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Popular Oak Bay gratitude tree spreads goodwill, community engagement

‘We still need the positivity in the world and always do’: Michael Cunliffe

Dog walkers and runners routinely stop to check out a tree in front of one Monterey Avenue home.

The river of visitors is exactly what the Cunliffe family, who lives there, hopes to see.

Michael Cunliffe is the dad behind the gratitude tree that twinkles on the Oak Bay roadside. He started the initiative last year. As COVID-19 restrictions hit, he was working from home and had the time to build the wooden tree and craft the individual messages the family hangs on it each day in December leading up to Christmas.

READ ALSO: Oak Bay’s Gratitude Tree a holiday hit

The messages are crafted in a way to engage all – only one involves a cost (donate to a food bank if you can) –and while some push boundaries such as ‘say I love you to someone,’ but they’re meant to be manageable by anyone.

It seemed valuable during the early pandemic days, when people were isolated or struggling.

Cunliffe wasn’t sure about doing it this year.

Like most, he’s back at work, the kids are in school, the hobbies and activities arguably take up more time with provincial protocols to watch and adhere to. But these were also all the reasons to do it, Cunliffe noted. Then floods and supply chain issues surged across the province.

“I felt it was important because we’re still dealing with stuff … but there are always challenges,” he said. “We still need the positivity in the world and always do.”

This year, the youthful well-wishes of students from nearby Margaret Jenkins Elementary join the conversation.

A teacher there, who all three Cunliffe boys learned from, takes his young charges out into the neighbourhood once a week and crafts lessons from the outing. Last year, that included the gratitude tree.

The students returned to class and came up with their own thoughtful tree.

READ ALSO: Decorating fairy hits Oak Bay waterfront

This year’s class did the same, starting December with a walk to Monterey.

The teacher sent a photo of their 2021 tree with the comments the kids made and Cunilffe crafted those into new messages to add.

The youthful voices just add to the gentle reminders to be present, patient and caring toward others, Cunliffe said.

“This is the time of year we’re supposed to reflect and get in this holiday spirit, that’s what this is about.”

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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