From Martha Stewart’s Historic Cover to a Heroic Rescue Mission, Our Favourite Feel Good Stories From 2023

Good News Stories

At 81, Martha Stewart — seen here attending iHeartRadio z100's Jingle Ball in New York City — provided a shot of inspiration for her fellow octogenarians this year when she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

We wish we could say that 2023 has been an improvement over 2022 but, instead, our world seemed to be on fire from sea to sea. If you didn’t live close to the conflagration, you may still have smelled the smoke or had days of hazy skies. Suddenly we were paying attention to air quality warnings – Toronto, Montreal and even Calgary had the occasional, if dubious, distinction of leading the list of most polluted cities in the world. Widespread drought added to the wildfire hazard – homes burned in suburban Halifax before a series of storms brought the wettest summer on record to the Maritimes. In the west, however, major watersheds were low in water, affecting power generating stations and even salmon spawning runs.

Human behaviour added to the planet’s negative energy, thanks to global humanitarian crises and ongoing wars in Ukraine and, most recently, Gaza. 

As such, we hope that pointing out some of the positive stories of 2023 would raise spirits and give us hope as 2024 approaches.  



The Developer Ontario Premier Doug Ford Should Befriend


What is more likely to relieve a housing crisis and poverty – a luxury-estate enclave or a community of small but well-designed homes backed with social support? 

Marcel LeBrun sold his Maritime-based software company to an American competitor for megabucks and launched a project in Fredericton, N.B., called 12 Neighbours, to transform the lives of homeless people. 

His plan to build 99 homes is well underway, with more than 80 already occupied on the 24-hectare site. It’s located on the edge of the city, separated by trees from a mall and First Nations land. Each home has a covered porch and solar panels on the roof and, inside, there’s a living room, bedroom and a full kitchen and bathroom. Rents, including utilities and internet, are set at 30 per cent of the resident’s income. 

“It gives me room to breathe and not worry,” one resident told CBC News. 

The site is gated and has security cameras but residents have cards to access the gate, which is closed at night to keep disruptive visitors out. 

But there’s also support to help people manage their new life, improve health or education, or handle recovery from PTSD, substance use or even toxic friendships. They can work on employable skills, learn to build the homes and find ways to transform themselves without pressure, from an identity of poverty. 

On track: a community garden, a 12,000-square-foot social enterprise centre with a coffee shop, print shop, and construction space to build more homes for use in other sites. 


Stealing the Royal Show


We knew the coronation of an English monarch would be a rich series of carefully scripted moments of arcane ritual so lost in the mists of time – or at least unpractised since Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953 – that we’d need a studious play-by-play announcer to explain each move.

One of the most mysterious participants was the Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council, the first woman to perform the formal exchange of swords. Penny Mordaunt, in a striking blue dress by Safiyaa, with matching headpiece, toted the 3.6 kg (8-pound) Sword of State upright for nearly an hour before exchanging it for the marginally lighter Jewelled Sword of Offering. An hour later, the 50-year-old presented the latter to the King, only to regain it later with “redemption money.” (Are you following this?) 

How did Mordaunt manage the ordeal? Push-ups, practice with weighted replicas, painkillers on the big day – and because of her naval training – didn’t faint because she wriggled her toes to keep blood circulating. 


Whale Ho!


You won’t find an aggressor like Moby Dick in the world’s first sperm whale reserve designated off Dominica, a small island nation in the Eastern Caribbean. But it will protect a vital feeding and nursing area for these “prized citizens of Dominica,” as Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit described them in November’s announcement of the reserve. The local population is estimated at 200 – its entire endangered Eastern Caribbean clan at fewer than 300.

But why do the largest toothed whale in the world need a safe place? Humans. 

They have been tangled in fishing gear, struck by our ships, bothered by persistent tourism aggravation and suffered from pollutants. New rules will regulate marine traffic and provide protocols for approaching the whales who, after all, are descendants of whales who have raised their young in the area long before people arrived. Like other whales, Dominica’s form close family ties and communicate through a clan dialect that researchers are trying to crack. Let’s hope that when they do, the whales won’t have to grumble about stupid humans.


Cover Girl at 81


Martha Stewart, 81, had few qualms about appearing on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover in May 2023. In 1996, she had posed sans suit on the August issue of Spy magazine, decorously arranged in front of a giant scallop shell a reference to Botticelli’s 15th century Birth of Venus painting. This time she prepped with a couple of months of Pilates, a light spray tan and her innate self-assurance – and looked fabulous. She also trounced Maye Musk’s record as the oldest SI Swimsuit cover model set in 2022 when Musk was 75.

But for Stewart, it wasn’t a matter of setting records. The influencer continues to host lifestyle programs on Roku and maintains that the SI experience is part of her ongoing self-creation. 

“When you’re through changing, you’re through,” she told a New York Times interviewer. 

And despite the sports magazine’s historic record, age isn’t a factor she considers in friends, feeling that what people think and do is the important thing. 

She and rapper and actor Snoop Dogg have been unlikely friends for 15 years, so she wasn’t surprised that he was impressed with her cover. He did, however, laughingly accuse her of “thirst-trappin’” – sultry pouting in some of the shots available on the SI website. 

Unplanned Parenthood — at 90!


We don’t know if Mr. Pickles, a 90-year-old radiated tortoise, cares that he’s finally become a dad, but the people at the Houston Zoo in Texas are relishing the arrival of three hatchlings they’ve dubbed Dill, Gherkin and Jalapeño. Mrs. Pickles, a much younger 53, probably hasn’t seen her offspring yet – a keeper spied her covering the newly laid eggs and rescued them. A species from southern Madagascar, the batch would not have survived the humidity and temperature in the Space City. 

