In the one sense, we are always living through history. But some years seem more historic than others.
Should a third volume of The Lives of Dalhousie books ever be written, with someone new picking up the pen from historian P. B. Waite (who passed away in August at age 98), the events of 2020 would fill an exceptional chapter and then some. Though not completely unprecedented — as our editor noted back in March in a reflection on the 1918 Spanish Flu – the unique impacts and means for living and working through a 21st century global pandemic made for a year truly unlike any other in Dalhousie’s two-century history.
Life during COVID
In mid-March, when courses shut down to begin their transition to online remote learning, Dal News took a couple of weeks off so our communications staff could focus on immediate pandemic needs. But this short rest was, indeed, short, as in April we roared back to life, telling stories of students, instructors, researchers, alumni and community volunteers — all doing their part to figure out this new reality, to contribute to a bigger cause, and to remind one another of the reasons why we’re all here at Dalhousie.
Throughout the rest of the calendar year, more than a third of all Dal News stories dealt explicitly with the COVID-19 pandemic in one way or another, and its weight and shadow can be felt in most of the other stories we published as well. We looked at how courses, thesis defenses, field outings and theatre performances all changed in the pandemic. We profiled the Dal researchers stepping up to better understand COVID-19’s impacts, inform tools for front-line care, and work towards a vaccine. (Our most-read story of the year was about the federal government’s announcement that CanSino vaccine clinical trials would take place at Dalhousie — though a delay in shipping the vaccine to Canada led to a re-focusing on other vaccine priorities.)
We told stories of PPE donations, emergency dentistry support, pop-up testing clinics on campus and academic efforts to “reimagine” a post-pandemic Nova Scotia. We profiled student volunteers on the 811 phone lines and in the community, as well as those working to create protective gear for personal and professional use. And we showcased the resilience and creativity of the Dalhousie community to find new ways of doing things — custodial teams and health-and-safety workers keeping campus clean and safe; libraries, residences and other services adjusting to the pandemic; and digital efforts to connect people in new ways.
The COVID-19 pandemic also loomed large in one of our new regular series this year: “Ask an Expert,” featuring Q&As with Dal experts on current news and events. The series shared insight on parenting challenges during COVID, pandemic stigmas, the Atlantic Bubble, social ties in an era of social/physical distancing and the impact of the pandemic on marginalized communities. The series also tackled police violence and racism, Treaty rights — a topic of significant import in Nova Scotia this year — and the U.S. presidential election, alongside many other subjects.
Of course, the expertise of Dal researchers could be found all over Dal News throughout the year. New Dal research explored what it will take to preserve marine life for the future, how ocean ecosystems are evolving, and the depletion of reef shark populations globally. New funding for ocean life monitoring and genetic research continued to put Dal research on the national and internal stage. Dalhousie launched the first ever International Restorative Justice Lab, hosted the first research chair in Nova Scotia on Indigenous nursing, and introduced the OpenThinkers initiative to shine a spotlight on PhD research. No wonder our research community continued to receive significant recognition this year — from five new appointees to the Royal Society of Canada to major honours for researchers like Erin Johnson (Chemistry) and Lois Jackson (Health and Human Performance).
Darkness and light
There’s no question that 2020 was a hard year, even beyond just the pandemic. One of the first major events of the year was the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 in Iran, killing all 176 passengers and crew including a Dal student and an alumnus. The crash of a Canadian Armed Forces helicopter in June included among those lost a recent Dalhousie graduate. The murder of George Floyd may have been the year’s most prominent example of racial injustice, but it was only one of many acts of police violence and other examples of systemic racism that sparked widespread global protest. And, of course, the devastating losses in April from Canada’s most deadly mass shooting sparked outrage and sadness across Nova Scotia and beyond.
Yet even the year’s darkest events inspired light — like Dalhousie students raising thousands of dollars for scholarship for future Iranian students, or taking part in a cross-province trek to raise awareness and support in true #NSStrong fashion, or the ways in with faculty, students and staff took on important discussions and actions around anti-Black racism. The pandemic, too, inspired great acts of generosity and kindness, like how more than 400 supporters contributed to helping 1,100 students through the Student Emergency Relief Fund, or how donors and alumni came together to contribute $165,000 for student-led food security initiatives at Nova Scotia universities.
Pushing forward and celebrating achievement
Meanwhile, through all the challenges that 2020 brought, Dalhousie kept moving forward. The university welcomed several prominent new faces, among them President Deep Saini, Chancellor Scott Brison, Vice-President Finance and Administration Gitta Kulczycki and Board Chair Bob Hanf. Two important new community engagement positions were created, with Catherine Martin and Jalana Lewis joining the university to help build stronger relationships with Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities respectively. Dalhousie reached a new record milestone in research funding (more than $181 million) and ranked among the world’s top 100 universities in social impact. Important milestones were marked — 50 years of the Transition Year Program, 30 years of the Black Student Advising Centre, 50 years of the School of Information Management — while the university also looked ahead to a future that is more accessible and more sustainable.
And even with the weight of this year, there was still so much to celebrate. We had new Dalhousie Order of Canada honourees to start and end the year. We celebrated major artistic achievements in our community and architectural ones too. We saw students push forward with national recognition for their community engagement, their skills on their fields and courts of play (and off them as well), and their research achievements. We found new ways to salute our graduates and welcome new and future students. And the year was capped off last month with celebrating Dalhousie’s 92nd Rhodes Scholar, Engineering student Sierra Sparks.
It’s truly been a year to remember (even if parts of it we’d all like to forget). Thank you for reading along through it all with us. On behalf of our entire Dal News team, we send best wishes for a safe, rewarding new year. See you in 2021!
Dal News' top 10 most-read stories of 2020
(as of December 18)
- Researchers at Dalhousie to lead human trials of COVID-19 vaccine (May 19)
- From Rhodes Scholar to future Stanford star: Dal alum Maike van Niekerk named Knight-Hennessy Scholar (May 8)
- How Canada compares to other countries on COVID-19 cases and deaths (July 23)
- Engineering inspiration: How new Rhodes Scholar Sierra Sparks brings community to life (Nov 23)
- Dal ranks among the world’s top 100 universities in social impact (April 23)
- Pandemic programming: International study reveals impact of COVID on software professionals (May 7)
- Getting to know Deep: A Q&A with Dal’s new president (Jan 15)
- Federal government invests in student financial aid (April 22)
- Munro Day explained (February 6)
- Royal recognition: Get to know the five world-class researchers just appointed to the Royal Society of Canada (Sept. 8)
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