Afternoon crowds swirled through Vancouver's Robson Square as Morgaine Owens laid out her yoga mat and a simple sign inviting any of the hundreds of strangers to stop and share one minute of eye contact.

Less than a minute later, Owens sat facing a willing stranger, silently gazing into her eyes for a full 60 seconds.

"I could tell that there was a person there and that you had a soul and you had a life," said the stranger, reflecting on the experience.

The action was a practice run for a much larger, global event set to take place in the square this weekend as part of the World's Biggest Eye Contact Experiment.

Ten cities in Canada and hundreds around the world are setting aside a public space to challenge people to "connect in peace by sharing eye contact in public," according to the event's website.

"We become more present, more open and more aware of ourselves and other people," said Owens, who helped organize the event at Robson Square.

Why?

With one successful stare down complete, Owens set out to find another but it took coaxing to convince a second stranger to give it a go.

"Yeah, I can try to look at you for a minute. Can I blink? What's the purpose of this?" he asked.

Organizers bill the event as a chance to experience true human connection, something they argue the world is thirsting for in a modern and digital era.

"When we feel connected to each other, we feel more peaceful, more open and less alone," according to the event's website.

Eventually, Owens and the second stranger locked pupils and the obvious discomfort began to dissipate.

"It was good and then it got bright when the sun came out," said the second stranger, adding that he regularly makes a point of making eye contact when talking with others.

Owens said she felt grateful for the time she spent with the others and hopes the experience will help people understand and connect with one another on Saturday.

"Just the silence itself is breaking down some barriers. We're not filling the gaps with anything other than connection," she said.

With files from Jodie Martinson and On the Coast