CBC News long reads of 2018 you shouldn’t miss

The world’s most expensive drug, one woman’s escape from NXIVM and a Quebec man’s new face are some of this year’s most-read longreads. If you missed them the first time around, catch up with them below, as well as other longform stories of 2018 by CBC News.

Sonar secrets

Pilot Ray Gran stands by the Cessna 180 with his brother Maurice Gran. Taken August 10, 1959, 10 days before the crash. (Submitted by Donald Kapusta)

Ray Gran and Harold Thompson died when a plane crashed in a northern Saskatchewan lake 59 years ago. Now, thanks to sonar technology, their families finally have some closure, Heidi Atter writes.

A million-dollar drug

Glybera was the world’s first gene therapy. It was developed by a team of scientists at the University of British Columbia. When it was approved for sale in Europe in 2015, its sale price was approximately $1 million US. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

It is one of this country’s great scientific achievements. The first drug ever approved that can fix a faulty gene. It’s called Glybera, and it can treat a painful and potentially deadly genetic disorder with a single dose. But most Canadians have never heard of it.

Money man

Robert Mercer is the enigmatic CEO of Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm that is widely thought to have had a large role in Donald Trump’s win in the 2016 U.S. election. (Oliver Contreras/Washington Post/Getty Images)

Reclusive U.S. billionaire Robert Mercer helped Donald Trump win the presidency. Mercer is reclusive and taciturn. He does not do interviews. He stays out of sight. But when he backed Trump’s presidential campaign and helped install Steve Bannon to run it, people began asking more seriously, “Who is this man?”

Back to the land

Kingston, Ont., resident Mary Farrar has bought a green burial plot for both her husband, Edward, who suffers from severe dementia, and herself. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

When it came time for Mary Farrar to plan for the death of her husband, Edward, who suffers from vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s, she decided she would pay hommage to his environmentalism and love of nature by ensuring he would have a so-called green burial. Farrar is part of a small but growing movement of people who for ecological, spiritual or financial reasons are seeking body disposal methods that are more environmentally sound.

A shocking discovery about human evolution

In 2002, Polish paleontologist Gerard Gierlinski found imprints on a beach in Crete that he believes were made by our ancient ancestors. (Submitted by Gerard Gierlinski)

Gerard Gierlinski’s trip to the Greek island of Crete in 2002 was meant to be a romantic getaway for him and his girlfriend. But it ended up becoming considerably more momentous than that — leading to a discovery that could dramatically alter the story of the human race.

Escaping NXIVM

Sarah Edmondson said her work with Executive Success Programs helped her find strength, but she has cut ties since a high-placed leader invited her into a splinter ‘social’ group, which ESP says it has no connection to. (Harold Dupuis/CBC)

How does someone like Sarah Edmondson — so bright and seemingly normal — join a self-help group and wind up in an alleged sex cult with the suspected leader’s initials seared on her pelvis?

The face of a stranger

After a 2011 hunting accident, Quebecer Maurice Desjardins, 65, thought he’d live forever with half a face. Then a confident young surgeon made an extraordinary offer.

Dog DNA and a suspected Indian status scam

Toronto-based Viaguard Accu-Metrics determined and Mollie, left, and Snoopy had Indigenous DNA after the lab was sent cheek swab samples under human names. (Submitted by Daniel Brabant and Louis Côté)

When Louis Côté became suspicious of a Toronto-based laboratory that tests people’s DNA to determine their ancestry, he decided to try an experiment by submitting a sample from his girlfriend’s dog for analysis. According to the results, Côté shares more than a friendship with Snoopy the chihuahua; they share the exact same Indigenous ancestry. 

Descent into darkness


The story of Sebastian Woodroffe, a B.C. man who went to Peru seeking enlightenment through the mind-altering drug ayahuasca and ended up dead — a killing police suspect was carried out as retaliation by local villagers who believed Woodroffe had shot and killed a beloved shaman.

The horrors of St. Anne’s

Ontario Provincial Police files obtained by CBC News reveal the history of abuse at the notorious residential school that built its own electric chair. (Algoma University/Edmund Metatabwin collection)

The preteen girls would take turns with the towel in the bathroom of St. Anne’s Indian Residential School. One at a time they would wrap it around their throats and pull it tight. “We called it getting high. We’d get dizzy, lightheaded,” one of them said during an interview with Ontario Provincial Police investigators. The interview transcript is among thousands of pages of OPP records from a sprawling investigation into abuse at St. Anne’s obtained by CBC News.

Sourcing metals in the sea

(Nautilus Minerals)

As the demand for metals such as copper, cobalt and manganese, which are used in the manufacture of smartphones, batteries and other ubiquitous items, has grown, companies have invested millions of dollars in researching how to extract them from the ocean floor. But some environmentalists are skeptical that deep-sea mining can be done in a clean, ethical way. We explore the potential and the pitfalls of this type of mineral exploration.

It happened before

Toronto’s Yonge St. in the 1970s. (City of Toronto Archives)

Forty years ago, 14 gay men were brutally killed in Toronto. Half of those cases are still unsolved, and police are looking for any potential links between those homicides and the ones Bruce McArthur is accused of now.

Looking for Jennifer

Jennifer Hillier-Penney disappeared from her estranged husband’s house on Nov. 30, 2016. The Fifth Estate investigates the alleged kidnapping and homicide that haunts a remote Newfoundland town.