On a small grassy hill, near both history and healthcare, sits a steadily growing outpouring of love to our community – a heart of Kingston.
“It was mostly just to give people hope,” says Mel Baker, whose family has been painting rocks gathered from Lake Ontario Park since late March.
“We know that people were feeling depressed and thought that if anybody was out wandering, it would bring a smile to their face.”
The stones started with simple messages such as ‘Be happy’, ‘Don’t give up’ and ‘Stay strong’, but it didn’t take long before the Baker family rocks weren’t alone.
“My kids were so excited the first time they came across a new batch of rocks that we hadn’t painted,” Baker noted, “they had the same effect [on us] that we’re hoping ours would.”
“And people tag us in photos and we have to say those aren’t ours. There’s a lovely batch that was left down by KGH that we had nothing to do with. There are quite the artists in Kingston,” she added.
As weeks of quarantine continued, however, the family project evolved. Stones with more supportive words such as ‘Support local’ and ‘Show some love’ were added – along with a batch of names and logos of local businesses the Baker family frequented.
“I know a lot of them had to close completely or are now relying on things like curbside pick-up, and we wanted to show our support to some amazing local businesses. We were going to do just a little row.”
As the number of stones grew, however, the concept of ‘a little row’ was quickly lost, and the Bakers formed them into the letters ‘YGK’ ahead of forming them into their now heart-shaped formation.
“We started with businesses that we frequented or were familiar with, businesses that we knew were having to do things differently. But we’ve branched out into ones we weren’t familiar with now, we’ve learned about so many new businesses,” Baker mentioned when asked about the selection process. “We’re trying to make a point of getting downtown businesses, but also branching out to the east and west ends,” she added.
Still, for all the love and care that goes into the stones and the happiness the Baker family hopes it brings, rocks do go missing.
“It’s a lot of hard work to bring them home, to properly sterilize the rocks before you paint them and then to bring them back out,” Baker noted, while discussing the missing rocks that her family and others have painted.
“We’d like to think they’re going home with somebody,” she added.
Despite the missing rocks, the hard work and the time commitment, though, the Baker family has no end date in sight.
“We’ll do it for as long as we can,” Baker commented about future plans, noting that there was a pile of rocks in her kitchen awaiting their paint.
For now at least, a heart of Kingston, captured in painted stones, seems like it will just keep growing.