Edmonton

Fairy doors, gnome homes enchant Edmonton's river valley

A colony of fairies and gnomes appears to be taking up residence in Edmonton’s river valley.

'I didn't tell anyone I was doing it'

A 'fairy home' hangs in the trees in Edmonton's river valley. The whimsical structures have been cropping up across city. (Jeanette Spencer)

A colony of fairies and gnomes appears to be taking up residence in Edmonton's river valley.

If you look closely, you can find miniature cottages and tiny doorways. There are thatch-roofed houses no larger than a bird house. Wooden passageways covered in moss sit among the tree trunks.

Inscriptions suggest they are home to a magical folk but their inhabitants are nowhere to be found.  

The whimsical installations have been quietly cropping up in the city since September 2017 but how they got there — and who constructed them — was a mystery.

We would go at night to not get caught.- Jeanette Spencer

Jeanette Spencer said her work on the YEG Fairy Gardens project has remained a closely guarded secret until now.

With the help of a trusted lookout, she often creeps into the woods under cover of darkness to install her magical creations under the treetops.

"I didn't tell anyone I was doing it," Spencer said. 

"We didn't even tell our friends. It was just the five of us who knew."

 

When Spencer started "planting" the fairy gardens, her husband and three teenage children were enlisted as co-conspirators.

"We would go at night to not get caught," she said.

"Sometimes my 14-year-old would kind of stand and keep watch for anybody coming and I would tie something around the tree really quick."

Spencer, a full-time artist, has installed 100 miniature homes, tiny portals and doorways and scattered them across the urban trail network.

Word on her secret side project started to get out about six months ago.

"I never had my name or anything on it but we started telling some of our friends and it wasn't such a secret anymore."

Enchanted forest 

Spencer said she was inspired by the work of Robyn Frampton, who began anonymously installing intricate fairy homes deep in the forest of Overland Park, Kan., in 2013.

Spencer's original garden was located in Capilano Park but it mysteriously disappeared. Someone, or something, took notice.

"It's funny," she said. "They sometimes reappear elsewhere.

"After that stuff at Capilano Park disappeared, we had a good laugh because someone had made a little memorial around the tree where we had our original fairy garden.

"They had a little fence and cross. It was hilarious."

 

While Spencer's installations started deep in the woods, she recently decided to place some of her pieces closer to home.

Her block in the Holyrood neighbourhood in the city's southeast is dotted with tiny art.

It's enchanting to watch people interact with the anonymous installations, she said. She loves to capture the imagination of children and adults alike.

"My block is full. I have 11 little doors on my block, there's little windmills, there's a pumpkin," Spencer said. 

"It's really heartwarming. I will look out my window sometimes and I love that I have some close to home because I can see the little kids with their parents."

Many of her fairy doors come equipped with tiny mailboxes. Neighbourhood kids leave messages for the fairies. One girl in particular, the daughter of a family friend, was so enchanted she began to overcome her fear of reading and writing.

"Her mom was at her wits' end with this kid but the fairies were able to get her to read and write," Spencer said.

"She wasn't going to read a book but she's going to read a note from the fairies."

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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