Manitoba·PROFILE

Inside the 'White House' with Michel Fillion

No other candidate lives in a place quite like Michel Fillion and his partner, Rick. It's a safe bet few Winnipeggers do either.
Winnipeg mayoral candidate Michel Fillion talks about how he designed the four stone statues that hold up a gas fireplace in his living room. 0:52

No other candidate lives in a place quite like Michel Fillion and his partner, Rick. It's a safe bet few Winnipeggers do either.

In 2003, the couple bought a century-old bank building just a short breeze down from Portage and Main. Pedestrians and drivers would recognize the building as "The White House," as the big letters on it's exterior facade announce.

In Fillion's words, it was a mess, but the pair spent three years restoring the building and created a home and office for their entertainment business. The couple of 30 years books exotic dancers for various locations around the province.

How much? "It cost a lot," said Fillion.

And it shows. The ceilings are stained glass covered by a second roof and the floors are done in dark hardwoods. The living room is surrounded by a balcony accessed by winding staircases. And the kitchen, with one of the old bank's vaults still intact (there are four in the building), has heritage-style appliances that look out of a slick design magazine.

Winnipeg mayoral candidate Michel Fillion inside his downtown home. (CBC)
Fillion said previous renovations before his ownership had torn the guts of the old bank.

"There was no respect for historical materials in the '60s," he said. "Modern was the only way to go."

Perhaps the pièce de résistance, certainly the most eye-catching detail, is a massive gas fireplace in the centre of the living room, held up by four two-metre-plus-high stone statues of men in brief loin cloths.

Think statues from historical Greece with a slightly modern twist. Each statue weighs more than 900 kilograms. Fillion designed them himself and had them shipped to Winnipeg from China.

"I went through male dancer promos and also muscle magazines," he said. "You have to match face and body, and [I] also told them the size I wanted."

There is a piano in the corner of the room, but Fillion declines to play, citing an old injury that makes it difficult. He easily cites Elton John as his favourite performer, but hesitates about a hometown favourite.

"Er … The Guess Who, I suppose," he said.

Mix of classic and modern

The home is a mix of classic pieces of heritage furniture and more modern things such as Fillion's partner's crystal figurine collection.

The pair travels overseas often and they always try to purchase one piece to mark the journey. He shows off a gold-plated dragon bearing a large crystal in its mouth as his favourite piece of art.

If there was ever a fire in the building, Fillon said his first grab would be the photo albums.

Family, he said, is important. Fillion grew up in St. Joseph, Man., with six brothers and sisters and arrived in Winnipeg in the early '80s after getting a degree in music at Brandon University.

Fillion declines to answer what the property taxes are like on such a home, but said he feels they aren't out of line and they do get the appropriate services in return.

The couple moved from a large custom home in Whyte Ridge several years ago, and Fillion said though there was a bit of transition — they miss a big garden — they love the ease to getting around the downtown.

They barely use their one vehicle, an SUV, and only then to go grocery shopping, a pet peeve of Fillion's. He said if he's elected mayor, he would get a food store in the downtown.

Fillion said he does most of the cooking for the couple and his specialty is spaghetti. His secret is "fresh tomatoes." He likes a glass of wine from time to time and there will eventually be a wine cellar built into one of the old vaults in the restored bank building.

Fillion said there are a few negatives to living downtown: noises from buses and an "ugly" strip of Portage Avenue he calls a blight bound to turn off visitors to the city. 

The back of his building overlooks a wall of the Vendome Hotel and Fillion said he frequently has conversations over the lane with residents who lean out of their windows. He mentions how easily he mixes with downtown dwellers and said he's never had problems with panhandlers. Nothing has ever been stolen from his home, he added.

So, with votes on the line, the most important question of all: If Fillion had a chance to see one sports match in his life, would it be the Bombers or Jets?

"Uh, I am more of an arts person than a sports person, but Jets," he said.

Fillion said he hasn't been to a Jets game yet, but with the MTS Centre just down the street, his excuses are few and he promises he'll go sometime.

Five facts on Michel Fillion

  • Date night involves dinner out with his partner, Rick, before going to a downtown nightclub like Fame.
  • Loves to travel.
  • Taught music at a primary school in St. Vital for eight years.
  • Cut his finger badly on a table saw and can't play piano anymore.
  • His specialty in the kitchen: spaghetti.

Stances on key election issues

Infrastructure

Fillion says his main objective is "to fix the roads" and what he calls its relatives: back lanes, water and sewer lines, curbs and boulevards et cetera, and cut back building new infrastructure. He said he will concentrate on maintenance. 

"When the streets are well on their way to be attended to, we may consider other new types of infrastructure needs," he said.

Taxes, rates, fees and fines

Fillion wants to raise property taxes by five per cent for the first two years of his mandate and cut business taxes.

Open data, transparency and accountability

Fillion says being raised innocently on a farm in rural Manitoba, he was shocked to find how the city was run when he moved to Winnipeg. He wants to see the city's open data portal expanded — it would include financial plans and audit reports. Fillion also wants better whistleblower legislation for the city and five minutes of broadcast time from each of the local supper-hour news programs to publicize what's happening at city council.