Some traditions are worth skipping this COVID Christmas, like hosting annoying distant relatives or feigning delight over fruitcake, but the Fairmont Château Laurier's Trees of Hope for CHEO is one festive fixture Ottawa residents cannot do without.
For many, the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Despite the hotel industry's challenging year, title sponsor Fairmont Château Laurier has embraced the show-must-go-on attitude toward its beloved benefit for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
The hotel’s dedicated director of public relations, Deneen Perrin, and her volunteer committee scaled the event back slightly while still offering many ways to support the hospital, including a fabulous online silent auction.
Corporate teams dropped into the hotel last week to decorate their sponsored tree, in a safe and socially distanced way. It was the first time some colleagues had seen each other in person since the pandemic began last March, due to the continued work-from-home trend.
All 17 trees were moved into the main lobby for Tuesday night’s small and intimate tree lighting ceremony.
Former CHEO patient Sofia Pierce, 12, got everyone into the holiday spirit with her joyful singing of O Christmas Tree.
“We’re pretty excited that Christmas is not cancelled; it’s just a little bit different,” Perrin told her handful of guests.
Not only does Trees of Hope offer inspiration for young patients at CHEO but it provides a much-needed sense of normalcy for Ottawa, she said.
“I think that everybody could use something uplifting in their lives these days.”
Regular hotel guest and Ontario Senator Marty Deacon, a longtime supporter and advocate for youth, happened to be in the lobby during the brief ceremony. Deacon, who’s from Waterloo, told the small crowd that was gathered how “thrilled to bits” she and her colleagues were to see Trees of Hope go ahead this year.
Terry McLaughlin, owner of Terlin Construction, joked that his wife, Catherine McLaughlin, had already picked out their corporate tree before they were officially back as a major sponsor. Not that McLaughlin ever had any doubt.
"It was the right thing to do," he said. “We’re huge supporters of CHEO."
At 20-feet tall, the Terlin tree commands a majestic presence in the lobby. It’s a gorgeous artificial tree that looks identical to a white spruce.
“The tree had to reflect the beauty and grace of our Château Laurier,” Catherine later told OBJ.social.
The historic hotel will now be able to showcase the special holiday tree for many years to come.
CHEO Foundation president and CEO Kevin Keohane told OBJ.social how touched his organization was to remain top of mind for the hotel during the pandemic.
“We think it’s pretty amazing, because we know how tough a year it’s been for the entire hotel industry,” he said. “To think that the Fairmont Château Laurier would find room to be able to maintain a fundraising activity that’s become so important to us is really, really special.”
In past years, the tree lighting ceremony is held in the ballroom, with more than 30 twinkling trees, table after table of silent auction items, raffle prizes, live music, desserts and refreshments, and hundreds of invited guests. The public is normally welcome to drop into the hotel to see the trees and donate to CHEO. This year, due to challenges relating to COVID contact tracing, in-person viewing is limited to guests staying at the hotel and/or customers of its Wilfrid’s Restaurant or Zoe’s Lounge.
The online auction of nearly 100 items includes stays at Fairmont hotels, toys and electronics, spa and beauty gifts, family ski passes to Camp Fortune and Mont Ste. Marie, artwork, jewellery, food and gourmet items, and gift cards. Bidding ends this Sunday at 8 p.m.
Organizers have added a Trees of Hope At Home contest to encourage supporters anywhere in Canada to share photos of their own holiday tree. Those who do, and also make a donation of $50 or more to CHEO, will be entered to win a $500 gift card to their favourite shopping destinations or restaurants.
Many of this year’s participating companies and organizations put thought and creativity into the decoration of their trees, whether it was Ottawa Tourism’s reminder to shop local or KPMG’s nostalgic Misfit Toys decor.
Momentum, a planning and communications firm, paid tribute to first responders. Its tree skirt was made up of thank-you letters written by school children. It also made lovely red bow ornaments from those ubiquitous disposable blue masks.
The Bell Let’s Talk tree was equally inspiring. It was covered with messages from youth involved with the Youth Services Bureau’s Bridges mental health crisis program. They listed ways that they’re taking care of their mental health during the pandemic. Replies included: playing guitar, spending more time with their dog, talking with friends and taking up roller skating.
Tamarack Homes is back this year as the event's Star Sponsor. Other participating companies include BLG, Richcraft, Edelman, MNP, Canadian Tire, BMO, Tim Hortons, Sezlik.com, Black & McDonald, Palladium Orthodontics, the Anne & Dwight Team from RE/MAX, and Moore Wrinn Financial Group.