There's always that first moment at Trees of Hope when you turn the corner into the main ballroom of the Fairmont Château Laurier and suddenly see it: dozens of trees brilliantly and beautifully adorned with lights and ornaments.
And because you can’t deny the magic of holiday decorations, your heart beats a little faster, your eyes grow a little wider.
The festive scene is part of the Trees of Hope benefit hosted each year by the historic hotel in support of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
Local businesses and organizations came together Monday to decorate their respective trees, followed by a lighting ceremony with hundreds of invited guests and a silent auction featuring 270 donated items to bid on.
Free prizes were won throughout the night, as well as raffle prizes for: two plane tickets to anywhere that Air Canada flies in North America and a one-night stay at the Fairmont Le Château Montebello, with breakfast and a champagne bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
On hand were CHEO Foundation president and CEO Kevin Keohane and the Fairmont Château Laurier’s new general manager, Rick Corcoran. He really wants to grow the event next year to raise even more money to help sick children in our community.
In its first year, Trees of Hope showcased a half-dozen trees and raised a few thousand bucks. It’s since sprouted into a practical forest, with 35 trees. It's expected to raise somewhere between $110,000 and $120,000 this year.
“Let’s get 50 trees, let’s get 200 grand for CHEO,” Corcoran told OBJ.social. “Let’s do it!”
For many in the room that night, Trees of Hope is the unofficial kick off to the holiday season. The evening was hosted by Jasmin Ibrahim from CTV Morning Live and included some of her Bell Media colleagues volunteering on the judging panel in deciding which trees best-captured this year’s themes.
The Sezlik.com tree won in the holiday healing through music category. Their inspiration: the 50-year anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in for peace at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal. The couple composed and recorded Give Peace a Chance without leaving their bed.
The Sezlik.com tree was adorned with paper chains made out of sheet music from the couple's famous peace anthem, a bunch of old 45 records found at Value Village, home-made guitar, flower and peace sign ornaments, and framed photos from Lennon and Ono's historic day in the hotel suite.
Participating in Trees of Hope was “like a dream come true” for team member Sara Adam, who never got to decorate Christmas trees when she was growing up. “I’m Jewish,” she pointed out.
It was also great fun to work together as a team, the real estate agent said. “We’re really good at concepts. The execution is harder.”
The team will have a chance to celebrate over their prize of a free afternoon tea in the hotel's Zoe's Lounge.
Keohane thanked the sponsors, including Tamarack, Terlin Construction, Canadian Tire and BLG, whose regional managing partner, Katherine Cooligan, was one of the judges. So was Catherine McLaughlin from Terlin. She fit in perfectly with the arts and crafts crowd; she made the costumes that her daughter Charlotte and her friend, Claire Goldberg, wore to decorate the Terlin tree.
Keohane also took a moment to acknowledge the very recent passing of Claude Sauvé, 78, who retired only earlier this year as the long-time general manager of the Fairmont Château Laurier. He helped to grow Trees of Hope while his wife, Deborah, always volunteered as one of the judges.
“My condolences to all the Fairmont Château Laurier staff and the people here who knew and loved and respected the Sauvé family,” said Keohane. “We give them our very best, and I can tell you they’re with us here in spirit tonight.”
Highlights of the evening included hearing 11-year-old Sophia Pierce, a student of Stittsville Public School, sing O Christmas Tree while accompanied by Kimberley Dunn on piano.
Here’s the backstory on how Pierce came to be a guest performer at this year’s Trees of Hope: Deneen Perrin from the Château Laurier heard her sing the national anthem at an Ottawa Senators game last month. She inquired, via social media, how to get in touch with the girl. It wasn’t hard. Her father, Chris Pierce, also works in the hotel industry. He's the GM of Les Suites Hotel Ottawa.
Perrin, who’s the director of public relations for the Chateau Laurier, is the lead organizer of Trees of Hope. She has a committee consisting of Sheefra Brisbin (Greenbridge Group), Julie Best (Ottawa Citizen), Carolyn Carson (Export Development Canada and Your Fit Life), communications and events management professional Gail Carroll, the CHEO Foundation’s Chantal Charbonneau and Stephanie Egan, media consultant Jenna Fyfe and Suzanne Valiquet from Momentum Planning & Communications.
The ornate trees will remain on display in the hotel’s public spaces throughout the holidays. Visitors are welcome to drop in and vote on their favourite tree while also making a donation to CHEO.