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Okotoks couple delighting neighbours with playful yard display

For nearly three years, Drake Landing residents Deb and Stuart Beirnes have been arranging lawn ornaments, animal toys, and other figurines in playful scenes each week.

An Okotoks couple has been delighting neighbours with an ever-changing garden display.

For nearly three years, Drake Landing residents Deb and Stuart Beirnes have been arranging lawn ornaments, animal toys, and other figurines in playful scenes each week.

“The gratification is just seeing the smiles on faces,” Deb said. “You get to know your neighbours more.”

While it started as the odd arrangement for their own amusement, the game was afoot when a neighbour’s child asked if it was the couple moving the figurines.

“I said no, they’re like Toy Story, they wake up every night and they play in the backyard and freeze when someone comes out,” she said.

While they started with some ornamental pigs and ducks, her husband recalled when a child asked why there were no dinosaurs.

The only reasonable solution was to go out and get dinosaurs.

“We introduced them by having them hiding in the bushes and slowly coming along,” Stuart said. “Then we had them moving slowly towards the other animals.”

The collection now includes a variety of creatures from across the real mythical animal kingdom, including a dragon and unicorns.

“It’s not just people with kids,” Deb said. “We have adults that run or walk around here all by themselves that come over and say ‘Thank you, we really appreciate that.’”

A nearby daycare will bring its children once per week on walks, she added, with as many as 23 children turning up one day, with the daycare supervisors ensuring the kids each took a turn at the fence. 

Th Beirnes' fans aren’t just on two legs—one neighbour’s dog frequently rushes over on every walk to look at the animals through the fence, she added.

Changing the display weekly, the couple has been coming up with new arrangements for their growing menagerie for over two years.

Each holiday is covered, Stuart said, be it Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, or even Father’s and Mother’s Days.

“It just seemed to be the next thing to do,” he said. “We'd be asking ourselves, ‘What can we do this week?’”

As the pandemic kept more people closer to home, their popularity grew as more Okotokians took to the park behind the Beirnes’ house.

As COVID-19 was on the rise, they chose to make a themed arrangement with a COVID testing station, Deb said, adding three respiratory therapists live in their neighbourhood and expressed their joy over the display.

“Stuart sacrificed a sock the first time we set it up to make masks for all the critters,” she said, adding they still kept a social distancing element in other set ups with a quarantine or vaccine station.”

For fellow Drake Landing resident Kellie Ezard-McDonald, the couple’s efforts have been a great source of joy not only to her three-year-old son Vance — who she said had requested the dinosaurs — but to herself and her husband Darcy as well.

“I appreciate them, I appreciate somebody in the neighbourhood thinking of everybody and trying to make somebody’s day a little better,” Ezard-McDonald said. “I feel like a kid when I’m there, and my son loves it so much.”

When Vance was younger, his mother added, the spectacle provided motivation to get out and try his strider bike.

“We would just say we have to check what the piggies and ducks were doing today,” she said.

“Every single person on our street with kids, that’s the main place to go.”

The simple gesture is one her family treasures.

“It’s just something so special, and I feel lucky that we have that in our neighbourhood,” she added.

“You can’t help but smile when you see that backyard.”

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