world pride VIP
meeting mr. gay canada and mr. gay world
Niagara and Toronto rolled out the red carpet for Mr. Gay Canada and Mr. Gay World during World Pride, giving them the opportunity to share their experiences on social media and their platforms with a captive audience.
When it comes to planning a schedule for two VIPs, the key is to keep things flexible.
“We’ve kind of taken over the schedule slightly,” admits Mr. Gay World Christopher Olwage, as a sly smile curls across his face.
“Some things have been taken out completely or pushed back a bit because everything’s just so nice we don’t want to leave,” adds his travel companion, Mr. Gay Canada Christepher Wee.
After a whirlwind few days spent in Niagara, the pair have finally found time to relax in the cafe area of Mori Garden Centre in Niagara-on-the-Lake. They came to the area – a first time for both – as part of their travels for World Pride in Toronto. The three-day sojourn to Niagara was an opportunity for them to experience the best the area had to offer in terms of tourism. They stayed at White Oaks Resort, indulged in the spa, tasted some gelato down on Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake, saw Niagara Falls from land and by air in a helicopter and in the Skylon Tower. The pair tasted wine right in a vineyard, caught The Philadelphia Story at the Shaw Festival, learned about icewine, and even met with the mayor of St. Catharines.
That last one, shaking hands of the mayor of a city renowned for its involvement in the Underground Railroad, was especially gratifying for Olwage.
“It’s fortifying to be here, because of the respect and mutual love. It means there is hope and St. Catharines is on the forefront of human rights and gay rights as well. This is potentially where the world is heading, if we’re able to get the influence we need. Being gay is not a choice, the only thing we can do is choose to accept it. It is great being in a country that understands that and celebrates it on a level it is now, with world pride, it’s phenomenal,” he said. As Mr. Gay World, the New Zealand native has the opportunity to travel to many different communities around the globe and participate in Pride events or other LGBT community activities. Not everywhere is as welcoming as Toronto, Niagara and Canada has been, Olwage admits.
The push back, he said, just helps to reiterate why his and Wee’s roles as ambassadors – and activists – are so important.
“This isn’t just a beauty pageant,” Olwage says of the Mr. Gay World competition and its regional counterparts. “It’s about our efforts, work and activism.”
The welcome they’ve received in Canada has been gratifying for Wee, a Vancouver native.
“It makes you so proud to be Canadian because everywhere you go, everyone was so friendly. They’re being genuine about it as well. It’s nice to be able to share that with Christopher,” he says.
Wee was volunteering at a Cambodian orphanage when he first decided to run for Mr. Gay Canada. It was during some of his downtime there that the idea first came to him. He was flipping through channels looking for something to watch and he came across the Miss Universe competition.
“I went to the computer to see if they had a similar one for men and that’s when I came across the Mr. Gay World competition,” he said.
Olwage acted as a judge during that competition, held in Whistler during its winter pride festivities. Wee stood out, he recalls, because he was so well-rounded and very prepared. His meticulous attention to detail is a trait that serves him well in his position, Olwage notes. The other thing Wee had going for him, was his established connections to causes that were close to his heart.
“You need to have personal causes that you care about, it helps to keep you grounded and it gives you something to use your platform for,” explains Olwage.
Wee uses his role as Mr. Gay Canada to promote two causes: Hi-5 Diversity, a social media driven art project that encourages youth to upload poetry, artwork, music and videos that promote diversity, and the Rainbow Refugee Society that advocates and supports LGBTQ refugees who come to Canada.
“It’s great to be able to talk about them in the global community,” Wee says.
Olwage, who ran for Mr. Gay New Zealand as a favour to a friend and was surprised when he ended up winning both regionally and globally, has also taken a global approach with his activism, pushing for greater acceptance of LGBT rights everywhere across the world. He does that through his visits to various communities as Mr. Gay World and by encouraging the younger generation to look to the pioneers and learn the history behind the community’s struggle.
“There’s a big gap within (the LGBT) community,” he explains. “People that should have mentored younger generations just don’t exist. Now younger people coming out in a society where it’s mostly accepted and they realize it’s okay to be gay. It hasn’t always been that way, but the younger generation doesn’t necessarily know that. We’re becoming an extremely complacent community because of that fact – and many realize the struggles ahead of us. If we don’t inform our younger generations, we’re not utilizing the greatest pioneers and advocates we have. If people don’t fight in our own countries, who’s going to do it for them?”
“With our titles, come great responsibilities,” adds Wee.
Coming to World Pride helped them to spread that message. On their first day in Toronto, the pair were interviewed by 12 different media outlets. They were able to participate in events large and small, and spread their message. The other bonus? Social media where they are able to reach more people everyday – on their own schedule.
Mr. Gay World
Mr. Gay Canada
Three days in Niagara
Mr. Gay World & Mr. Gay Canada’s Itinerary
- Check in to White Oaks Resort and Spa, Niagara-on-the-Lake (www.whiteoakresort.com)
- See Niagara Falls from the sky, take a Niagara Helicopter tour with magnificent breathtaking views from high above the falls (www.niagarahelicopters.com)
- Visit History in the Sand in Niagara Falls, taking in sand sculptures depicting the War of 1812 between Britain and the American rebels (www.v2niagara.com)
- Take in a production of the Shaw Festival’s The Philadelphia Story at Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake (www.shawfest.com)
- Meet with St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan at City Hall
- Head into wine country with Niagara Vintage Wine Tours, including stops at 13th Street Winery and Henry of Pelham Winery (www.niagaravintagewinetours.com)
- Swing by Zee’s Restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake for lunch on the patio (www.niagarasfinest.com)
- Visit Inniskillin Winery to learn about the history of Canada’s icewine, tour the vineyards and go for a wine tasting (www.inniskillin.com)
- Take a trip up the Skylon Tower in Niagara Falls and tour the dinosaur exhibit on the ground floor (www.skylon.com)
- Dine at Windows by Jamie Kennedy Restaurant in Niagara Falls and enjoy the local flavours of Niagara while taking in magnificent views (www.windowsbyjamiekennedy.com)
- Tour the gay owned and operated Wine Country Bed and Breakfast in Niagara-on-the-Lake (www.winecountrybb.com)
- Experience the Niagara River from the water with Niagara Kayak Rentals on a tour where the river enters Lake Ontario (www.niagarakayak.com)
- Explore the lovely scenery at Mori Gardens in Niagara-on-the-Lake and relax (www.morigardens.com)
- Go for a wine tasting at Southbrook Vineyards, Canada’s first certified biodynamic and organic winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake (www.southbrook.com)
- Visit Daniel Lenko winery in Beamsville and pose for a photo op in front of the 20 foot bottle of Chardongay wine (www.daniellenko.com)
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