Festival of Trees lights up Shaw Conference Centre with Christmas magic and compassion


Festival of Trees
Nov. 30 to Dec. 3
Shaw Conference Centre
9797 Jasper Ave.
Door Tickets: $10 adults, $5 youth/seniors, $2 children over two years

The 33rd Festival of Trees is one of the region’s most cherished childhood Christmas fantasies, a peek at Santa’s mysterious North Pole hideaway.

But the Festival of Trees is more than a pretty package and signature kick-off to the holiday season. It is a gift that rekindles the imagination and reignites our comforting Yuletide traditions.

Parking on Jasper Ave. is difficult at the best of times, but last year 38,000 visitors of every age trooped to the Shaw Conference Centre to see the magical wintry wonderland. This year the four-day event runs Thursday, Nov. 30 to Sunday, Dec. 3 and organizers expect increased traffic.

About 2,000 volunteer elves have put their hammers and glue guns to work transforming concrete and glass walls into an enchanted forest surrounded by a vibrant, picturesque village of mythical shops.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside theme

The 2017 theme is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” A festival snapshot paints hundreds of thousands of winking lights, a kaleidoscope of sparkling ornaments, and kilometres of muted gold, silver and white ribbons floating throughout.

In keeping with the theme of  “cold,” the main pod will feature an eight-foot by five-foot tall igloo made from recycled milk jugs.

“It will be lit from the inside. It is super cool,” said Dr. Patricia Allewell Nieberding, Festival of Trees Foundation chair.

More than 200 decorated trees, wreaths, garlands, art work, toys, accent pieces and gingerbread creations will be on site.

“This year we have an entire pod dedicated to doorscapes that enhance doors or steps. More people have houses with verandas and we’ve had increased interest in decorating the outside,” Nieberding said.

There are seven entries from St. Albert and Sturgeon County design groups. St. Albert’s Boss Design, a first time contributor, is donating a wreath constructed from blueprint paper titled A Cozy Home for the Holidays.

Terry Hillaby, a long-time contributor and carpenter handyman is constructing a wooden rocking horse while visual artist Sharon Monk has stitched Cold Hands, Warm Heart, a 24-foot square quilt showcasing four different themes.

Lisa Shorten’s entry is Rolling Stones, a sculpture of three little snowmen and two trees carved from soapstone. Moriganah McNally once again goes all out with Game of Gnomes, a play on Game of Thrones, with life-size art constructed from burlap, faux fur, antlers and crystals.

The 144 Optimist Beaver’s Cubs and Scouts ambitiously submit two entries: Brrright Christmas is a five-foot tree adorned with handmade ornaments, and Light a Fire For Christmas is a gingerbread structure.

Lastly, Sturgeon County Youth Council is adding the finishing touches to Cold, Clean, Fun, a six-foot tree decorated with gold, silver and blue decorations.

Sandra Dickie, chair of outside trees, a committee dealing with contributing designers said: “Even this week, I can tell by the emails, people are so excited. We so believe in the course we are taking and we’ve seen the impact and we know what we can do. It’s really exciting.”

Flagship Fundraiser

The “impact” Dickie speaks about is the underlying reason the Festival of Trees exists. It is the flagship fundraiser for the University of Alberta Hospital Foundation. In the past 32 years, the foundation raised $20,000,000 dispersed through every department of the hospital.

This year the foundation is raising $1 million dollars to equip the Emergency Centre’s Rapid Transfer Unit with state-of-the-art monitoring equipment and sophisticated, high-quality patient beds.

As a major trauma centre, the Emergency Centre is chronically overcrowded with patients arriving from the Edmonton Capital Region, northern Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the territories.

It opened in 2000 with a capacity to handle 58,000 adult patients annually. In 2016, the department served 70,300 patients.

“No one wants to do a bad job. We went into this to help people. We get to interact with every type of medicine and it’s very rewarding, and we want to do a good job. But we can’t help people if we are chalk-a-block full. It’s very frustrating when you see people suffering,” said Dr. Bill Sevcik, Emergency Centre physician.

It is common for the centre to treat about 200 patients each day. Patients arrive, register and are assessed. Approximately 75 per cent of patients are discharged. The other 25 per cent require a hospital bed.

“We have to have spaces, and if the hospital can’t accommodate them, we still have to free up space somehow,” Sevcik said.

Rapid Transfer Unit

The Rapid Transfer Unit (RTU) was created to free up beds in Emergency. RTU is a quiet environment where patients requiring hospitalization receive treatment before a bed becomes available.

At present, RTU is on the hospital’s third floor away from the first floor Emergency Centre. To reach the eight-bed unit, patients are wheeled on a stretcher down hallways onto an elevator creating disruptions for patient care.

Emergency’s team of care specialists treats everything from sprained ankles, broken fingers, dislocated shoulders and cuts to strokes, heart attacks, burns and drug overdoses. With influenza season gearing up, the department is already seeing an uptick in admissions.

“If someone has cardiac arrest, a massive stroke or drug overdose – we see them right away even if we’re chalk-a-block full. Our nurses are amazing at shifting things around,” said Sevcik.

He is also site chief and facility lead of a major renovation project now underway to upgrade RTU. Alberta Health Services has provided $3.7 million to retrofit a large space across the hall from the Emergency Centre that once housed staff lockers and an administration suite for unit managers.

Designed with a larger square footage than the current RTU, it will house 11 beds that cycle about three patients within a 24-hour time frame as hospital beds become available.

“The renovations will facilitate the flow of patients and support Emergency,” said Yvonne Suranyi, patient care manager.

Alberta Health Services provided funding for basic needs such as slip-proof flooring, muted paint colour and handrails along walls. AHS however, did not provide funding for updated, state-of-the-art technological equipment.

This is where the Festival of Trees Foundation is providing $1 million to purchase high tech equipment. The list includes defibrillators, headwall accessories, physiological monitors that register every breath and heartbeat, as well as infusion pumps, medical IV devices capable of delivering fluids in a controlled manner.

Suryani sums up the hospital staff’s gratitude saying, “The Festival of Trees has been quite supportive in raising money. I’m truly in awe of the amount of work that was needed to raise money for our cause and to make our patients more comfortable.”



About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.