The mysterious stones of a Vancouver street

How I found connection through a small stone display

On top of a rectangular, commemorative stone in Vancouver sits many smaller stones. Circular stones. Flat stones. A stone that looks like a jumbo jellybean. These smaller stones are not officially part of the commemorative stone—which notes that the Musqueam, Tsleil’Waututh, and Squamish peoples have lived in what is now Vancouver for over 3,000 years—but were recently placed there.

The first stone to appear on top was the jellybean one. A few weeks ago, I noticed it during a walk around Mount Pleasant, the Vancouver neighbourhood I call home. I didn’t think much of it. During my daily walks, I passed the jellybean stone dozens of times, registering it in my periphery like I might a house or tree.

Last week, my wife Sarah and I decided to go for a late-night walk. We craved fresh air after an entire day working on our computers and taking Zoom calls in our 250-square-foot-apartment. On the walk, we stopped at the commemorative stone instead of passing it like we normally would. The jellybean stone, for whatever reason, had captured our full attention.

Upon examination, we noticed how precariously balanced the stone was, how someone must have placed it on its tip with great care. We also noticed the stone had a small design painted on it, which looked a bit like a speech bubble you’d see in a comic book. For several minutes, we appreciated the jellybean stone in all its intricacy and mystery. Then we decided to make our own contribution. We picked three stones from the ground and balanced them (after some trial and error) around the jellybean stone.

Two days later, we passed the commemorative stone while driving home from an appointment and, to our surprise and excitement, more stones had been added. I had actually noticed the stone additions on an earlier walk, but I had been blasting a podcast on American politics through a set of noise-cancelling headphones and didn’t properly register the development. Once we arrived home, we set off on foot to visit the stones, just a few dozen meters from the doorstep of our apartment building.

Not only had someone (or multiple someones) added stones, but they added stones on top of the ones we had previously placed, which created little stacks. The top surface of the commemorative stone was now mostly covered, and I felt a strange streak of pride in helping to create the display in front of us, which had become something of an impromptu, collaborative art piece.

The sense of pride, I think, came from manoeuvring and manipulating physical objects with my hands to create something, a novel event in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in which most of my manoeuvring and manipulating occurs in Microsoft Word and Google Chrome. I also felt in community with a stranger (or strangers) in my neighbourhood who had stopped and paid attention in the same physical space Sarah and I had, who had added stones on top and beside our stones. This sense of community, at least the physical component of it, felt novel too.

Before we left, a man exited the building behind us.

“The rocks just keep growing and growing,” he said, looking at the display.

We chuckled and agreed, though we didn’t tell him about our contribution.

Sarah recognised the man as the father of her friend, which she confirmed with him. He apologised for not initially recognising Sarah, which was understandable given that he hadn’t seen her for nearly ten years.

It’s funny the connections a few stones can make. During courtship, male Adélie penguins present females with stones. If the female penguin approves, she’ll add the stone to her nest, blossoming the bonding process. For me, a male Homo sapiens, stacking a few stones made me feel a bit more human.