Fort Mac Rocks: Fort McMurray goes 'crazy' for colourfully-painted rocks

Families in Fort McMurray are part of a trend that could be this younger generation’s version of collecting Pokemon cards.

'Every time I go out I see another kid outside looking for a rock'

Called Fort Mac Rocks, residents are scavenging for unassuming pebbles and small stones around the community and transforming them into works of art. (David Thurton/ CBC)

As if they were searching for gold, Christine St Onge and her kids spend their days looking for brightly-coloured painted rocks in trees, in the grass and along sidewalks.

The family is part of a trend in Fort McMurray that could be this younger generation's version of collecting Pokémon cards.

"Every time I go out, I see another kid outside looking for a rock," St Onge said. "It's out of control."

Rock collecting has always been a hobby for some, but Fort Murray has joined a movement that's kicking the hobby up a notch.

Called Fort Mac Rocks, residents are scavenging for unassuming pebbles and small stones around the community and transforming them into works of art.

Oblong and sharp stones morph into flowers, birds or cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse.

Before the works of art are hidden, pictures are posted on the Facebook group Fort Mac Rocks, along with hints where people can find them.

Christine St Onge said the rocks have become popular, with her daughter Caileigh, 3, and son Colten, 5, who earned the nickname “the Fort McMurray rock hunter.” (David Thurton/ CBC)
Families are transforming boring rocks into artistic creations. (David Thurton/ CBC)

The St Onge family proudly displays their found treasures in a glass cabinet in their living room.

But they don't just hunt and collect rocks, the St Onge family also helps create and hide them for others to discover.

The activity occupies quite a bit of time, St Onge said, for her daughter Caileigh, 3, and son Colten, 5, who earned the nickname "the Fort McMurray rock hunter."

'It's crazy'

Tina Tetreault manages the Facebook group, Fort Mac Rocks, that's grown to 8000 members and counting.

She saw the trend take-off in other communities and encouraged others locally to join her in painting and hiding rocks.

Posting the artistic designs are a huge part of the Fort Mac Rocks trend (Amanda McGinley/ Christine St Onge/ Jessie Jackson‎/ Marilyn Thompson (Facebook))
Tina Tetreault shows off her rock collection that she will be hiding for others to find. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Since then her phone has been buzzing with Facebook group notifications about people's creations and their finds.

"My phone blew up," Tetreault said. "And everybody I talked to said their phones were blowing up from Facebook. Like all they were seeing is rocks and rocks.

"It was crazy."

Local stores running out of paint

Kathy Gillard, owner of Kathy's Fiber Arts and Crafts, has seen the painted rock popularity first hand.

At one point she ran out of paint and brushes because so many people wanted acrylics and sealant for their creations.

"It started with a couple people trickling into the store," Gillard said. "Then they just started coming in and coming in."

She sold out close to a year's worth of black and white paint over the spring and summer.

It's a good problem to have, she said.

Family time

Tetreault admits she can't explain why the rock craze took off in Fort McMurray​, but Tetreault —the program director of Educare Early Intervention — speculates that perhaps parents are seeing the value of investing creative time with their children.

Tetreault said that the rocks have even become popular in the pediatric ward at the Northern Lights Regional Health centre.

"Parents are finding that their children are creative and that they can paint," Tetreault said. "Some are thanking me saying it reduces their children's anxiety."

Tina Tetreault hid this rock, she painted, in a park in Fort McMurray. (David Thurton/ CBC)

In September the local RCMP detachment said in a news release its officers will begin painting and hiding rocks in Fort McMurray and in the other rural communities in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. 

"There's not a park that you go to in Fort McMurray where you don't find kids, parents and painted rocks," Tetreault said.

For St Onge rock hunting and painting is one of the things that's bringing her family together cutting down on TV and computer use.

It also offers a much-needed distraction, she said, for families still rebuilding after the devastating 2016 wildfire.

"It's what Fort McMurray needs after the wildfire. It needs people to come together," St Onge said. "It needs people to have less screen time."

Connect with David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 


David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.