Tree adorned with mysterious toys brings smiles to Victoria neighbourhood

It all began with just one bird.

“I saw a rubber ducky,” Jill says seriously, before breaking into infectious laughter. “I totally saw a rubber ducky!”

One day, a small toy was just sitting alone on the front lawn of her apartment building. The next day a stuffed bear appeared too.

“They must belong to somebody in the building; they wouldn’t just randomly drop from the sky,” Jill recalls thinking. “So we started leaving them in the tree.”

She placed the toys in the tree’s branches beside the building’s front door, so whoever lost them couldn’t help but find them.

And Jill assumed that was that.

The army veteran returned to working on her anthropology degree, caring for her sick mom, and enduring depression and anxiety that were increasing during the pandemic.

“It’s really hard,” Jill says fighting back tears. “I know I’m not the only person suffering.”

But Jill is one of the only people who keeps finding toys outside her home.

“Blocks, cars, a squirrel,” she lists her discoveries. “A little guy, some Lego, a truck.”

When I was there, she spotted a Lego brick on the lawn and jeep in a bush, which inspired Jill to laugh that infectious laugh and proclaim, “I’m excited!”

It’s a mystery that Jill though she’d solved after hearing children giggling from a balcony above her and seeing a small hand waving.

“And I said, ‘Is this your truck? Don’t you want your truck?’” Jill recalls asking them before they “scurried” out of sight.

While the toys remained unclaimed on the tree and more kept appearing in the yard, Jill’s response to them seemed to change from mild amusement to “kind of like a meditation.”

“First [it’s] the discovery of the toy,” Jill says with a thoughtfulness that she no doubt applies to her university research. “Then it’s taking that toy and kind of analyzing the tree, looking at the big picture, [wondering], 'Where will this go?'”

And instead of regretting the past, or worrying about the future, Jill finds herself appreciating the present.

“It literally keeps me in the moment,” Jill smiles, before laughing. “And now it’s just bloomed into a toy tree.”

And Jill is blossoming right along with it.

“This has helped me,” she says sincerely. “And you can see my neighbours are enjoying it as well.

The people I spoke with credit Jill with transforming the area surrounding the toy tree into a place where they can connect, create community, and consider the tree’s recent arrival.

“I said, 'Oh my gosh! That little dog you put in the tree is adorable!'” Jill recalls saying to one of her neighbours. “She’s like, 'I didn’t put him there.'”

Jill says nobody seems to know who put the plush dog (with "Roofus" hand-written on his tag) on the tree, but says she’s grateful it’s being embraced by others.

While the origin of Roofus and his colleagues remains a mystery, their positive impact couldn’t be more obvious.