Covering the Christmas-themed festivities at the Western Development Museum seems pretty straightforward – there’s a gigantic Christmas tree in Boom Town and there’s a room full of animatronic 1970’s Eaton’s Department Store window Christmas displays.(still functional today thanks to regular repairs and straight-up magic) While these two attractions remain up the entire Christmas season, one week in late November a little thing called ‘The Festival of Trees’, takes over Boom Town, lining its streets with hundreds of decorated trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses – all for sale with proceeds going to the Saskatoon City Hospital. This is….and will always be, a big deal to me.
As a kid, I can remember my Mom taking me to an early incarnation of this festival inside the City Hospital lobby, then again a few years later when it moved to the WDM. Something really clicked with us Saskatities when we saw the iconic old-timey street smothered in Christmas joy and when the festival decided to move to a bigger venue in the mid 2000’s the public loudly voiced their displeasure to the point where the festival eagerly returned ‘home’ after three-years.
While I was probably happier than most when it returned, (my wife and I had our first date there in the 90s) it’s quite ironic that one of the most important things I’ve ever done was a result of the festival’s three-year absence.
It was during this period I was working as a reporter/producer at Shaw TV, and to try to fill the void, I brought to life ‘The Shaw Toy Tree’- a 12-foot Christmas tree that stands in the middle of Boom Town. Underneath the tree, the public can donate toys which are later given to inner city schools to be sorted and secretly given to families that need a bit of help to surprise their children with a gift on Christmas morning. The public stepped up and hundreds of toys continue to be donated every year. It’s humbling and inspiring and my favorite day of the year was when the Shaw employees delivered the toys to the teachers at the schools. For me, those annual hugs and tears always brought perspective to the holidays. These toys go to families WHO CAN NOT AFFORD TO BUY THEIR OWN CHILDREN GIFTS FOR CHRISTMAS. Yes, I yelled that. To this day, this is where my mind lands whenever I hear someone complaining about this time of year, because even before the tree was a thing, to me, Christmas has always been about going out of your way to make someone else’s day/week/month a little bit better. When I left Shaw TV, I knew I would horribly miss Toy Drop Off Day… and I did… and I do, but I got to take with me the insight of how our smallest actions can change lives, especially this time of year. So if you are one of those people who can’t wait for this season to be over- here’s a secret- you’re doing Christmas wrong. This December visit the WDM, and let the animatronic Eaton’s displays remind you not to endlessly repeat the motions this holiday season. Go brighten someone’s day.