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Helen Smith-Thorne is in awe of the response she’s received after posting online a picture of a mat she created to remember the record-breaking winter storm that led to a state of emergency in St. John’s, N.L. and nearby areas in January.
The blizzard brought with it high winds and 70-plus centimetres of snow, blocking roads, leaving vehicles buried and trapping people in their homes.
Smith-Thorne posted a picture of the mat on a Facebook group titled NL Snowmageddon 2020 Warriors. Established by Nick Cranford, the group has over 116,500 members who shared trials, tribulations, photos and frustrations during the storm and its aftermath.
When asked about the response she received once she posted her mat, she said she couldn’t understand, at first, why her phone was dinging so much.
“My daughter called me and said, ‘Your picture has blown up,’” she said lightheartedly during a phone interview from her home in Sylvan Lake, AB.
The dinging sounds were notifications that people were reacting to her post. The picture has been shared over 100 times and over 2,500 people have reacted to her post.
While far removed from the storm in her home in Sylvan Lake, Smith-Thorne followed what was happening closely through social media and news outlets.
In a Facebook post where she attached the photo of her mat, she wrote about how proud she was to see all the pictures and hear all the stories.
“(Photos) of all the shared meals and food, of call-out for the seniors needing help and, of course, the military being there to give the city and residents extremely needed assistance,” she wrote.
Such kindness was amazing, she said.
To watch the response on international media sites and “how it was being portrayed with calmness and humanity made us all proud,” she wrote.
LOVE OF NEWFOUNDLAND
Smith-Thorne was born in Ontario and raised in Chance Cove, N.L.
“I grew around the bay to Newfoundland music and Newfoundland hospitality," she says.
She lived in St. John’s for a decade before moving to Sylvan Lake eight years ago.
She recalled how neighbourly people were when her family lived in Chance Cove.
The kindness continued, she said, with the move to the province’s capital city.
“Some neighbours had snow blowers and some didn’t. But we all helped out. Seeing the response to the storm, recently on Facebook, it bought you to tears.”
The severity of January’s storm saw neighbours helping neighbours as well as strangers helping strangers, she said.
After her move to Alberta, her parents, Art and Winnie Smith, also settled in Sylvan Lake.
Her father passed away a couple of two years ago. Her mother continues to live in Sylvan Lake.
“You’re a proud Newfoundlander wherever you go, and then, when something like this happens ... it was a devastating thing for a lot of people for various reasons, but the humanity that came out of it, it’s just overwhelming,” she said.
As she shared the storm posts on social media, her non-Newfoundland friends often had the same question.
“They were asking, ‘What the heck are storm chips, Helen?’ I’d tell them that they are chips that on a Friday night taste OK, but when there’s a storm, it’s storm chips and boiled beans,” Smith-Thorne laughs.
One of the storm photos that caught her attention was snow-covered vehicles on a congested street. The white snow was piled high against the colourful homes, and at the bottom of the street were a handful of military personnel, shovels in hand.
It’s the image that Smith-Thorne decided to recreate.
“I was looking at pictures of the military, the houses, the cars and, before I knew it, I had it sketched,” she said.
Whether glancing quickly at the completed mat or spending time in your own thoughts about what the piece depicts, it’s understandable if the viewer sees smiles upon the faces of the shovellers.
Smith-Thorne began creating mats as a hobby in October 2019. She has completed about eight so far, using an Oxford punch needle as her tool. Unlike traditional mat hooking tools, which pull the loop up through the work, the needle punches the loops down into the work.
Using the punch needle is faster, she said, and gives her more freedom in creating her mats.
It took about 20 hours, she estimated, to make the St. John’s Snowmageddon 14-inch by 20-inch mat.
Her other creations include images of everything from clotheslines to fishing boats, and all are based on memories of life in Newfoundland.
“There’s another one of a rock formation in my hometown (Chance Cove)," she adds.
Smith-Thorne uses a variety of materials to make her mats. She’s even unravelled and used yarn from a baby’s sweater.
“I just find this very relaxing. It’s a very forgiving craft,” she said.
Smith-Thorne will be in St. John’s this month and is looking forward to getting together with some people who have expressed an interest in learning to create mats with a punch needle.
Her daughter, Carla Reid, said her mother has always been able to see the beauty in a project way before its conception.
“She may scribble out a design on a piece of cloth for a mat or even throw a slash of paint on a wall to inspire a whole room makeover and say ‘what do you think?’ She sees the completion when I see scribbles or a brush mark of paint. But every time her creations are beautiful. Everything she tries her hand at, her creativity flows out,” Reid said.