VICTORIA -- The leaves where still growing on the trees when the messages started appearing on the pole.

If you ask nine-year-old Elly how she was feeling then — at the beginning of the pandemic — she answers with one word: “Weird.”

It was weird for countless reasons, including her mom Marie having to stop working away and start teaching at home.

“It was an uncertain time, for sure,” Marie says.

And then, one day, a poster appeared on the hydro pole at the end of their block in Victoria’s Fairfield neighbourhood. It featured a drawing of a face with black hair and orange skin and said, “Willy Wonka and the Oompa Loompas are hiding Golden Tickets.”

“It was very mysterious,” Marie says. “It looked interesting. Intriguing.”

A more-detailed poster followed. It praised the kids who lived on streets surrounding the pole for being “kind and responsible” during the pandemic. It also outlined the rules for an Oompa Loompa Scavenger Hunt.

“There’s a new sign everyday and a different clue,” Elly explains. “You’d have to go find it.”

The first clue mentioned something about a “unicorn.” Marie and Elly searched around the neighbourhood before finding a tire-swing shaped like a unicorn. Although somebody else had discovered the Golden Ticket first, the duo were not discouraged.

“It was engaging and fun for the kids and the adults,” Marie smiles.

Another clue mentioned a “green house” and a “man with a hat.” There were a few green houses in the neighbourhood, but Elly eventually found one with a sculpture of a man wearing a hat on it. Then — at the base of a nearby tree — Elly found her first Golden Ticket.

Her feeling, in a word: “Exciting.”

Exciting, not just because the Golden Ticket included gift certificates to mostly local businesses in need of patronage during the pandemic. Exciting because, despite being apart, the Oompa Loompas were bringing the community together.

“We could see other neighbours on the street,” Marie says of watching the other family’s searching for tickets too. “But we could all keep safe.”

The Oompa Loompas kept the scavenger hunt going for fifty days, before also organizing a safe Easter Egg hunt and delivering art supplies when the Moss Street Paint-In was cancelled.

The latest message on the pole says, “Oompa Loompa doopity deat. We have a way for you to trick or treat.”

“It made such an impact to have this sense that people are thinking of us,” Marie smiles.

Although the Oompa Loompas’ identity remains elusive, Marie says she’s definitely grateful.

“It’s a great example of when big things are out of your control, you can still make a big impact in your own little sphere,” Marie says with a smile.

And if you ask how Elly how she’s been impacted by the Oompa Loompas: “Excited,” she says. “Not weird anymore.”

In a word, wonderful.