Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Christiane Tetreault
Meet Christiane. Many of you know her from her pop-up markets, events and ongoing involvement in the community, if not her tall, dark and striking stature! I first met Christiane in the early days of my Day in the Life of Leslieville project. It was a blustery & snowy January day and she was bent over shovelling the sidewalk. I snapped a photo of her, which went in that day’s post, but before continuing our walk, she raised her head, said ‘Hi’ and was gushing over Sunshine. We’ve been friends and business barterers ever since.
Born in Montreal, Christiane has roots that stretch from Holland and Italy to France and Quebec. At the age of 6, her parents divorced and Christiane and her mom, Lucy, moved to Toronto. She barely spoke any English back then and spent the next 15 years moving around the city and as many schools. Being raised in a single mom household in the 70s was no easy feat and they moved to where the work and affordable housing was.
After graduating high school, at the age of 19, Christiane had her daughter, Kyara. Her relationship with Kyara’s father didn’t last and now a single mom, she began life in the workforce full-time living with Lucy. Having worked in everything from retail, customer service, fast food and bartending/waitressing, since the age of 13, working full-time was a natural transition. “It was an insane time. I’d just be getting home from work at 2am, flop down on the bed, and up again at 7am before Mom went off to work, to care for Kyara. My main concern then was giving my daughter the best life I could.”
Christiane did this routine until Kyara was two, putting her into private daycare. For the next six years, she worked in a number of corporate environments by day, while DJ-ing and waitressing part-time at night. A lover of music, Christiane had wanted to DJ since she was 16. “It’s no wonder Kyara got into the music world. She spent all her life around music especially during my DJ days”, she laughs. Working day and night eventually took its toll so Christiane revamped (read: embellished) her resume, and got a much higher paid position at IBM as Executive Assistant to Ross Rosier, who became her role model in the corporate world. “I loved that guy. He was professional yet friendly, fair and liked by everyone. His door was always open and he was one of the first people I’d worked for who really believed in me. We all have a few key people in our lives who are great influences and he remains one of them.”
She left IBM after three years to study web design and started Love Sexy Entertainment, which produced live music shows at a club on St. Clair. Her big break came at the age of 32. She had eyed a new advertising company she desperately wanted to work for. She got the sales job and with creative freedom, built a large portfolio of clients doubling her salary within a year. Throughout her tenure there, she was a top 5% employee out of 400 sales reps Canada wide and the recipient of numerous President’s Club awards. She bought a house in Riverdale. It seemed, finally, her work life was on track. And her personal life. In 2009, she was happily engaged to be married and was pregnant.
That all changed mid-2009, when a new VP came on board. An intense period of harrassment followed, resulting in human rights abuses and complaints to HR which went nowhere. During those months, she miscarried and her engagement ended. She was packaged out of the company and had to sell her house. This started a downward spiral, both professionally and personally. She suffered from anxiety, which culminated in a two year depression. “It was a horrible time. I had discovered that being a strong, independent women in the corporate world was a tough road. I decided to move away from the goal of ‘money buys happiness’, which it does not – and begin a more spiritual journey. I studied the work of Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, and read Robert Kiyosaki, among others. I had to do something healthy for myself.”
In 2010, when the house was sold, she decided moved to Leslieville. “It was a run down, 2-storey loft on Gerrard, but I loved it. I picked myself up, fixed it up and started again.” Having had years of sales experience, she bought a small magazine called ‘Local Menu Guide’ that was distributed throughout the Beaches, Leslieville & Danforth. Similar to Uber Eats today, it was a thriving business. Until an employee was caught extorting over $75K. The magazine folded after 3 years.
Even that didn’t stop her. She started a small business, with a partner initially, called KozieKidz; hats and accessories for little ones. “I had a seasonal kiosk at Gerrard Square and sold at markets and festivals including The Baby Time show for 3 years.” The business grew, but in some ways it was a curse. She couldn’t find a Canadian manufacturer to produce baby hats at a reasonable price or in small quantities and didn’t want to go offshore. “I’m a huge supporter of locally made, so I ran into trouble here. That experience however, gave me some great insight into the vendor world, trade shows and markets.”
During the KozieKidz venture, she was volunteering at Caribana, helping make and design costumes. She went on to sell/design costumes for four years, working with a team of 10 people. From elaborate to spectacular, the costumes sold for $225 – $1500, depending on the detail/work involved, but even the combined businesses weren’t turning over enough to make a decent living. “It’s tough out there. People have no real idea until they are working for themselves how much time/energy is put in to making a successful business.”
In 2013, a friend urged her to go back to in the marketing/advertising world, this time as a solopreneur. Her Gerrard St. loft was being converted to 2 units by her landlord and that’s when she found 1400 Queen East. “I initially wanted the space for me, and another solo business to share, but had a change of heart when I saw the space. It was perfect for an inspiring work and event space.” She renovated the Victorian house to reflect it’s past style, aiming to host intimate dining experiences and other events. Since early 2015, the space has hosted over 250 events.
She signed the lease in Nov 2014 and in less than a month had the first Leslieville Christmas Pop-up Market there. “I remember that’s when I started meeting a lot of the local artisans. It was really fun. And a good intro for me into the local business community.”
Shortly after, she joined the BIA, started a few Facebook Groups (Eastside Events, Leslieville Business Networking Group, The VandenBerg House) and was a major player in Wanderlust in 2015. She’s not only continued the Christmas Pop-Up markets, but expanded with Silver Spoons, a food and wine festival, now named Leslieville Food & Drink Festival. And this year she introduced the first Toronto Beaches Festival on Woodbine Beach in support of Michael Garron Hospital.
She loves to make connections and is passionate about Leslieville. “I like to think big and take risks, jumping on opportunities. It has its ups and downs though! A brick and mortar business is a challenge but is also rewarding and life-changing. My business neighbours and local residents are wonderful and supportive.” Christiane is on the Board of the Leslieville BIA and also holds monthly meetings at the her space for Small Business Networking.
Christiane’s space, named The Vandenberg House, after her Mom’s family name, continues to thrive and the ideas for future projects are never ending. This year’s Leslieville Christmas Market was at a new venue, the Lighthouse Gospel Church on Rhodes, and she has 2 new projects in the works, which at this point are ‘top secret’.
If you’re down in the Greenwood/Queen area, you’re likely to see her on the street on any given day, either walking her sweet Pomeranian, Tumbleweed, going to meet with a local entrepreneur or hopping on the streetcar for business beyond the hood. And at 5’10”, long black hair and a huge smile, it’s unlikely you’ll miss her!
To contact Christiane for information about The Vandenberg House, click here http://www.thevberghouse.ca/
Additional photos supplied by Christiane