific type of person in order for it to be successful. Dr. Reimer was that person.
Bob Irving: After almost 50 years of calling Winnipeg Blue Bombers football games on the radio, Irving’s final play-by-play broadcast was the CFL’s Western Final. An absolute legend behind the mic, yes, but an even better person. Just an incredible run.
Rosa Walker: Her remarkable career as an Indigenous leader has paved the way and empowered countless others to be the leaders of tomorrow. She doesn’t just prop up existing work, she creates new opportunities and shapes the future. She’s long advocated for the rights of Indigenous workers and has helped change the Canadian workforce. Walker started the World Indigenous Business Forum and is president and CEO of the Indigenous Leadership Development Institute. She continues to leave her mark on both our province and the world.
Joan Van der Linde: When the pandemic first hit, Van der Linde immediately started thinking of ways she could spread kindness in her community of Morris. So, she started the Bread Basket. She would bake a loaf of bread, put it in a bag, hang it on a lamppost, then tell people on Facebook they’re free to come grab a free loaf. Word of her kindness spread, and building on the momentum of goodwill in her town, she’s now baked and given away well over 2,000 loaves of bread. Nice.
Elmwood Giants: An undeniable dynasty. The Giants won their fourth consecutive Manitoba Junior Baseball League title in 2021. That also makes it six championships in eight years. An incredible run.
Terry McKellep: One of the most dedicated and tireless volunteers In The Pas and Opaskwayak Cree Nation. From the Northern Manitoba Trappers’ Festival and Indigenous Days to the Rotary Club and the Legion, McKellep has given thousands of hours of her time. She helped make the Pride Crosswalk a reality in The Pas, and without question makes her community better.
Kyle Penner: Penner, an associate pastor at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach, went on the record early and often in support of COVID-19 vaccinations. There has been backlash along the way, but he’s put in a ton of time communicating facts while also trying to ease concerns and clear up misinformation.
Bobbie-Jo Leclair, Corey Kapilik, Chickadee Richard, Diane Maytwayashing, Frank Deer, Vern Dano, Isaac Murdoch, Greg Kiesman, Ken Plaetinck, Mark Lesiuk & Christopher Heidebrecht: This is one of the coolest and most ambitious projects a school division has taken on in recent years. Louis Riel School Division launched the first Minecraft teaching resource in the world that honours and explores a Manitoba Anishinaabe community. It’s an incredible undertaking. It’s called Manito Ahbee Aki (the place where the Creator sits), and players are transported to a site in the Whiteshell before European contact in North America. The project was conceptualized after leadership in the LRSD engaged in conversations with Microsoft about adding Indigenous languages into products used in classrooms every day. Incredible job. Shout out to all the student beta testers from Marion, Highbury and Minnetonka schools.
Dr. Heather Watson: Dr. Watson is completing her residency in addiction, mental illness and reproductive health. She was celebrated this year by Doctors Manitoba for her commitment to improving health-care services and access for marginalized women. She’s created her own fellowship in psychosocial obstetrics and gynecology, and has brought incredible expertise to the pandemic response as well.
Sean Rayland & Kale Bonham: Rayland is the founder and Bonham is the creative director of Red Rebel Armour, a stunning streetwear label representing Indigenous culture in fashion. The brand is about love, reconciliation, healing, pride and community. The venture provides a massive platform for Indigenous artists and voices, and as of this year can be found in The Bay at both Polo Park shopping centre and St. Vital Centre, and at redrebelarmour.ca. Tremendous job on multiple levels.
Lorri Millan & Shawna Dempsey: Early this year I would drive past a bus shelter every day with a poster of someone holding up some fish on a stringer. Underneath the photo was the slogan “Winnipeg: One Gay City.” I was pretty sure there was a cool story behind the campaign, but I didn’t know the depth of it. These posters — framing Winnipeg as a safe haven for the LGBTTQ+ community — were actually created more than two decades ago, but were shut down by ad agencies and Advertising Standards Canada. It took 23 years, but the posters had their moment. Huge win. I love it.
