Welland Tribune reporter Maryanne Firth has a nose for news, so when a rash of pink-heart signs started to appear on roadsides throughout the Ontario city in April, the young journalist was on the case.
The outbreak of pink hearts — a simple pink graphic painted on a white plywood square — came without warning and without explanation. The more signs that appeared, the more curious Firth got.
On May 5, Firth started to tweet photos of the curious signs and created her own hashtag for followers to use. “Have you spotted the heart signs posted all over Welland? Join our conversation and post photos using #WellandHearts,” she tweeted.
For the next month, Welland’s hearts became the talk of the town, but Firth was no closer to solving the riddle.
Finally, last week there was a big break in the story when new signs began appearing next to old ones. The new signs hinted that something big was going to be happening at Welland’s Chippawa Park on Sunday, June 8, at 3 p.m.
When Firth arrived at the park, she headed over to a pop-up tent where she was greeted by an oddly dressed fellow with a box on his head. She knew she was in the right place because the “face” on the box matched the pink hearts on Welland’s now-famous signs. The tall box-headed character was dressed in a dark suit and handed carnations to passersby.
“Despite the rain, dozens of people came out with umbrellas in hand, all eager to satisfy the same curiosity that had been eating away at me for weeks,” Firth wrote in a column for her newspaper.
She continued: “He handed [a carnation] to me — a sweet, but familiar gesture — and then continued passing them out to others. Then he gathered up the remaining flowers into a bouquet and turned to me. He removed the disguise.”
The man in the box — and the mastermind of the pink heart mystery — was Ryan St. Denis, Firth’s boyfriend for the past eight years. The clever St. Denis got down on one knee and proposed to his startled girlfriend. Of course, she said, “Yes.”
St. Denis was certain his ruse would work because he knew his girlfriend so well. He was sure that her determination to get “the story” would lead her to the scene of the romantic proposal.
But the story continues, so to speak. The reporter had a deadline.
“My editor was expecting a story,” she wrote. “There was a newspaper to put out tomorrow. It’s usually hard to catch a journalist off guard, but I’d say that was successfully accomplished.”
Firth was able to bang out a heartwarming piece about her first-hand experience for the next day’s edition on Monday, June 9. Within 24 hours, the story had gone viral, with pickups by Gawker, Buzzfeed, Yahoo! and the front page of Reddit.
“It’s overwhelming. I’m not used to being on this side of the news,” said Firth. “It’s amazing that so many people are taking an interest in it. It started as a special moment between two people, and now it’s exploding online.”