Image West Gallery co-owner Courtney Johnson lends a smile beside her melodious door collage of hearts. As of March 20, the Ucluelet gift shop that has been in business for 30 years will be closed indefinitely. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Ucluelet gallery owner finds inspiration with community heart ‘hunt’

Courtney Johnson hopes COVID-19 closure will be temporary

For Ucluelet gift shop co-owner Courtney Johnson, the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis comes as a double whammy. However, she is finding a way to pass on a positive message by participating in a community heart hunt.

Johnson has been forced to close her gift shop, Image West Gallery, temporarily to comply with provincewide restrictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also had to cancel her children’s Glee Club when the community centre shut down.

One of her uplifting messages, written in a cutout heart and taped to the front door of her shop, quotes Ben. E. King’s song Stand By Me: “No I won’t be afraid, No I won’t be afraid, just as long, as long as you stand by me.” She says it’s a message of strength, love and safety to everyone in her west coast community.

“This is our home,” she said. “Honestly, this place literally saved me: life and soul, and this too shall pass. Let’s remember each other when all of this is over. I won’t forget the people I love.”

The community heart hunt is gaining traction in communities across the country. In Port Alberni, Janis Joseph saw a post on social media about a “community heart hunt” in another British Columbia city, and shared it on Facebook.

The idea took off, and Joseph has helped facilitate a similar activity for families to do in Port Alberni.

“Other communities are doing this. I’ve taken it and run with it,” she said.

“Hang hearts where people can see them, either on your front door or window, or in a tree.”

Joseph has suggested having hearts up by 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 21 so people can go around their neighbourhoods or for a drive around town searching out hearts. She said that doesn’t mean people should break the provincial Medical Health Officer’s rules for social distancing.

“I think people are scared; what I’ve been trying to say is if you’re not comfortable with this you don’t have to participate. You can hang a heart in your window. It’s OK to take a drive and look for hearts,” Joseph said.

“They are little bits of hope around the community…it just gives people a message of hope.”

Bailey Grose of Prince George kickstarted the heart hunt in her northern B.C. city after seeing something similar about a shamrock hunt for St. Patrick’s Day. She told a Prince George radio station she thought the hearts would be something longlasting.

In Amherst, Nova Scotia, the city’s recreation department created a “Community Windows” schedule asking people to decorate their windows with different themes every few days—like spring, silly faces, animals, encouraging words, jokes (for April 1) and Easter eggs—then sharing their photos to brighten people’s days.

There is a local Community Heart Hunt page on Facebook where Joseph encourages people to post photos of their hearts and others they may find during their walk. on Saturday. She hopes once the first heart hunt happens in Port Alberni that more people will put them up in their windows for a second heart hunt on Saturday, March 28.

Corrie Baron has also set up a Port Alberni April Easter Egg Hunt 2020—Social distancing made Fun page on Facebook for a similar activity. From April 1–12, she suggests people put egg decorations in their windows so people can go on an Alberni Valley-wide Easter egg hunt.

“I thought it would be fun to have a city-wide Easter egg hunt,” Baron said. “Things will be different for people this Easter, so a city/ neighbourhood Easter egg hunt might brighten the littles’ day while out or driving.

“When the kids in the neighbourhood go for a walk they can count how many they find. It’s easy, fun, you get fresh air and involves no human contact.”

The Easter egg hunt page already has 60 members, and they are sharing ideas for egg crafts, from making them look like suncatchers to colouring your favourite cartoon character on them and hanging them in the window.

“It’s just levity in a scary time,” Joseph said.

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Image West Gallery co-owner Courtney Johnson has taped heart-shaped messages of love and encouragement in her Ucluelet store window. (Nora O’Malley photo)

When Janis Joseph of Port Alberni saw a social media post about another community doing a ‘heart hunt’, she thought it was a perfect activity for ‘the Community With a Heart.’ (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

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