Nova Scotia

Charity tree festooned with Dr. Strang's ties fetches $8K at auction

As Nova Scotians get ready for Christmas, one anonymous person is celebrating with a tree like none other after winning it at auction for $8,250. Instead of snowflakes or angels, the tree is covered in ties from Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang.

Quirky fundraiser will create grants for the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia

Dr. Robert Strang sports a different tie at every COVID briefing. Many in his collection are whimsical, including this one he wore in June. (CBC)

As Nova Scotians get ready for Christmas, one anonymous person is celebrating with a one-of-a-kind tree after posting the winning bid of $8,250 in an auction.

Instead of snowflakes or angels, this tree is adorned with ties from Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health.

Strang's eclectic tie collection has been thrown into the spotlight during the province's regular COVID-19 updates, which are streamed online. It was his wife's idea to wear a different one every day.

"It became a part of the briefing, me wearing a different tie each time," said Strang, who started receiving ties as gifts from people as he became a household name among Nova Scotians. 

"I don't think of myself as famous. In some ways, it's kind of embarrassing. I just happen to be, because of my job, I'm the front face of this."

'Light bulb' idea

A few months ago, Strang was at a book launch and ran into Starr Cunningham, president and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia.

Cunningham said she's always trying to come up with ideas to decorate items for the charity's big Festival of Trees fundraiser. That encounter led to what she called a "light bulb moment."

"I thought, 'Wow, what if we got those ties and got them on a tree?'" she said. "I just reached out to him on a whim and he replied immediately and said, 'How many do you want?'"

This Christmas tree features 22 ties from Dr. Robert Strang, as well as several bottles of hand sanitizer. (Fabink Photography)

Strang dug through his collection and found 22 ties, each with their own story. One was from Sawyer Burke, an 11-year-old from Hatchet Lake who has become Strang's penpal.

"He was very excited that what he's given to me, I was then giving forward to contribute to the fundraiser for broader contributions to mental health," said Strang.

The tree, trimmed with ties and bottles of hand sanitizer, was placed on the auction block where Cunningham said it received an immediate response.

"We were amazed," she said. "We were watching the bids all night, because the auction closed at 8:30 and it just kept growing and growing and growing."

The final price tag was $8,250 — the highest price for any item in the auction.

A timely cause

Strang said the tree was the first direct request he's received to support a charity, and he was particularly interested in the cause.

"As part of our pandemic response, we need to be paying attention to the mental health impact," he said. "There's significant increases around stress, anxiety, depression — particularly in young people."

Cunningham said the money raised from the tree's sale will be used to create grants for various programs. This year, the foundation has helped connect people to their families and clinicians during the pandemic through technology.

"Something as simple as a phone in their hand has helped them cope in the pandemic," said Cunningham.

So far, she is tight-lipped about the tree's anonymous buyer. But she said people will soon know who spent thousands on Strang's ties.

"We're not able to say at this point in time, but it will certainly be shared with the community very soon."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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