How Birling Skateshop Helped Organize Free Indoor Skateboarding in Ottawa
As told by Adam Wawrzynczak Photos by Aaron Cayer This past February, the city of Ottawa launched a free weekly indoor skateboarding...
The Garden of the Provinces and Territories has been the go-to staple Ottawa street spot for decades. Skaters refer to it simply as “Archives” due to the fact that it lies across the street from Library and Archives Canada. It is centrally located, with plenty of shade from numerous trees, and is rather large in size. Archives features 2 long, yet small ledges, a taller ledge and two eight sets. It also features plenty of room to hang out and play S.K.A.T.E. It’s the closest thing Ottawa has to a street plaza, but a far cry from legendary spots such as Pulaski, J-kwon, or Love.
Some would say that skating Archives is a good representation of skating in Ottawa as a whole. That is to say that it’s generally not great, but possesses a warm familiarity about it that is welcoming. Archives exists today as a relatively hassle-free skate haven, but it’s interesting to note that this didn’t simply happen on its own. Skateboarding at Archives is actually tolerated by the city in certain areas. To have achieved such a feat in a notoriously red tapped city like Ottawa is intriguing to say the least. To learn more about how this came to be, I sat down with Aaron Cayer, who worked on this project.
Introduction and interview by Adam Wawrzynczak
Photos by Aaron Cayer and Jamie Perkins
^ Aaron Cayer, Frontside Noseslide.
How has skateboarding been treated at Archives over the years?
It all depends on what year you’re talking about. In some years, skateboarding was tolerated but in others…not so much. In the early 2000s, I believe “Public Works” was responsible for the area. At that point in time, skaters would generally only go to Archives for short missions to film or shoot photos because it was common to be chased away by special officers in brown uniforms.
I got a ticket for skating the eight set there once in 2005…
I got a ticket there too! And it was held against me last year! Nothing was capped at Archives then, so it was always tempting to skate. It seems as though around 2010, the responsibility of managing Archives was transferred to the National Capital Commission (NCC), who eased up restrictions regarding skateboarding. For a few years, skateboarding flourished there. Then, out of the blue, the NCC decided to cap every ledge. This would’ve been around 2015. It sparked a costly “tug of war” cycle where skaters would remove the stoppers only to have the NCC re-install them. These, in turn would also be removed a week later by skaters.
As luck would have it, the NCC had just acquired a new CEO who was quite open-minded. An NCC manager reached out to us, the “Ottawa Skateboarding Community Association” (now known as the “Ottawa Skateboarding Association”) and set up a meeting with the new executive team. Originally, he wanted us to ask the skateboard community to stop removing the skate stoppers. This obviously wasn’t going to happen, but at least a conversation had begun.
I remember showing him a local news video clip from 1998, “Regional Contact”, that showcased the popularity of skateboarding at Archives back then. This established a historical element of the park for skateboarding. The crux of our argument was similar to the one made by Mr. Bacon regarding skateboarding at Philadelphia’s iconic skate plaza: Love Park. Public space needs to be interpreted and used by the citizens not by policy. The argument that the limestone was damaged is one perspective but the other perspective is that it’s being worn down from recreational use. The NCC actually agreed! What ensued was a series of meetings where we discussed the details of where skateboarding would be allowed at Archives.
Patience was a key factor in these meetings. We had to explain to the NCC things like where boards fly out when tricks aren’t landed, which gave them a better idea of what is feasible from a safety perspective. They ended up proposing a balance; where the essential areas to skate are open for use, but other areas would be off limits. Some skaters in the city weren’t pleased with that and called for the whole park to be uncapped but that was just not realistic. At the end of the day, the NCC uncapped the areas we have to skate today, which are the north and south east ends of the upper area. This was back in 2016.
^ Bryan Barbier, Kickflip Backside Tailslide.
Who was involved in the process?
This entire process was a team effort. The OSCA (now “OSA” – The Ottawa Skateboarding Association) collectively made this possible. In particular, Meag Isaacs and Alex Winch were instrumental. They handled the communication side of things and back end stuff. The whole process took about a year and a half. These things take time but there’s a reason for this.
No doubt! It’s important in situations like these to take a step back from core skateboard culture. We cannot assume that everyone understands or even likes skateboarding. Patience and good communication skills are key pillars with these kinds of projects. Have there been any concerns raised since Archives was uncapped?
For sure. Immediately after Archives was uncapped, there was increased skateboarding activity which yielded an increase in concerns from local citizens. Some residents were not pleased and thought that the NCC did not create a happy medium. We worked with the NCC to draft replies to these concerns which helped a lot. We were expecting some push back but at the end of the day, the fact that the NCC paid for the removal of skateboard stoppers at Archives is to me, a huge win. It’s the only time that I know of where that’s been done in Ottawa.
What advice would you give to anyone who strives to achieve something similar (for example, legalizing a spot or legally building a D.I.Y)?
Most importantly, make sure that you can justify your reasoning for what you’d like to do. Write it down on paper. The first thing you will be asked is “Why should we do this?” Stats are also always nice. For example, providing numbers on how many skaters exist in your city or town is a good idea. Proposing certain benefits that will come from this project is as well. Address some of the concerns that may come up and just be honest about everything. Another piece of advice is to operate through the form of an organization. This helps legitimize your cause. Tackling this project as an individual, instead of as “The Ottawa Skateboard Community Association” most likely would’ve ended differently. Group efforts also create movement to push things forward. Meagan and Alex played that role in this case. They moved this along its course to completion and I am so thankful for that!
Solid advice, Aaron. Thanks for your time!
It was a pleasure chatting with you.