Shelley Mowat wanted to make a few people smile on St. Patrick’s Day. She never imagined her effort would put smiles on the faces of 600,000 people — and counting.
Mowat, who works in Dawson Creek, B.C., and lives part-time in Orillia, was filmed Tuesday leaving Shoppers Drug Mart in downtown Orillia while wearing an elaborate dragon mask. It was a way to lighten the mood during a time when people are stressed about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m noticing the fear and terror in a lot of people. I thought, ‘Well, it’s St. Paddy’s. Maybe I’ll do something fun,’” Mowat told OrilliaMatters.
The mask turned a lot of heads, including Leanne Smith Cooke’s. She was in her vehicle and about to leave the parking lot when she saw Mowat enter the store. She couldn’t get her phone out quickly enough. When she called a friend to tell her what she had seen, her friend urged her to go back and wait for Mowat to exit Shoppers.
Smith Cooke did just that and posted the one-minute video to her Facebook page. It went viral. As of early Thursday night, it had more than 618,000 views and had been shared 17,000 times.
Smith Cooke didn’t see that coming.
“Some of my colleagues said, ‘It’s going viral!’” she recalled. “We started watching it — 10,000, 20,000, 30,000. When it got to 100,000, I said, ‘Oh, my gosh.’”
Mowat, too, didn’t think her costumed outing would attract as much attention as it did.
“I’m used to doing guerrilla theatre everywhere. It’s something I’ve always done, no matter where I am,” she said, adding she sometimes shovels her driveway, sweeps her walkway and plays the violin on her front lawn while wearing a mask. “I was shocked when I found out it had so many views.”
It was Smith Cooke’s friends who asked her to post it to Facebook.
“They said, ‘We need this right now,’” she said. “It was finally something that was funny. It was just so random.”
Random to viewers, maybe, but it was quite deliberate on Mowat’s part.
She would use masks to cheer up her late mother, who was “often quarantined” in the seniors’ home in which she was staying.
Also, the two always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day together.
“I was really missing her (on Tuesday),” Mowat said. “Rather than get all weepy, I thought I’d do something for my own wellness.”
That act of self-care also managed to lift the spirits of customers and staff at Shoppers. Understandably, it also drew some puzzled looks, but Mowat explained to people what she was doing.
“I didn’t want to alarm anyone and make them think I’m a complete nutter,” she said. “I’m a little nutty, but not completely.”
Fun fact: Mowat, an artistic director at a theatre in Dawson Creek, bought the mask at a Shoppers Drug Mart in B.C.