Colleen Omand & her Grade 1 students at Isaac Brock School: Omand began teaching the bilingual Cree-language program a few years ago and this past school year one particular unit took a twist. They were learning about animals of the North when a student mentioned a fascination with baby belugas. Omand ended up teaching her class the Cree version of Raffi’s iconic Baby Beluga song, and their take on the tune took first place in a contest put on by the Indigenous Languages Symposium. Love it.
Annabella LaForte, Ethan Sahagun & Caleb DePiero: This is the coolest. This Manitoba trio was selected from thousands and thousands of applicants to join the Canadian Space Agency’s junior astronaut program. They joined astronauts, engineers and scientists for intense training along with 50 other Canadian students.
Jeannie White Bird & Charlie Johnston: The artists are behind a stunning new mural on Winnipeg’s City Hall commissioned as part of a long-term commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. The piece is called Gakina Gidinawemaaganidim, which translates to “We are all related.”
Amelie Barreto-Labossière & Sebastian Nebre: The two had worked on an incredible music project that was yet to be released when Amelie sadly passed away this year. One of her dreams was to hear her music on the radio, something her incredible parents made a reality in her honour. It was both heartbreaking and incredibly touching to see a family unite in tragedy and begin the healing process. The songs she recorded with Nebre have been streamed hundreds of thousands of times, a testament and lasting legacy to an amazing talent.
Sara Stasiuk: The new president and CEO of The Forks North Portage Partnership. Stasiuk takes over from Paul Jordan who held the job since 2014. Tremendous hire.
Amber-Sekowan Daniels: A massively talented writer, comic, producer and director. Daniels will co-create the previously mentioned Acting Good series starring Paul Rabliauskas and debuting in 2022 on CTV’s Comedy Channel.
Doug Darling: The CEO and executive creative director of video production studio Tripwire Media Group. At the 42nd annual international Telly Awards, the group took home four awards, including gold for Best Online Promotional Campaign. The Telly Awards honour video from around the world (over 12,000 videos were submitted, with most of the biggest brands on the planet competing).
Kumiko Yamashita: Received one of Japan’s highest distinctions in international relations. The Consul General of Japan presented Yamashita with the Order of the Rising Sun for her work in building relations between Manitoba and Japan.
Jackie and Dennis Snarr: Their sheer determination and tireless advocacy led Manitoba to officially approve a life changing treatment for those with Cystic Fibrosis. Jackie and Dennis were inspired by their grandson, and their efforts will benefit those with CF forever. Tremendous job.
Leah Hextall: Hextall made history this year as the first female ever to be named an NHL play-by-play announcer by ESPN.
Dr. Brian Penner: A physician at the Health Sciences Centre, Dr. Penner was the first person in the province to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Melanie Morris: The first Indigenous pediatric surgeon in Canada, Dr. Morris was appointed to the Indigenous Lead role in pediatrics and child health at the University of Manitoba, the first leadership role of its kind in pediatrics in Canada. Her list of achievements is incredible. Dr. Morris created a minimally invasive program in pediatric urology that helps avoid having to send children out of province, pioneered awareness in collaboration with the Winnipeg Breastfeeding Centre on new treatments for ankyloglossia (tongue tie), created outreach clinics in Nunavut, is a mentor in the Gender Equity Initiative in Global Surgery… and so much more. This year she was named one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada.
Jillian & Dale Klassen: They are the owners of the North Star Drive-In on McGregor St. Yes, everything they make is absolutely amazing, but their support for the community is even more impressive. They’re always willing to help make life better for someone, often very quietly, but they’re always in. Continued success.
Katherine Legrange: Sept. 30 marked the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Legrange beautifully organized a walk from the Canadian Museum for Human rights to St. John’s Park on Main Street. It was so incredibly well done. Thousands came, and we walked united. There was grief and sadness, but also hope and healing. Katherine made it all happen. Every Child Matters.
Wa-Say Healing Centre & Wayne Mason Sr.: The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation walk ended at St. John’s Park, where there was a powwow, more healing and more hope. It was incredibly well done. Mason and his team at Wa-Say made it all happen. Wa-Say Healing Centre primarily assists former Indian Residential School students and their families to access emotional health and wellness support services.