TORONTO — From children's window art to balcony serenades and porch portraits — Canadians are coming together while maintaining their distance to try to lift community spirits during the COVID-19 crisis.
Taking a cue from similar initiatives in other parts of the coronavirus-affected world, including Italy and Spain, some Canadian families have started displaying their children's drawings of rainbows and other cheery images in the windows of their home to entertain neighbours and show solidarity.
Lee-Ann Webber of Stoney Creek, Ont., started the Facebook and Instagram accounts "Brighten Our World With Art" this week to encourage parents and their kids to draw pictures of a designated theme every other day and post them in their window. The themes include rainbows, flowers, animals and encouraging words.
She's also asking families to walk around the area — practising safe social distancing, of course — to hunt for the displays. Adults without kids can also participate, she stresses.
"It's helping parents with the isolation and giving their child something to do," says Webber, who owns a cleaning and organizing company and has two children.
Several other neighbourhoods throughout Canada are striking up similar "window walks" organized on social media.
Some communities are also encouraging residents to fire up their Christmas lights so they're visible from the street to combat feelings of gloom and anxiety amid the outbreak.
Music is also starting to fill the open air.
On Wednesday night, the downtown Toronto condo community CityPlace encouraged residents to go to their balconies and windows at a designated time to shout out to neighbours, flicker lights and play music for a couple of minutes. One member of the neighbourhood's Facebook group posted a video of themselves playing the song "I Will Survive" on a balcony as part of the event.
And on Tuesday, Toronto mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah took to her balcony to sing "O sole mio" to "bring a little sparkle" to her neighbours and passersby.
The host of CBC Radio's classical music program "Tempo" says she was inspired by a recent video of a tenor in Italy singing to his neighbours from his balcony.
She gave some neighbours a heads up before she nervously stepped out from days of isolation and onto the balcony in the chilly temperatures at sunset and "let it rip." She wore a gown and fancy necklace, with her hair and makeup done — as if she were onstage.
Her boyfriend filmed the performance, which has gone viral on social media and got some honks from cars below as well as a shout of "Brava" from a neighbour.
Nesrallah is now considering doing a second balcony performance, and has inspired a girlfriend of hers who's also a singer to do the same.
"I'm hoping that after this is all over, people who are at home and who are listening to artists they might not have time to listen to otherwise will become infected by their passion," Nesrallah says.
"And when it is all over, concert-going and taking in live music will be the thing that everybody is just itching to do because we've all been stuck behind closed doors for so long."
Scores of neighbourly posts are cropping up on social media all over the country, offering everything from grocery deliveries to rides and friendly check-ins.
Clay Charters, president and CEO of the Santa Claus Parade in Toronto, plans to go around his Etobicoke neighbourhood with photographer/neighbour Jeremy Sale in the coming days to shoot portraits of families on their porches and front steps while keeping a safe social distance.
The "Pictures of the Porch" project, which families are connecting to via Facebook, is intended to document how residents are spending their time and staying connected during this uneasy period.
"It's a very tight-knit community and had been prior to this, and there's a great deal of involvement and socialization," says Charters, who is currently working from home with his wife and two young children.
"So this is just a small way to keep us all connected but maybe to also recognize the work that everyone's doing in the community, because they're all making some sacrifices and it will be challenging for some people."
Darcie Richler, who works in project management and professional sponsorship in Toronto, started a Facebook group called Break the Boredom Challenge to lift spirits and keep people busy and motivated. The group has hundreds of members and features events including an "air band challenge" with each family mock-playing instruments, as well as uplifting posts and mental-health check-ins.
"I think it's going to be in the long haul, so we're going to need to do stuff like this," says Richler, who is holed up with her family at their cottage near Collingwood, Ont., where her young children have built their own snowboard rail and ski jump on their property to keep active during the outbreak.
"Things are really serious right now, but the more we can stay light, I think it will just work out better in the long run.... I keep saying to my kids, 'This is a we're having a lesson in resiliency right now and adaptability.'"
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2020.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press