When Eva Goldthorp put an orange paper heart in her living room window in Chilliwack, British Columbia, she had no idea that hundreds of orange hearts would soon hang in windows across Canada.
“It started unassumingly enough and then it exploded,” said Eva who was on maternity leave at the time from her position as sales assistant at CORCAN at Matsqui Institution.
After hearing the news about the 215 children’s graves found at the former Kamloops Residential School, Eva’s husband Josh, who is Indigenous, suggested she make an orange heart to put in their window to show solidarity with the Indigenous families suffering with this knowledge.
“That was the start of it. I made one for our window, and everybody wanted one,” said Eva.
Eva is a graphic artist and designed a large heart with two feathers hanging inside of it. She used a Cricut machine to cut the fine, intricate feather pattern in silhouette, which would be difficult and time consuming to cut by hand.
Feathers are important in First Nations’ culture, symbolizing high honour, power, wisdom, trust, strength, and freedom. As part of the June 3, 2015, closing ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, paper hearts were planted in the gardens at Rideau Hall and have since become a symbol of the residential schools.
Orange t-shirts are a reminder to honour and remember the First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children who were stolen from their families to go to residential schools. Orange hearts have come to symbolize the loss of these children. Eva’s design incorporated these important elements.
Eva cut 20 hearts out of orange cardstock. She hung one in her window and put the rest in a Ziploc bag, then taped it to the lamppost outside her house. She posted on her neighbourhood Facebook page that the hearts were there if anyone wanted one for their window.
“The hearts disappeared in seconds,” she said.
People posted their disappointment at not getting a heart, so Eva made more and put them on the lamppost. They also disappeared. Requests started pouring in for orange paper hearts. She made more. Eva also got requests for vinyl orange hearts to stick in car windows, and designed a smaller orange heart for the stickers. People dropped off orange cardstock and vinyl. Eva began making up to 150 hearts a day.
To field all the requests and comments coming in, Eva created the Chilliwack Orange Heart Project Facebook page. “Raising awareness and support for the victims of Canada's residential school system and all Indigenous children, one orange heart at a time!”
Josh’s grandmother had attended residential school.
“She’s passed away now,” said Eva, “but her time in Canada’s residential school system was something that always haunted her, and she mostly refused to talk about it.”
Eva noted that her Orange Heart Project introduced her to another residential school survivor who happened to live five houses away. Eva said they have lived on the same street for a number of years, but she had no idea residential school had been part of her neighbour’s life.
“It really drove home for me that the pain caused by the residential school system isn’t just something from Canada’s history—it’s affecting people now, who are my age, and in my neighborhood. It’s quite literally an issue that’s ‘close to home,’ and much closer than I ever realized.”
Eva made the first orange heart for her window on June 2. In nine days, she cut 500 cardstock and 378 sticker hearts. With her mat leave ending and returning to work mid-June, Eva knew she wouldn’t have as much time to make hearts. Four local women with Cricuts volunteered to help cut hearts while she was at work. As of July 8, the Chilliwack Orange Heart Project had cut and distributed over 1,000 vinyl stickers and approximately 1,000 cardstock hearts.
Eva also shared the design on her Orange Heart Project Facebook page, so others with a Cricut paper cutter could make them.
She was pleased to hear the Stó:lō First Nation Reserve, near where she lives, used her heart design to create 215 hearts to put around their community. Eva also recently received a donation of 60 feet of vinyl (enough for another 490 stickers) from Fort Langley-based and Indigenous-owned business, Decalmania.
Many people reached out to Eva, expressing interest in starting their own Orange Heart Project. There are now independently run non-profit Orange Heart Project locations in Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Langley, Surrey, as well as a few communities in Alberta and Ontario.
But close to home is where she sees them.
“I love walking around the neighbourhood or driving, going to the grocery store, and seeing these orange hearts—on businesses, back of people’s cars—all over the community,” said Eva.
In Chilliwack, orange hearts are everywhere—a visible show of support for those whose lives have been touched by residential schools.
The tragic discovery of the children’s graves in western Canada are a sad reminder that there is much to learn about the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. We have all been shaken by this and are striving to understand, learn from, and find ways to show support. Orange paper hearts have been one way that many people in communities across the country have shown the sadness and anger they feel for the atrocities committed against Indigenous people through the residential school system, and particularly to honour the children whose lives were stolen.