What was it about Canada this year? A new prime minister (headed this week to Washington)? An attempt at taking already legendary niceness up a notch? These stories caught our eye — in a good way.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to journalists as he arrives for a Liberal caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada on November 5, 2015.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

“Because it’s 2015,” Justin Trudeau said when asked why it was important to him to form a Cabinet made up of equal numbers of men and women. His surprise victory in October has paved the way for a Canadian version of cool that goes beyond the gender balance in his Cabinet.

The photogenic son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau has defended minority rights, even showing up personally at Toronto airport to greet Syrian refugees while political candidates south of the border spurned them.

A small congregation of Peterborough's Muslims have been praying in the living room of a nearby house as their mosque undergoes repairs. 

Jason Margolis

Quickly, an Ontario town raised $100,000 to repair a mosque that had been set afire after the Paris attacks in November. The town only knew the first name, Russell, of the man who organized the crowdfunding event to help.

“I think whoever did do this stuff, mostly when people do stuff like this, it is to divide and create enmity and hatred,” says imam Shazim Khan. “It didn’t happen, it backfired. The good actually came out. And we are very grateful for this.” 

Jennifer Nagel, a philosopher at the University of Toronto, is among a group of people privately sponsoring a family from Syria to live in Canada.

Jason Margolis

Canadians are coming out in droves to privately sponsor Syrian refugees. It is the only nation to allow such private resettlement. 

Jennifer Nagel — like millions of people across the globe — was moved by the photo of a 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a beach in Turkey. So, she hatched an idea.

“I put up a Facebook post asking if there was anybody in my network who might be interested in sponsoring refugees, bringing them over. I’d heard about the private sponsorship of a refugees program in Canada.”

Quickly, 15 friends and friends of friends stepped forward.

Tessa Hill and Lia Valente helped get the issue of consent into Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum. 


Lia Valente and Tessa Hill made a difference.

The two Ontario students, on a class assignment, made a short film about rape. The film got noticed, along with a petition to add consent to the sex-ed curriculum.

The girls got to meet Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to talk about sex education, and to lobby her on why the consent needed to be emphasized in the lesson plans.

Surprise: Their message got through. And their request became part of a new curriculum.

The girls know they’re growing up in a different world than their mothers did. Valente says her mother told her she didn’t know what “consent” meant “until she was in her 30s.”

"The two are not daunted by the generational gap," wrote Laura Lynch. "They’re excited to tackle it."

A boat passes through in front of the Toronto skyline during sunset at Ashbridge's Bay Park.

Mark Blinch

Sorry to ask, says Eric Weiner, but can Canada teach US to be a little nicer? Even when traffic is awful you rarely hear a horn, and the greetings are ubiquitous.

"Canada is to niceness as Saudi Arabia is to oil. It’s awash in the stuff, and it’s about time, I say, the rest of the world imported some," Weiner wrote in March

Readers, do you agree with Eric Weiner? What Canada story from the past year would you include in this collection? Let us know in the comments section below.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the first name of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. The reporter has been assigned to read "A Short History of Canada" as punishment.


From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International