Bring on the mince pies and mistletoe. The holiday season has been unofficially launched, like Santa’s sleigh from a snowy rooftop, at the Fairmont Château Laurier’s annual benefit for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).
The hotel ballroom was at full capacity Monday during Trees of Hope, a popular fundraiser that marks the start of the holiday festivities for many.
At the organizing helm is Deneen Perrin, director of public relations for the hotel and a former board member with the CHEO Foundation. She’s hoping the fundraiser will bring in at least $110,000, edging out last year's eventual total of $108,000.
It's the 20th anniversary of the benefit, which got its humble start with just a handful of trees. Today, it's a charity event fav.
“It really does kick off the whole holiday season,” said CHEO Foundation president and CEO Kevin Keohane. “Whether Christmas is a special day in your life or not, people embrace the season. They come here and they all rally around doing something really great for CHEO.”
On display were 31 trees, decorated that afternoon by volunteers with local businesses and organizations. Behind the splendour and beauty of each tree is tremendous thought and creativity reflecting this year’s two themes of O Canada and Frozen in Time.
“We were trying to figure out what (Frozen in Time) meant to us,” explained Elisha Cuthbert. The Canadian actress is married to and expecting her first child with Ottawa Senators defenceman Dion Phaneuf. The support from the Sens wives and girlfriends was so great that the women decorated two trees, one for each theme, on behalf of the Ottawa Senators Foundation.
“We felt like pictures are really moments frozen in time,” said Cuthbert of their decision to frame and hang some of their favourite photographs of Ottawa Senators players visiting sick children at CHEO. The tree also features tributes to the late Bryan Murray and to past players who hold a special place in Sens’ history.
“We had a lot of fun leading up to the decorating of the tree, because of all the preparation work,” Cuthbert said of their joint effort to makes as many of the ornaments themselves. “We spent a lot of hours at my place building and crafting, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been crafting.”
Britt Smith, wife of Ottawa Senators forward Zack Smith, says it's one of the charity events that she looks most forward to participating in each year.
"It's right up there," she added. “It’s just a fun way to kick off the holiday season for a great cause.”
Pity the panel of volunteers who had the difficult task of judging the trees. The job is getting harder each year, said Deborah Sauvé, wife of Fairmont Chateau Laurier’s general manager, Claude Sauvé.
“People are becoming more creative and more creative and the stories behind the trees are so touching,” she told OBJ.social.
Catherine McLaughlin, from sponsor Terlin Construction, was one of the judges. So was Mary Taggart, editor-in-chief of Ottawa At Home and the representative from Tamarack, another major sponsor.
“It’s my favourite event,” said Taggart. “You’re totally in the Christmas spirit but there’s no stress, no pressure. It’s easy and it’s fun.”
Ottawa law firm Sicotte Guilbault was top pick in the O Canada category. It was hard to miss its tree, particularly its topper: a giant caribou antler ornament.
In the Frozen in Time category, first place went to Sezlik.com + Royal LePage Team Realty. Its elegant tree truly was fit for a castle with its framed photographs of the late Princess Diana at the Château Laurier. It also had a 3D image of the hotel as its topper.
The colourful conifer sponsored by Riverstone Retirement Communities didn’t win but it was a good conversation-starter for anyone who grew up in the '80s. It was decorated with Pac Man and tape cassette ornaments, made with the help of retirement home residents. Its topper looked like a neon hair perm gone-bad while, surrounding the tree, were giant homemade Rubik's Cubes.
The trees will be on display throughout the hotel’s public spaces over the holiday season. Everyone is invited to check them out, cast a vote for their favourite and, while they're at it, make a donation to CHEO.
Guests had the opportunity to bid on hundreds of donated silent auction items, including stays at other Fairmont and Sofitel hotels in California, New York and Banff, and win prizes for a pair of Air Canada tickets or a two-night stay at the Fairmont Tremblant.
Interestingly, the Trees of Hope event has been so successful that it’s been introduced to other Fairmonts across North America. Each hotel puts its own spin on the event but they all benefit a children's charity.