It is 1913; poverty and the cold are a social problem. Saint-Lambert is no exception, and the more fortunate in our town are worried. As almost everywhere else in the country, the slack in social services is taken up by members of the bourgeois laity, mostly women. On the Catholic side actions are taken through the parish, on the Protestant side through established community groups.

Christmas Tree, at the corner of Victoria and Elm around 1950 - Photograph : Andrew Little

Christmas Tree, at the corner of Victoria and Elm circa 1950 – Photograph : Andrew Little

In Saint-Lambert, one of the driving forces is Bertha Belasco Burland. This tireless lady, who came to town as a bride in 1900, is already a beacon of cultural and social life: initiating performances of concerts, operettas, theater plays and literary circles. Furthermore, helped by leading English families, like the Braggs, Craigs, Rosevears, Smiths, Smileys and Sprouls, she organizes charity collections to lighten the plight of the poor. Looking for an incentive to increase the generosity of fellow citizens, Mrs. Burland comes up with a novel idea: bring people together in Lorne Park around a Christmas tree, under which donations of food, clothing, charcoal and medication can be placed. Children are invited to donate a toy. The village thus becomes one family, uniting rich and poor, regardless of language and religious creeds.

The plan sees its realization on December 23, 1913. The huge pine illuminated “with gorgeous coloured lights and capped by the Star of Hope” is the first Christmas tree installed in a public place in Canada. The charity drive and the lighting of a decorated tree will become an annual event in Saint-Lambert under the name Canadian Christmas Tree League. World War I, the Spanish Flu epidemic, the economic crisis of 1929, the Second World War, all will keep the volunteers involved. The League continues its work till 1968.

The spirit in which the League was created is best summed up in an address signed by former Mayor T. Percy Webster and presented at the 10th anniversary celebration: “….the beautiful Christmas tree…stood to remind us that such things as love, generosity and devotion exist. It taught us love and duty to our less fortunate neighbor. Homes were made bright and happy. Bare cupboards were filled. No empty stockings…. the Star of Bethlehem has passed.”

Monette Saint-Jacques (2012)