Welcome signs in French, English, Arabic pop up in Ontario
Social network of friends and acquaintances leads to lawn placard campaign
As politicians and voters in Canada and the United States take stands on who belongs in a country and who doesn't, residents near Waterloo, Ont. are showing their signs of acceptance.
The signs are green, blue and orange – about the size of a small election poster – and declare: "No matter where you are from, we're glad you're our neighbour" in three languages, including Arabic.
The signs have started appearing on lawns across southwestern Ontario, prominently popping up in the small town of Elmira, in the Township of Woolwich, just north of Waterloo.
"I really think that we have to figure out how we're going to manage to get along with one another on this planet," explained Sandra Bray, who was one of the first to plant a sign. "It's a really big-picture issue with a little sign on my lawn as one little gesture in that direction."
She said seeing the sign on her lawn gives her a small sense of satisfaction, hoping that it has at least some effect on the people who walk by her house.
And if pedestrians miss Bray's sign, they won't have a long walk before they pass another one in front of the home of her neighbour, Sandra Bair.
"I'm a relatively new member of a book club made up of ... slightly rowdy women with a big social conscience," Bair told CBC News. "One of my friends at the book club, when everything was blowing up with the women's march after the Trump inauguration, sent out an email saying she had signs available."
She said that's how she got her sign, and it's been on her lawn ever since, though no one passing by has said much to her about it.
"And this, I think, is probably a typical Elmira response. It's a little 'live-and-let-live.' So, no, no one's spoken to me about it and I think probably I won't hear much about it," Bair said.
"I did think a little bit about putting it up in my community and how my neighbours might react to it, but given what happened in Quebec City I really think it's time for people to stand up and make a statement. So, I'm happy to have the sign on my front lawn."
And it's not just homeowners who are displaying the sign: it also appeared in front of Elmira District Secondary School late last week.
"It just felt important to put it out there," said English teacher Anne Kendall, who was responsible for the school's sign. "It feels like there aren't many things that we can do to remind people that it's important to embrace diversity and inclusion, and that felt like something I could do."
Kendall says she showed the sign to some of her colleagues before setting it out front, to see how they felt about it, but she hasn't had many conversations about it beyond that.
"It's kind of stealth," she said with a laugh. "I'm not one to do that kind of thing. I actually bought two signs and I put one on my front lawn in my little neighbourhood in Elmira. It is a big step for me."
When she walks past the sign in the morning, she said she's glad to see it, and hopes it makes the staff and students slow down and think about what it means.
Her sign came from Trinity United Church, where Rev. Sue Campbell has been handing out signs since the Quebec City mosque shooting on Jan. 29.
"We wanted to show that we are standing in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, with all Canadians," Campbell said of the sign that's planted outside her church. "It's not an 'us-them' kind of thing, it's a 'we.' We're all in this together."
Although she admits that a sign is a very simple thing, she said it's an important step to show people in the community that diversity is welcomed and appreciated.
"I'm concerned about the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric that has come out of the 'States," Campbell said, "and I'm concerned about it seeping into Canada. I've heard a few things from a couple of political candidates recently and I think it's important to mobilize and take a stand against that talk."
She said the idea to put the sign on her church lawn came from a friend in Kitchener – the same woman, it turns out, who provided signs to Sandra Bray and Sandra Bair.
Local Mennonite churches in Kitchener have started distributing signs in the area, explaining that the idea springs from a similar campaign run in Pennsylvania by a Mennonite church during the U.S. election.
Nancy Dykstra has a trunk full of welcome signs, and plans to purchase more from a friend in Collingwood.
"I had one sign at the beginning in December and then suddenly, in the last couple of weeks, there's been some kind of explosion of people noticing the sign in the front yard and asking where it's from," she said. "One thing has led to another and I've started to get orders for signs."
Dykstra said the amount of attention the sign is getting is exciting, and that she is becoming more of an advocate as a result, which surprises her.
"I wouldn't say I haven't been involved in something like this before, but it's never really started from something that I put out there," she said. "Like, it's a small thing to put something on your front yard."