One of the trees at McLean Mill features decorations created by Ms. Mayes’ Grade 6/7 class at John Howitt Elementary. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

One of the trees at McLean Mill features decorations created by Ms. Mayes’ Grade 6/7 class at John Howitt Elementary. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Light up a child’s eyes with McLean Mill’s Christmas tree virtual event

Port Alberni’s heritage mill finds a way to revive annual tree lighting fundraiser

While most Christmas events have been postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19, the McLean Mill National Historic Site is still hoping to raise funds for the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation with a new, virtual event.

Back in November, McLean Mill announced that it was taking on the much-loved BC Children’s Hospital Foundation Festival of Trees event. The Festival of Trees was previously hosted in Port Alberni by Barb and Steve Kalugin. Each year, trees would be set up in the halls of the Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel and members of the community could vote on their favourite, with proceeds benefitting the BC Children’s Hospital. The event was last held in 2014.

“I think a lot of the community is familiar with it,” explained Anita Sutherland, project manager at McLean Mill. “It’s something fun for the community to get involved in, and a way to do something great for an organization that could use some funds.”

Originally McLean Mill planned to hold a Heritage Light-Up event, where visitors could wander the mill site and vote on their favourite decorated tree. The mill had sold “well over” 200 tickets to the event when new provincial COVID-19 restrictions suddenly came down at the end of November, putting an end to all events and gatherings.

READ MORE: Events, gatherings banned through Christmas, New Year’s in B.C. with no COVID reprieve in sight

Organizers had to “reinvent” the fundraising event to make it a virtual one, instead. People can vote for their favourite decorations online, with all proceeds still going to the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Several schools and childcare organizations in the Alberni Valley have participated, with children creating “vintage” inspired decorations for four different trees. McLean Mill volunteers then used the children’s decorations to decorate the trees onsite.

“This is a heritage site, and we wanted the trees to feel the same way,” said Sutherland.

Sutherland says that the school/organization that raises the most in donations will win a donut treat day in the New Year.

As of Dec. 15, the event had raised close to $500 for the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, but Sutherland said she wants to push for $2,000 by Christmas Eve.

“A bit of a hard feat as the virtual concept around the Festival of Trees is new,” said Sutherland. “Regardless, we want to make every effort to be able to generate a nice donation to the foundation.”

Votes and donations can be made on the mill’s new website at Donations will be accepted until Dec. 24 at midnight.

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