Painted rocks can be pointed out in all corners of Marilyn Lachapelle’s home as she prepares a bag of them to be distributed through Terrace.
“There’s a lot of sadness in the world right now,” Lachapelle says. “I want to share the love, to make people aware, to put a smile on their face, and to say hello.”
For her, the pathway to healing has been long, but she’s finding some comfort in bringing colour to the world around her.
Still adjusting to life in Terrace, she moved here last September to be closer to her daughter after the tragic passing of her grandson, Samuel Christiansen, who had joined the Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario.
“He was only 20, he was going to come home the next week, after being in the service for three years.”
She says their entire family was eagerly awaiting for his return, but instead received the news that he was missing. He was swept away by the powerful rapids of the Ottawa River on June 22, 2018 while trying to save his friend, Lachapelle says.
Five days later, his body was discovered and brought back to Terrace with military honours in a flag-draped casket.
Standing in her kitchen, Lachapelle points to a few sentimental rocks kept by the window.
“When my grandson was small, he asked that I make him a ladybug rock. I also painted a rock that said ‘We love you to the moon and back’ and gave it to him on Christmas,” says Lachapelle. “My daughter asked if I wanted that rock back, so now it’s sitting up on my window sill.”
After his death, she continued to paint rocks and even made a few special ones which have been laid by his grave and the city’s cenotaph to honour him on Remembrance Day.
“He gave to the community so much and I thought that if I start this here, maybe I can change people for the better.”
Lachapelle has created a public Facebook group called ‘Love on the Rocks – Terrace’ which has almost 60 members who take part in seeking and painting rocks.
She says there are rules to rock painting. It’s like a game, where one must hide their creations on trails and parks. Whoever finds it has to post a picture on the page, and then rehide it again.
It’s not about collecting and hoarding the rocks that one person may find, as they should eagerly “share the love” and allow someone else to discover that joy.
If a person feels they need to keep that rock, they can. But Lachapelle doesn’t want people taking them all away from the world.
“I put some of the rocks out at the senior homes and by the hospital…places like that. People need a smile and they need something to look forward to.”
She says her rock painting hobby began almost 20 years ago and was inspired by a magazine article. Using acrylic paint to create an array of images, she uses varnish spray as her finishing touch to preserve her artwork from weather and time.
She primarily paints smiley faces and cartoon-looking insects onto rounded stones she finds by the river bank and then hides them outside. Sometimes, she gives them out as gifts because she says they are more meaningful than a greeting card.
“I’ve seen kids pick a rock up and the smiles on their face are great. They enjoy finding things,” says Lachapelle. “There has to be a connection [between art and nature]. With me, it’s more to do with something that makes me happy and to put it out there.”
Lachapelle has been painting rocks to help her think positively. Her husband has stayed behind in Smithers for work, so she lives alone now as she tries to offer parental support to her grieving daughter.
She says she’ll make a couple of rocks a day sometimes, and it helps her to keep going by imagining how surprised people will be when they find an unexpected smiling rock. She also thinks about the places the rock may visit after hearing stories of other ones who have been picked up and travelled across the world, documenting photos of their journey online.
But most importantly, she sees them as being grounding forces in someone’s life which might brighten up their pathway — however cobbled and rocky it may be at times.
“There are stories to them all, like why would you want to paint a rock? Why would you want to share it? That story just continues,” she says.
As part of that story, she encourages Terrace to take part of her ‘Love on the Rocks’ movement and do what they can to make everyone’s lives a bit brighter.