Toronto Life’s top longreads of 2021

The highs, the lows, the heroes and the villains: a ranking of our most popular stories of the year

As far as years go, let’s be real: we’ve had better. Twenty-twenty-one started with a third wave and ended with a fourth. Our long-form features endeavoured to tell the stories that emerged from that trying time. That included pieces about Covid-prompted real estate decisions, restaurant empires that went belly up, the hidden homeless, a pandemic relief scam at Queen’s Park, and the heart-wrenching realities of being a doctor on the pandemic ward. There were also riveting tales of a wild property battle on the Toronto Islands, a doctor making a fortune off fentanyl and a very large man obsessed with very small things. 

Below, our most-read stories of the year.

No. 10: How I survived Canada’s residential school system

The discovery of hundreds of Indigenous children’s remains in the spring was particularly hard for me—because I knew I could have been one of them. How I made it through Canada’s residential school system | By Roberta Hill | July 27

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No. 9: The scam that revealed chaos and a culture of fraud at Queen’s Park

Sanjay Madan’s job was to distribute pandemic payments to Ontario families. He found an ingenious way to take millions for himself. Inside the scam that revealed chaos and a culture of fraud at Queen’s Park | By Ethan Lou | May 25

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No. 8: Inside a vicious property battle on the Islands

There are 262 homes on the picturesque Toronto Islands, and the battle to get one is epic. Inside the fight over a prime property that’s ripping the tight-knit community in two | By Katherine Laidlaw | July 23

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No. 7: “I lost three patients in 36 hours”: a memoir from the Covid ward at Toronto General Hospital 

As an infectious diseases specialist working in the Covid ward, I’m often the only person my patients see, touch or talk to for weeks at a time. We develop real friendships—which makes it all the more devastating when they die | By Abdu Sharkawy  | January 12

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No. 6: The untold story of the doctor who fuelled a drug crisis

George Otto was a respected family physician with a bustling clinic in the northwest corner of the city. But he had a secret: after hours, he was running a booming fentanyl business | By Brett Popplewell  | March 22

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No. 5: “I’m a front-line worker. I live in my car. And I’m not unique”

People like me—the hidden homeless—have always been around. The pandemic is only making a bad situation worse | By Tim MacFarlane | February 22

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No. 4: This man is the Jeff Bezos of the international drug trade

Tse Chi Lop, the suspected ringleader of a $21-billion crime syndicate, may be the world’s most innovative drug lord. And Toronto was his training ground | By Stephen Marche | November 1

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No. 3: The man who built a $24-million miniature replica of Canada

Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer was born into an unfathomably rich European dynasty. He used a little of that wealth—and a lot of tenacity—to build his $24-million miniature version of Canada at Yonge and Dundas. Why? Because it’s cool | By Luc Rinaldi  | July 8

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No. 2: Inside the rise and fall of the Buca empire

For years, Buca was the place to go for glitzy, big-ticket nights out. Its founders tried to replicate the experience across the city, fuelled by massive infusions of investment capital and faith that the restaurant industry would never die. Then the music stopped. How did a sprawling empire wind up $35 million in debt? | By Chris Nuttall-Smith | September 22

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No. 1: Leaving Toronto seemed like a good idea at the time

I lived in downtown Toronto for 35 years and loved every second of it. My Trinity-Bellwoods home was my retirement plan. When the pandemic came along, I cashed in early—just like so many other claustrophobic, Covid-weary Torontonians. Now I’m in the country, far from everything, left wondering if I made a huge mistake | By David Eddie | October 25

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