These were the stories that got Toronto talking in 2019

These were the stories that got Toronto talking in 2019

With 2020 nearly here, it's time to take a look back at the biggest news stories of the year in the Greater Toronto Area — and what a spin around the sun it's been.

To reflect on 2019, CBC Toronto has curated a list of some of the year's most talked-about headlines.

Raptors win big

The Raptors' incredible NBA championship win has to be a contender for story of the year in Toronto. 

The team's incredible playoff runKawhi Leonard's unforgettable buzzer-beating shot$120,000 courtside seats and a victory parade attended by more than a million fans — the Raps made headlines for three straight months.

It was a chapter of sports history that Toronto will never forget.

Chair girl

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

While many people seem ready to forget her, it's impossible to reflect on the year that was in news without mentioning 'chair girl.'

For some reason incomprehensible to most people, Marcella Zoia, 19 at the time, decided to throw a folding chair from the balcony of a downtown Toronto highrise onto the streets below. 

A short video of the toss made Zoia instantly infamous. In November, she pleaded guilty to one count of mischief endangering life. She is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

Riya Rajkumar

Lisa Calderon/Facebook

Like any other year, there has been no shortage of tragedy in the GTA in 2019. But one, in particular, hit Canadians especially hard.

Riya Rajkumar, 11, was the subject of a late night Amber Alert on February 14.

Hours later, the Brampton girl was found dead in a basement apartment where her father lived. Roopesh Rajkumar, 41, was charged with first-degree murder in her death, but died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in hospital just a few days later.

Riya was remembered as a beautiful, lively young girl who "touched a lot of lives" in her short life.

The Ford government


Premier Doug Ford's government captured the country's attention during a whirlwind year in Ontario politics.

Its first budget in April set the stage for major changes in hot-button areas of policy like health care, autism treatment and services, public transit and education — just to name a few.

Ford's aggressive agenda has sparked clashes with influential interest groups and even led the province to walk back some of its moves in the face of staunch opposition.

There were also some more outlandish controversies, like a plan to purchase a $50K custom van for the premier and his team to travel in and a number of eyebrow-raising patronage appointments that preceded his chief of staff's resignation

Oh and, of course, the province changed the slogan on Ontario licence plates.

Alleged workplace poisoning

Chris Young/Canadian Press

It's a tale of workplace rivalry gone dangerously overboard — and one that, apparently, lots of Canadians could empathize with (for lots of different reasons, we assume).

Matsa Beliashvili says that she went through "hell" as her one-time co-worker at the Estée Lauder counter in the downtown Hudson's Bay location allegedly tainted her drinking water with Lysol cleaning spray on multiple times over several months.

Beliashvili, then 33, had bouts of nausea, headaches and skin irritations, she said. In some instances, she had to take days off work because she felt so ill.

After security cameras caught her co-worker in the act, police charged the woman with one count of administering a noxious substance with intent to cause bodily harm and one count of mischief to interfere with property.

A happy ending

Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

It was a whirlwind affair that began with a Saudi teen barricaded in a Thai hotel room bravely defying the laws of her country, and against long odds, refusing to return to her allegedly abusive family.

Just days later, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun was on Canadian soil, flanked by smiling officials and local service providers amid the flash of cameras — a swift resolution to a story that could have had a very different ending.

The #SaveRahaf campaign would have been impossible without help from an online group of like-minded Saudi women who campaigned for women's rights online.

In a one-on-one interview with CBC News, the teen opened up about what she'd been through.

"I was exposed to physical violence, persecution, oppression, threats to be killed. I was locked in for six months," she said in Arabic, describing what happened after she cut her hair, something her family was strongly against.

"I felt that I could not achieve my dreams that I wanted as long as I was still living in Saudi Arabia."

5 siblings find each other

Chris Young/Canadian Press

With a little detective work and help from a DNA test, an Ontario woman recently found three sisters and a brother she never knew she had.

This is a story about the strength of familial bonds and love between siblings that captivated readers across Canada.

Local talents breaks big


It was a big year for homegrown GTA talent. 

In July, it was announced that Mississauga's Simu Liu will be Marvel's first Asian-American superhero on the silver screen.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is slated for release in 2021.

Liu also plays Jung on the CBC sit-com Kim's Convenience.

That same month, Mississauga teen Maitreyi Ramakrishnan got news that she had beat out 15,000 competitors to snag the central role in Mindy Kaling's new Netflix comedy series.

She was at home in her dining room when Kaling — best known for The Office and The Mindy Project — and co-creator Lang Fisher called to give her the good news.  

Inspired by elements of Kaling's own upbringing, the series is said to be a coming-of-age tale centred on Devi, a modern-day, first-generation Indian-American teen.

Evan Mitsui/CBC

One of the things Ramakrishnan is most excited about is that the series will tell stories through the lens of a young South Asian woman growing up in North America.

"I'm a firm believer that if you don't see what you want in the media or in the world in general, you should go out there and be that change and take up that space," she said.  

"Go after your dreams. Don't stop for anyone," she told CBC News.

Falling vomit, bones, bottles and butts


If you, like an ever increasing number of Torontonians, live in a highrise building or near one, than you can probably relate to this story on some level.

In February, residents of a century-old historic building downtown told CBC Toronto they were fed up with their neighbours vomiting and tossing bottles, bones, and cigarette butts down onto their balconies.

"It's a beautiful building, but it's a shame," said Richard Blundell, who lives in a fifth-floor penthouse unit in the building. 

Trouble on the runway

Lisa Xing/CBC

As home to one of the busiest airports in North America, the GTA serves as the setting for all kinds of hellish travel stories.

This year, Canadians were particularly interested in the ordeal of David Kitchen and his fellow passengers aboard a flight to Victoria. The weary travellers boarded the Air Canada plane at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday but didn't take off until almost 3 a.m. the next day.

You read that right: they spent nearly seven hours stuck on the tarmac. 

"The underlying thing is there was just really no communication," said Kitchen.

About a month later, passengers on a Sunwing flight from Toronto to Cancun had their own infernal air travel experience.

Fatal boat crash on Lake Joseph

Submitted by David Kitchen

On the night of Aug. 24 on Lake Joseph in Ontario cottage country, Linda O'Leary was driving a boat involved in a crash that killed two people, Gary Poltash, 64, and Suzana Brito. 48. Both were on a vessel that was struck by O'Leary's boat and they suffered fatal head trauma in the collision. 

The wife of entrepreneur and media personality Kevin O'Leary — known for his cantankerous on-screen persona  — O'Leary's case garnered a lot of public interest.

She has since been charged with careless operation of a vessel under the Canada Shipping Act. If found guilty, she could face a $10,000 fine. The man driving the other boat, Robert Ruh, and is charged with failing to exhibit a navigation light while underway.

CBC News reported in November that the OPP say O'Leary had alcohol on her breath in the hours following the crash. She says she was a given vodka beverage by someone after the collision.

O'Leary is scheduled to be back in court in January.

Container market

Kevin O'Leary/Instagram

Sometimes among the deluge of discouraging headlines it can be easy to lose sight of how dynamic and interesting Toronto can be.

At the beginning of 2019, Toronto unveiled a stacked container market built on a 2.6-acre plot of city-owned land that had been vacant for years.

The complex at 28 Bathurst St. eventually opened in the spring and remains a popular spot near the waterfront. 

The more than 100 recycled shipping containers house dozens of businesses. 

Lots of CBC readers said they were happy to see an otherwise vacant space used for something a little more stimulating.