The beginning of the Unicorn Friendship Center Conservation Project

While browsing some internet archives for graphics to use on my website, I stumbled upon an old Geocities site called the Enchanted Forest. It was started back in 1997 by Shirley M, a Canadian mother from New Brunswick, for her two children Bryce & Megan. It was a place for them to play around and learn online, though it was clearly primarily run by their mother, as the children were 6 and 4 years old at the time, respectively.

During an exploration of the Enchanted Forest, one can't help but notice the charming pixel graphics that decorate its pages. Amongst its many links and tidbits of information, there are multiple mentions of Cottage Row Graphics, a dedicated page on a separate website, Cottage Group, where Shirley offered her graphics for other Webmasters to use on their own websites. It's clear from the sheer amount of available images and backgrounds that she was talented and passionate about her art. She was also very explicit in her request for credit should her work be used, and therefore any graphics on this and the following pages will link back to the archives of their appropriate websites.

Hosted first on the Enchanted Forest, and subsequently Cottage Group, was a cyberpet "adoption agency" called the Unicorn Friendship Center. Here, Shirley and her children offered colorful pixel horses of all sorts for Geocities users to adopt and place on their webpages. There were several different varieties to choose from alongside the titular unicorns, including ponies, winged ponies/unicorns (or "sky ponies"), carousel ponies, and rocking horses, to name a few. Each pet was animated, had a unique design, and even came with its own name and birth certificate. The UFC had dozens of these ponies up for adoption, and proud unicorn owners could even join a dedicated webring, or submit stories about their adopted pets to be featured on the UFC's front page.

Though you may not be able to truly visit the site or see it the way it was intended, it isn't difficult to tell that a lot of love went into making every single one of the unicorns awaiting adoption. Not many websites featuring these ponies are left, but there are some out there, both archived and still available. One being Jessie's Ponyland, where you can click around to peek inside each room of a little pastel house filled with a user named Jessie's ponies. A few others, still visitable and easily found with a Google search, are now left abandoned and covered in obtrusive advertisements.

I came out of this rabbit hole with one truth in my mind; the UFC meant something to people. An old post on the "My Little Pony Arena" forums had people reminiscing about the UFC, and how nostalgic it was to see it again through the archive. The OP even said they "used to print these [unicorns] all off and play with them like they were paper dolls", and they were "always waiting for them to post new ones."

Old Internet archival is important to me, and always has been. It's part of the reason why I tried to use aspects of 90's web design for the layout of my own website; to keep it alive somehow, even in a second-hand form. While I was browsing the Enchanted Forest's original Unicorn Friendship Center, I found that so many of the images would no longer load, and that links to the new Cottage Group website there don't function anymore. I feared those unicorns were lost forever. Thankfully, by digging a little deeper and following multiple link trails throughout Shirley's other projects, I was able to find working archives of Cottage Group, Cottage Row Graphics, and the new Unicorn Friendship Center. This archive of the new-and-improved UFC had roughly 99% of its images intact, and even a new version of the header! But I thought to myself, "how long will this archive last?" Archives of old websites, especially personal webpages like those once hosted on Geocities, are already old at the time of writing this (2024). If the Internet Archive itself is in danger, who's to say that these links will always work? Or that the images hosted there won't also break? How long until these lovingly-crafted pixels truly are lost to time?

I want to keep the Unicorn Friendship Center alive. In order to do that, I've decided to host my own sort of archive here on my site; the Unicorn Friendship Center Conservation Project. I plan to create a full archive of all the unicorns that Shirley made and posted so many years ago, along with their names and birth certificates. My goal is to revive these cyberpets, so that Neocities users can enjoy them and come to care for them just as much as those Geocities users did before us.

While I do want to make this project as authentic to the original as possible, which means using as many of the UFC's original graphics as possible, I also want to acknowledge how Shirley openly felt about reposting and hosting these unicorns offsite. A notice written on the UFC's front page reads as follows:


Before you enter READ this Important Copyright Notice

You must have a link back to this page wherever you display these graphics. These images are not to be altered in any way except with permission and are not to be offeredin any other collection, either through electronic or any other media. In the past I have had some people opening up Unicorn Adoption Centers using my graphics and claiming that they made them, this is not allowed, it is Copyright Infringement. It is also very upsetting to my children whose website this is. Thank you for your cooperation. Honor on the Internet!

The last thing that I want to do is go against Shirley's wishes, or disrespect her or her artwork in any way. However, as her websites no longer seem to be available outside of Wayback Machine archives, and her artwork is slowly being lost, I am hoping that hosting it here, with as much proper credit as possible, will be a respectful way to keep her project alive.

That being said, if there ever comes a time where I'm able to get in contact with Shirley, or either of her children, and they ask me to take this archive down, I will do so with no hesitation. My intention is not to steal this artwork, but to keep it from becoming lost media. I will always indicate what on these pages was made by me, and what was not.