The yellow markings that radiate from the bony plates on their domed shells give the tortoises their name. Add more yellow on head and limbs and they’re targets for the illegal pet trade, which is threatening the species’ survival.

Houston Zoo officials are chuffed because the critically endangered tortoises are not prolific breeders and these are the first babies since Mrs. P. arrived 27 years ago. Radiated tortoises can live up to 150 years so, fingers crossed, now that Mr. and Mrs. Pickles have finally got their groove on, there could be more little ones to come.


Baby It’s Cold Outside


Tony Foliot, a.k.a. the SnowKing, has been building a Snowcastle on the ice of Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife for more than 20 years. It began as a fun thing for his kids, but now it’s a community project under the SnowKing’s direction that is an annual structure tantalizing the city’s young as it grows to humongous proportions.

Construction for the March 2-24 2024 opening began in November. The layout of the multi-roomed palace morphs from year to year, but has a café, chapel, courtyard, massive slides, ice sculptures, designs etched in snow walls, an ice garden, art exhibits and a stage for performances, including rock bands, puppet shows and classical music. There’s even a SnowKing merch shop.

Foliot ships freight on the lake during the warm season, then becomes a kind of snow czar once it’s cold. And it gets very, very cold. Still, many of the Snowcastle’s crew, who respond to cool nicknames like Professor Chill, Billy Joe Yellowsnow, Baron Von Blizzard, and Emma Little Cold, book off work in January and February so they can build the castle. Come March, children will squeal as they slip down the slides; folks will wander through the castle site in cosy touques and jackets hoping to buy tickets to the evening shows. The brilliant white snow edifice glows against the cold blue sky – until the following months, when a warming sun will melt it into the waters of the 10th-largest lake in the world.


It’s a Game-Changer


After having fun with some virtual reality games, a medical scientist at the Ottawa Hospital began to think the technology could be better used. Rather than gaming, it might help surgeons prepare for difficult surgeries (and even be useful to show a patient what their operation would entail).

Justin Sutherland and his colleagues would go on to create Realize Medical, a software start-up that uses a combination of computerized axial tomography (CT), MRIs and VR to allow doctors to see (and possibly print) an exact 3-D model of the operation site that they can manipulate and become intimately familiar with before a procedure. Radiologist Dr. Kawan Rakhra, of the hospital’s orthopedic surgical team, told CTV News that surgeons appeared to be more confident, operations weren’t taking as long, and this should benefit patient outcomes. In January, the young company’s Elucis software got a preliminary nod from the FDA for use in the U.S. and was soon in use in 18 American hospitals.


See Hate? Who Ya Gonna Call?


In the seconds it took Corey Fleischer, a businessman in Montreal, to blast a swastika into oblivion, everything changed. The energetic operator of a successful power-washing company hadn’t been happy – life lacked substance, he explained during a TEDx talk in Laval, Que. Removing that symbol of hate, however, was so satisfying he began to drive around the city after work, looking for abusive messages to eliminate. 

There were about 50 in the first five years, but once he posted what he was doing on social media – removing hate messages and symbols for free – he got much busier. Regrettably, hate incidents have risen in Canada over the past decade and currently have multiplied, a result of the war between Hamas and Israel. 

Although he is Jewish, Fleischer doesn’t focus solely on antisemitic hate, but will target signs aimed at Black people, Muslims, LGBTQ+ and other minorities. Thousands follow his Erasing Hate posts on Facebook and Instagram, where he occasionally demonstrates how to clear offensive scrawls – nail polish often works quickly. Some spotlight them for others to obliterate and post results on Erasing Hate. Deleting the ugly signs, Fleischer says, takes away the hater’s voice.  


Is There a Doctor in the Audience?


Daniel Angus, a professor of digital communication at Queensland University of Technology, had no idea his appearance on an Australian Broadcasting Corporation News (ABC News) program would be lifesaving. In fact, his face worried a viewer nearly 2,000 km away. 

Dr. Graeme Siggs, an eminent skin cancer practitioner in Adelaide, was so concerned about a brown, flat lesion visible on Angus’ right cheek that he went online to find a few older photos of the professor and saw the spot had progressively enlarged. Alerted by an email from Siggs, Angus insisted his GP refer him to specialist, who diagnosed melanoma. 

Removed before it became dangerously invasive, the professor emerged with a scar – and gratitude for his life. Said Dr. Siggs to ABC News, “Had it grown to a more advanced invasive stage, it could have easily threatened his life.”


Tragedy Averted, India Rejoices


In the end, it was a small group of slim young men, called “rat-hole miners” – or manual extractors – who dug about 15 rock-filled metres to a large chamber where 41 workers had been trapped 17 days earlier. Those men had been building the Silkyara Bend-Barkot tunnel high in India’s Himalayan mountains when it collapsed. It was part of route that would provide better access to four pilgrimage sites in the state of Uttarakhand, but its geology makes the area notoriously difficult for construction.  

The tunnel’s failure had dumped 60 metres of rubble between the men and the outside world, yet hope for rescue was kept alive once small pipes were put in place to supply oxygen, water, food as well as communication with doctors, psychiatrists and families.

For days, augers chewed their way toward the cavern until damage from metal in the debris halted them. Fear of more cave-ins was also a growing concern. Eventually, officials began to realize that rat-hole miners could get to the men more quickly. 

These people, mostly poor, extract coal manually in dangerous conditions – illegal work in India. Hours after this small team began digging, they broke through to the excited trapped men who were then pulled to safety – and a joyful welcome – after a metre-wide pipe was installed. News of the rescue quickly flashed around the world, a rare antidote to the often-negative news of 2023.


“This Is Kind of Historic”: Martha Stewart, 81, Becomes Oldest Person to Grace the Cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit