It was September 2007. A Wednesday, if I remember correctly. I was coming out of a meeting with people from the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation. That day, my boss, Daniel Brouillette, had the spark for an idea for what I think is the most beautiful symbol of love in the world.
“Jean-Sébastien,” he said, “I’ve always had a dream. The details are still a bit fuzzy, but here’s the gist of it: I want to create a fundraiser where people would sponsor the lights on a giant tree for children who have to spend the holidays in the hospital.” From that point on, we were obsessed with the image. We made a pact then and there: the Tree of Lights would go up in 2007. Right in front of Sainte-Justine.
Despite the hurdles that seemed almost impossible to overcome, the Foundation decided to back our plan. “If you find a tree, we’ll get an engineer to set it up in front of the hospital. If you find a partner to cover the installation costs, we’ll get the lights. And if we can make all this happen, it’s a go!” And that’s how Year 1 of the Tree of Lights came to be.
Good news: we heard that the farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia, that grew the trees that adorn New York’s Bryant Park every year had another giant tree available for sale. I went down to check it out. There it was, smack dab in the middle of an enormous tree farm. Seeing it tower over the rest of the farm was quite the sight. So we had our tree! The arrangements were made for its delivery. There was no going back!
A month later, the majestic fir arrived in Montreal and took its rightful place in front of Sainte-Justine, complete with 35,000 lights. That’s when the Rythme team leapt into action. The enthusiasm of our on-air teams across the province was extraordinary. We had 35,000 lights for sale: we asked our listeners to pitch in and make sure the Tree of Lights would become an annual tradition. We were determined that every last light on the Tree would be ablaze by the end of the campaign!
This giant symbol of the human spirit was embraced with genuine warmth. We knew we weren’t selling lights per se… we were illuminating 35,000 beacons of hope, magic and comfort for families who needed all three.
The Tree brought them the message, night after night, in those dark days of December, that all of Quebec was pulling for them. That there was such a thing as magic… and that anything and everything was possible.
It didn’t take long for Quebecers to get emotionally attached to the Tree of Lights. They sponsored lights on behalf of people who were near and dear to their heart or in honour of family members who left the world too soon. To show their gratitude at having a healthy family or as a poignant symbol for those who weren’t so lucky.
The Tree of Lights quickly turned into more than a simple fundraiser: it became something even more wonderful – and it all started that very first year.
And the magical connection between Quebec, Sainte-Justine and the families in our community keeps getting stronger and stronger. The number of lights may have grown from year to year, but what each one represents in the eyes of the people they shine for is as deeply personal and meaningful as ever. Each twinkle is a hope, a wish, a memory.
The Tree of Lights campaign is in the DNA of the entire Rythme team and the organization as a whole. It represents our values and the very best of what we know this world can be, today and in the future. Every year for the past 12 years, our excitement coming into the month of December is palpable. When we see our “green giant” get brighter and brighter, the magic of the season becomes real. Every day around 4 p.m. throughout the month of December, in Rythme offices across Quebec, you’re bound to hear the words, “Let’s light up the Tree for Sainte-Justine!”
*The remarks expressed in this article reflect the opinion solely of the author and should not be considered as representative of the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation.