Stories of Caledon

Everything is Alright When You Start From a Place of Love

Julie with. Others at downtown Bolton flagpole
Written by Patti Foley

Photo above: (Front Row, L to R: Jules Bertola, founder Caledon Pride with Dmytro Basmat, president of Youth Activists Inc. Back Row, L to R : Hailey Tsolakis, Jules’ partner; Jimmy Pountney, owner of Innovations the Salon with his daughter Grace;and other supporters. Photo Credit: Loucas Loucaides, bright pixl studios.)

How many of us remember our teenage years with fondness?

For many, adolescence was a complicated time, full of stresses like homework pressures, raging hormones, feelings of anxiety or inadequacy, trouble fitting in, self-esteem and body image issues, peer pressure and temptations of alcohol or drugs, bullying or cyber-bullying, and depression.

For a moment close your eyes and think about which of those issues made your own teenage years challenging, and then imagine you also identified as gay.

Jules Bertola was born and raised in Brampton.  Jules’ pronouns are they/them. They moved to Caledon, at high school age, along with their family. Jules was in the first round of students to attend St. Michael Catholic Secondary School in Bolton.

Jules remembers that there seem to be no acknowledgement whatsoever of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community while at St. Mike’s. Nothing negative. But nothing positive either. So, in those important formative years Jules felt very unsure, and not certain of whether she was safe in their community.

However, when they moved on to go to college in Oakville, it was a very different environment. It was here that Jules finally felt able to grow, to get more involved and have a voice.

“I could see, while I was there, what I had been missing” Jules acknowledges. So after moving back to Caledon in 2019 after graduating college, they felt cut off again. “It’s very difficult when you’re young and you live somewhere that requires a car to get anywhere. I felt like I had to put everything back in a box.”

After returning to Caledon Jules did an internship at Caledon Community Services (CCS). “I remember they had a big calendar on the wall, and it noted that June was Seniors’ month. Recognizing that there are far more seniors in Caledon Jules still decided to ask, “What do you do for Pride month?” Surprisingly, the answer was “We’d love to do something for Pride month. No one has ever asked us before.”

“We really just got started doing Safe Space nights with Youth Activists Inc. and thinking this is the start of something wonderful – and then Covid happened. So, we stopped, but then people reached out and asked if we could do something virtual” Jules explains.

Jukes and Hailey at table

Jules (left) with her partner Hailey. Photo credit: Loucas Loucaides, brightpixl studios

Jules always felt completely supported at CCS and went on from there to found Caledon Pride. The small grassroots organization is completely volunteer driven, with the current “staff” being Jules and partner Hailey Tsolakis.

Another ally was Dmytro Basmat, president of Youth Activists Inc., Canada’s premier youth social advocacy association. Both, although working full time, are tireless youth advocates, and the two organizations were a natural partnership. Youth Activists Inc. provides support and funding for various Caledon Pride projects and events.

Caledon Pride designs and produces window stickers. The idea materialized after they found lawn signs were being stolen or vandalized. This year they produced pronoun buttons and flyers to distribute from their booth at Caledon Day. The flyers were a two-sided resource. One side for gay and trans folks, the other side for care givers.

Jules remembers being set up in a booth at Midnight Madness one year and a young boy quickly snatching up one of the flyers and pocketing it. “It reminded me of my younger self. It felt so good to have something. To be acknowledged.”

While it’s difficult seeing social media sneers and negative comments Jules acknowledges that it’s easy to be mean online. Keyboard warriors are no longer people they engage with with. Who they do engage with are the “wonderful businesses and organizations in Caledon that are always there for us. Like GoodLot Brewery, Mount Wolfe Farm, ecoCaledon and the Caledon Public Library” says Jules. “And people like Jimmy, at Innovation the Salon, who has the key to the Bolton downtown flagpole and will reach out to us and ask Hey, do you want to come raise the flag?”

In closing Jules had a message for parents and caregivers. “You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to know everything about queer or trans rights. The world will always be cruel. But if kids know they have you on their side they know they always have someone to go to, to be there for them. You’re doing a great job already if you are starting from a place of love.”

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About the author

Patti Foley

Having spent 25 years in Bolton, Patti remains an advocate for Caledon. As a former Regional Councillor and a long-time community volunteer she is passionate about communicating information about its issues, news, events, people, non-profits and businesses.

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