Bellini admires Chatelois' work ethic
It's been weeks since Pride, but I'm still glowing from all the fun. It helped this year that we had a common enemy in Mayor Blob Ford. But the best thing for me was the 519 Community Centre's Green Space on Church beer garden.
“We have the most beautiful place on Church St by far,” boasts Mathieu Chantelois, the driving force behind Green Space. “And it was extremely inclusive. Some lesbians were asking, Why not have a space for women and trans only after the Dyke March? But I said, No, we don’t need that anymore.”
Mathieu recruited Adamo Ruggiero, Gavin Crawford, Maha and me as celebrity bartenders for Starry Night, the Pride launch held on the Thursday evening. The night raised almost $200,000 for The 519 in donations and beer sales. Indeed, the Green Space was the best place to grab a beer during Pride, despite the celebrity bartenders.
How things have changed. In the old days, before people like Mathieu and his boss, Salah Bachir, took charge of revitalizing The 519, Pride activities at the community centre “used to be the staff bringing their own CDs, taking tables from inside and bringing them outside, and photocopying signs with the price of beer,” Mathieu tells me. “I said, ‘Let’s make this place cool.’ I remember seeing needles on the grass in the old days, but good luck finding a needle here now. This doesn’t mean we don’t offer help to people who need it, but you should not feel that The 519 is a sketchy place.”
Mathieu came to The 519 through Bachir. A force of nature, Bachir has helped raise around $6 million for the community centre. Although Mathieu is no longer on The 519’s board of directors, he still runs the French-language version of Bachir’s in-theatres movie magazine, Le magazine Cineplexe. Most people, however, know Mathieu from his many TV gigs, including The Lofters, So Gay TV and Cover Guy, and for posing au naturel for Tom Bianchi. Despite these other pursuits, Mathieu only ever considers himself a journalist. That’s how he got sucked into the reality show The Lofters.
“I was writing about them for La Presse, but when I showed up, they were too busy to give interviews. So I phoned my editor, who told me to line up for auditions and write about that. I never thought I would ever get the part.
“The Lofters was the worst year of my life,” he continues. “I grew up thinking being famous was my goal. But now my face was on billboards. Some people would cry in front of me and say, ‘I have only two dreams in life: to meet you and Madonna.’ It was surreal, but I was the first gay guy on TV for a lot of people. My husband, Marcelo, would be watching the show at home, and I was in the middle of Temptation Island. Nobody looked at me for years, and now suddenly I was the guy you needed to pick up. Everything was about me. Then I vacationed in Australia, but I could not have fun because I felt that everything I did should still be on TV.” And for all that, the lofters each got paid only $30,000 for the whole year, which is about what the receptionist at the production company probably got.
Mathieu has big plans for future events at The 519. “Next year my dream would be to close off the street and make it all a licensed area. We could have 10,000 people instead of 3,000. And maybe even have a winter event.”
It’s obvious that the centre is close to Mathieu’s heart, both figuratively and literally. “Did you notice this?” he asks, indicating a plaque on the cement in front of Fabarnak café. It reads, “The creation of this patio was generously supported in honour of Mathieu Chantelois & Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern. "
Cool. I want a patio dedicated to me, too. I just don’t want to deal with that level of fame to earn it.