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This article was published 29/11/2018 (454 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas.
For the third holiday season in a row, Chad Celaire will be appearing around town as the Christmas Singer, a talented vocalist whose takes on Yule-time classics such as Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Winter Wonderland have drawn favourable comparisons to Nat King Cole and Michael Bublé.
Last December Celaire, accompanied by pre-recorded backing tracks, was entertaining passersby at The Forks Market. At the end of his first set he was approached by two small groups of people who’d been seated in the food court area. They didn’t know each other, Celaire soon learned, but they shared a common bond; a number of them were dealing with a troubling, personal issue and they wanted him to know that listening to his rendition of Silent Night helped raise their spirits.
"Christmas is always a time of reflection and I’ve experienced a few instances similar to that, when people have come up to me to share their memories about a certain song or carol," he says seated in a Corydon Avenue coffee shop next to his wife Kim and their one-year-old son Kamani. "I’ve sung a fair bit in the lobby at Health Sciences Centre where the majority of the people coming through the door are stressed, either because they’re there to receive treatment or because they’re visiting a loved one. But after stopping to listen to a song or two, I often see their countenance change and their eyes light up. Every time that happens I’m like wow, if I was able to help them in some small way that’s all the motivation I need to keep doing this."
Some readers might recognize Celaire as the owner of Bee-2-Gether, a novelty-bike rental business that has been operating at The Forks for over a decade. Others may know him from his tenure at the Central Church of Christ on St. Mary’s Road, where he was a youth minister from 2002 until earlier this year, when he left that position to be a stay-at-home dad. That begs the question: between his two vocations, how on earth did he find time three years ago to add crooning about silver bells and red-nosed reindeer to his regimen?
Funnily enough, the answer to that query begins in the not-so-wintry climes of Dominica. In January 2015, the Celaires travelled to the West Indies nation, where his parents own a residence, with Corey and Carol Henderson, friends from church. One evening near the end of their vacation, the two men stayed up until 1 a.m., lounging on the balcony, singing along to songs Corey had stored on his phone, primarily Motown hits originally done by the likes of the Temptations and the Miracles.
After they called it a night Celaire had trouble falling asleep, reliving how much fun they’d just had belting out My Girl and Tears of a Clown at the top of their lungs.
"I was definitely being kept busy between the bikes and the church, but deep down inside I’d always felt there was something missing," he says, giving his son a playful poke in the ribs. "Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember — somewhere there are pictures of me as a kid pretending to be a rock star, using my mom’s vacuum as a microphone — so while I was lying in bed tossing and turning I made a promise to myself to seriously pursue singing so I wouldn’t regret not giving it a shot later in life."
In September 2015, Celaire’s friend Corey died suddenly due to complications from cancer surgery. Shortly thereafter, Celaire asked Carol if she’d mind if he and Kim came to her house to listen to music Corey held dear, to help the three of them deal with their grief. That would be lovely, she said. Inspired by that visit, and with Christmas right around the corner, he told Kim what he’d most like to do that year was host a party for their Borebank Street neighbours, during which he would perform an hour’s worth of seasonal tunes.
The house concert was a huge success, so much so that his sister-in-law immediately enlisted his services for her workplace’s Christmas dinner-and-dance, a well-attended affair that also went splendidly. In January 2016 he spent a few hours on the internet searching the term "Christmas singer," curious to see if "maybe there was a niche for that sort of thing," he says.
Skip ahead 11 months: in December 2016, decked out in a snazzy-looking, red-and-grey argyle vest, white shirt and red bow tie, Celaire walked out onto the stage of the Park Theatre to toast the official release of his debut CD Songs of the Season.
"The concert was practically sold out— 250 people were there — and the first number I did was The Christmas Song, the one that starts ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire,’" he says. "It was amusing because as a minister I’d been in front of a crowd thousands of times but that night for whatever reason, I found it hard to control my emotions. Thankfully I was able to relax a few songs in and by the time the show was over, it had turned into this truly amazing experience. Everything’s just kind of gone from there."
Susan Ainley is the special projects coordinator for the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. One of her duties is overseeing the Downtown Winnipeg Farmers’ Market, which, during the winter months, is staged at Cityplace on alternate Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"I originally met Chad through his business, Bee-2-Gether bikes," Ainley says. "In the fall of last year, he sent the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ an email letting us know he was also a singer and wondering if the BIZ had any events that he’d be a fit for. He included a link to his website so we were able to listen to him sing. He was so great I not only hired him for the Christmas markets but also to sing at our annual Christmas movie with Santa event at the Bay."
"We love having Chad sing at the farmer’s market," she goes on, listing Dec. 6 and Dec. 20 as his next appearances. "To me, it really adds a much more festive atmosphere for shoppers and vendors alike. In fact, I’m sure shoppers stick around longer just to enjoy the music."
Celaire, who made his debut appearance at Winnipeg’s Santa Claus parade two weeks ago, was booked at 18 events in 2017, a number he expects to almost double this time around. For now he’s not sure how much busier he can get, especially given the reason he left the ministry was to devote more time to his young family.
"Working at the church was quite demanding, time-wise, so anything extra I take on in the way of singing has to be weighed against my original decision. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to give up one thing just to turn around and be all go, go, go doing something else," he says.
"So every time I get a booking request, I check our schedules — a couple weeks ago Kim returned to her job as an operating room nurse at HSC — and decide whether we can make it work or not. Would I love this to be hugely successful somewhere down the road? Of course, it’s an absolute blast. But not at the expense of the more important things in life."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.