A big gamble paid off for the 519 Church Street Community Centre, which netted $300,000 at its outdoor Pride parties in 2013.
As in previous years, The 519 ran a beer garden in Cawthra Square Park beside the community centre from Thursday to Sunday. But this year, organizers moved their marquee dance party — known as TreeHouse — from Cawthra Park to Ryerson’s Kerr Hall quad and ran beer gardens at both venues during and after the Pride parade.
“We were extremely nervous. We didn't know what to expect,” says Mathieu Chantelois, chair of the Pride planning committee at The 519. “But honestly, when we booked the space, we just thought it was such a gorgeous place to host TreeHouse. The Ryerson quad is almost designed for it. People on the dancefloor were like, 'Why haven't we done this here before?'”
TreeHouse may have also inadvertently benefited from its location. The Pride parade ended at Yonge-Dundas Square this year, meaning that participants had to pass the party to get back to the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood. By mid-afternoon, lineups snaked around the corner and down several blocks.
But Chantelois says TreeHouse has many devotees who aren't simply drawn to the location. By 10am, some revellers had camped out with folding chairs at the entrance, waiting for the 1pm start time.
In total, about 35,000 people visited The 519's beer gardens in 2013.
After factoring in their additional expenses, the $300,000 take-home beats the $240,000 netted last year. And that's despite gloomy skies on three of the four party days — and cumbersome lineups at the beer tents during part of Pride Sunday.
“That is something that we're going to have to address next year. We don't think it's acceptable that people had to wait that long in lineups to get in and for beer,” Chantelois says.
He chalks up the beer lineups to a paucity of volunteers, especially after some failed to show up for promised shifts. He says The 519 may have to put more paid staff behind the bars next year.
Pride Week's position on the calendar has also helped The 519. Beer sales have been consistently higher since Pride Week was moved from its previous date, coinciding with the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York, to the Canada Day long weekend.
The Thursday night programming at Cawthra Park — an annual party called Starry Night — was also a big success, Chantelois says, with double the attendance of previous years.
He says that this year's theme for Starry Night, Love Is in the Hair, was well received, meaning that drag queens may feature more prominently in future iterations.
“There were suggestions that it was the biggest drag show in Toronto history, and if it was, we may try to top it next year,” Chantelois says. “Drag queens are such an important part of our community, and yet they don't get a really big event during Pride Week.”
The 519 is a city-run community centre with a long association with Toronto's queer communities. Centre staff run many programs targeted to subpopulations, including queer parents, youth, newcomers and older queer people.
On the whole, Chantelois describes 2013 as “a learning and a growing year” and says that the lessons learned this year will go into planning The 519's parties for 2014, when Toronto hosts WorldPride.