Head to any charity event in Selkirk or any local arena, and you'd see his smiling face and his motto: "Buy your next vehicle from Big Chad. Stay Driving My Friends."
"He was a real promoter," Selkirk Mayor Larry Johannson said about Chad Gaborieau, well-known in the Manitoba city as Big Chad. "A great big presence and a great guy, lots of fun to be around and always helping out and willing to give."
Gaborieau died Sunday morning in a Winnipeg hospital after flying home from a vacation in Jamaica. Posts he made on social media say he thought he had a bad case of sunstroke, but childhood friend Darryl Wolski said he actually had contracted a rare staph infection.
Gaborieau was 47. He leaves behind his wife, Jennifer, and four children.
His loss is being felt throughout the small city, said Johannson.
"I knew Chad. We were friends. We were good friends," he said. "Chad was literally a huge person in the community. I'm still in shock."
Aside from his family, Gaborieau had a passion for hockey and music, and it showed in his charity work. A car salesman, he was a relentless promoter, said Johannson, but most of the time, you'd see his face plastered on ads for charity events.
"You see them mostly at charity events, charity golf tournaments, and that was what Chad was all about," Johannson said. "He never said no to any ask."
Gaborieau's first love was hockey and he played in the WHL for the Brandon Wheat Kings, among others, said Wolski.
"When Chad was 14, he was a man-child. He really was; he was just a beast," Wolski said. "He never played professionally but he did play junior, and when Chad was on your team, you were pretty happy, because he's the guy who's going to be the tough guy and stand up for everybody on the team."
He turned to sales and was successful, so he gave back to the community whenever he could, Wolski said.
"He was sincerely happy to help out some peewee hockey team or one of the teams that one of his kids was on. Take it from me, I'm in the hockey business 24 hours a day, and finding people like him and, say, cut cheques for $2,500 for this or $5,000 for this, those guys are very, very rare."
Later on his passion for music took over, and he recently bought Selkirk's historic Merchant's Hotel along with business partner Dean Peterson. The pair started to renovate the bar on the main floor, the Merch, and supported bigger and smaller bands alike.
"He did things in Selkirk that had never happened in decades," said Wolski.
"Chad and Dean were really going a long way to making some great improvements at the hotel and making it again the true icon that it should be," Johannson said.
"They were very fortunate. A lot of movies that have been shot in Selkirk used the heritage site as a backdrop for movies and you know, they were really bringing excitement back not only to the hotel, but to the whole downtown, the historic downtown area as well."
Both men called Gaborieau irreplaceable.
"[He was] just a guy you don't replace. It's not like, there's like, it's like the Price is Right where you have door number 1, 2 and 3," said Wolski. "Once this door is closed, there's no door number 2 or 3."
"Just a huge man, with a huge heart and a huge personality," Johannson said.
Show must go on
Despite Gaborieau's death, The Merch will continue to book bands, Peterson said Monday.
"The show must go on, as Chad would say," said Peterson.
The pair knew each other for years, but became business partners when Peterson, who was manager at the Merch at the time, had the opportunity to buy the hotel.
"With his profile and his drive, it really seemed like a good mix … and it worked out really well for us.
"He was such a lover of live music. He was a true music fan," said Peterson, and bands from across Canada have contacted him to offer their condolences after learning about Gaborieau's death.
"He used to like, buy all their merch.… He would literally buy it all and hand it out to everyone at the show because he knew these bands need money to get across the country.
"He was just that guy."
Peterson said he will likely plan a tribute later this month for his friend.
We initially reported that Chad Gaborieau was 49. In fact, he was 47.Jan 12, 2018 11:14 AM CT