COLWOOD, B.C. -- Colleen wasn’t expecting to see anything unusual during her regular walk along Esquimalt Lagoon.

“And one day, it just appeared,” she says.

What was once an unremarkable tree was suddenly decorated.

“I stopped and had a look,” she recalls.

That’s when she realized it was filled with ornaments featuring the names of people and pets who had died. Colleen started crying and smiling at the same time.

“It means a lot,” she says. “Whoever did this, thank you.”

Just who started the memory tree — and why — has remained a mystery to most, until now.

Meet Lolly. She says people call her the “Official Hugger.”

“My daughter always says, ‘Mom, you can’t hug everyone in Costco,’” Lolly laughs. “And I say, ‘Well, how am I going to get to know them, then?’”

Last winter, Lolly was walking along the lagoon with her friend Judy, who needed more than a hug. She was mourning the loss of her grandson.

They passed the bare tree and Lolly was inspired. She asked Judy if she could make a Christmas decoration with Michael’s name on it.

“Judy said, ‘I would absolutely love that,’” Lolly recalls.

So Lolly made it and Judy hung it.

“December is hard,” Judy says, through tears. “His birthday is soon.”

There was something about seeing her grandson’s name hand-painted on the sparkly ornament. Seeing the the source of her sadness presented in such a positive way made her feel lighter.

“I though it was a great idea,” she says, smiling through her tears. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

That first ornament was followed by tributes to Lolly’s brother Rocky and her husband John. Then, she began making taking requests and making ornaments for people she’d meet.

“I hope they feel the love in every ornament,” Lolly says. “I hope its the beginning of a healing, so people can feel so much better.”

Since she started hanging ornaments, the Memory Tree has taken on a life of its own. Lolly says it’s heartwarming to see how it has grown and how the community is contributing to it.

After a recent storm blew all the decorations off, Lolly and Judy went to pick them up and found that a single letter was left instead (signed by Santa’s Elves). It said the ornaments had been picked-up, were being cared for, and would be re-hung.

And they were.

Now, the tree is filled with ornaments made by others, people paying tributes to pets, children honouring parents, and parents remembering children.

“I was just so touched,” Colleen says after being surprised by the tree that day. “I wanted my nephew and my mom and dad to be part of it.”

So Colleen returned with ornaments honouring Ron, Jean, and Matthew.

“Its been hard for everybody this year,” she says. “This is a little bit of joy.”

It’s one of countless individual stories being told on this collective expression of love.