Posted On May 14, 2020 By In Top Stories With 305 Views

From a Social Distance: the Front Steps Project

by Janis Jean –

The Front Steps Project was the brainchild of Boston photographer Cara Soulia and her friend Kristin Collins, and has sparked a movement of more than 300 photographers to help raise money for local charities. 

From a safe distance outside, Soulia took photographs of local families on their “front steps” during the COVID-19 pandemic, while recognizing each family’s commitment to stay home and stay safe. 

Local photographers Jo-Ann Way of Nuttycake Photography, Tracey Scott of Tracey Scott Photography and myself of Janis Jean Photography collaborated on a Saanich Peninsula “Front Steps Project,” photographing nearly 50 local families. 

As a result of all the generous donations, the Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank was the recipient of $3,500. Here are the stories of a few of the families we were lucky enough to photograph. 

Kary & Peter Eckert and Family (shown above)
Have you ever read something from a complete stranger that made you laugh out loud and think – “I gotta meet this person?” Well, that’s what happened after reading Kary Eckert’s initial email inquiry to be part of The Front Steps Project.  

Kary’s opening line in her email said it all: 

“Our family of four would absolutely love a photograph. We are two 60+ isolating with our 20ish son and his fiancée. We have had a blast these past two weeks and are actually quite proud of ourselves. It is unprecedented getting along so well. Gin helps. It would be a thrill to have a photo of us all together.”

I knew we would become fast friends. When it came time for their photoshoot, Kary and her family were laughing, joking and truly enjoying each other’s company. Even Whistler, the Golden Retriever, was happily romping about in the yard. When it came time for the official Front Steps photograph – well, the gin had to come out. Cheers!

Dobbs Family
“My two little children in the photograph are the reason everyone should be staying

If we can keep our numbers low on Vancouver Island, I can still go home, hug them and give them bedtime snuggles.” 

Jennifer Dobbs speaks from a place that few others can. Both she and her husband Jeff are frontline health care workers, working tirelessly in the middle of this pandemic. Jennifer is a unit clerk in the heart of the COVID Unit at Royal Jubilee Hospital. 

Working the frontlines is hard every day – especially compounded by having to leave your loved ones at home. Balancing homeschooling her kids, making sure they are looked after and being able to just unwind regularly is challenging enough on its own. While Jennifer worries about doing enough for her family and for herself, she loves her job and that she can make a difference in her work. 

Thank you Jennifer and Jeff for the stark reminder of why we need to continue our efforts to flatten the curve. We are all grateful to you both – our healthcare heroes. 

Heather Brass and Family

Family ties have always been strong in this multi-generational family home; however, they have become even more resilient since the stay-home order under COVID-19.  

Heather, her partner Nathanial and their two girls share their home with Heather’s aunt Jane who often helps out looking after the girls, especially when Nathanial is away at work with the Canadian Coast Guard.  

The old saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” holds true for this family. Instead of going to the playground or a play date, they are exploring the natural spaces in their neighbourhood. They spend lots of time climbing trees, feeding ducks, making forts in the woods and floating homemade boats down streams.   

This extended period without friends has taught the girls to play better together, problem solve, and work through moments of frustration and sibling rivalry. Coming out of this, Heather believes her children will have a better relationship than they did before, and will be closer throughout their lives than they may have been had life simply carried on as usual.    

After our front steps photo, the girls promised an invite to their summer lemonade stand. I look forward to it. When life gives you lemons … .

Sylvia Olsen and Tex McLeod

The image of Sylvia Olsen and her husband Tex McLeod, safely isolating behind their sunroom window in their North Saanich home, is undoubtedly the most compelling photograph taken as part of the local Front Steps Project. 

The couple had been isolating at home after Tex tested positive for COVID-19 in March; Sylvia was a presumptive case too as she also fell very ill. While they are both now cleared, it was a harrowing experience. 

Throughout the ordeal, family, friends and community members demonstrated the true meaning of Canadian “care-mongering.” Meals were dropped off, daily calls and messages of love and support were received and they cherished distant “window sightings” of family in the driveway dropping off food. On one occasion, after Sylvia casually mentioned to one of her daughters they were going to order hamburgers online, homemade burgers showed up shortly after on their doorstep!  

Reflecting on the unprecedented efforts to flatten the curve, Sylvia said: “it shows how humans are inventive, creative and can work together and do the right thing. Not just for ourselves but for each other.”  

The Newlove Family. “The influence of a good teacher can never be erased.” (Author unknown) 

Ruth and Steve Newlove have been influencing generations of Saanich Peninsula children together, ranging from toddlers to teens. Ruth has cared for many young children over the years operating “Little Roo’s Family Childcare” while Steve has also influenced many youth, as an educator and in his current role as the Vice Principal of North Saanich Middle School. 

During this pandemic they have been at home with their two children, Sierra and Riley. Ruth has temporarily closed her family daycare facility and she yearns to be with all her little children again! Steve has been working mostly from home, supporting staff and students as they engage in remote learning. Sierra, their oldest, is finishing up her first year of college online while Riley is doing his high school work from home online as well. 

While the Newloves dearly miss their normal, daily connections with others outside their home, they are grateful to be having more meals together, enjoying simple family time, taking bike rides, playing more games and connecting (virtually) with their extended family. 

Anna-Marie and John Trelford 

“I go to work for you … please stay home for me.” 

“It may take a village to raise a child, but I swear it is going to take a vineyard to homeschool one!” 

“… and the world came together as people stayed apart.” 

Sharing these quotes and creating colourful, whimsical art around each one is how artist and firefighter Anna-Marie Trelford grounds herself in this time of unprecedented stress in the lives of first responders. 

Anna is married to John Trelford, Fire Chief of North Saanich, and together they have four children and two grandchildren who they miss dearly – especially their hugs.  

When Anna created her beachside “art show,” mostly painted on gnarly plywood, old donated wood or rocks, it was to help keep her balanced. However, in her efforts of helping herself, she has created a space for others to feel her love, hope, and optimism. 

It has become a magical pathway for locals to explore, read, laugh and discover these wonderful messages intertwined between the fence posts. By the time you reach the end of the path, you can’t help but feel a little more optimistic, more connected and just a little more loved. 

Photos by Janis Jean Photography, Nuttycake Photography and
Tracey Scott Photography. 



Your West Coast Culture. A magazine about the people and places that make the Saanich Peninsula the little piece of paradise we call home.

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