Remembrances of the Montreal scene
Beginning of the nineties, I live in the Eastern Townships. Every time my dad needs to go to Montreal for a meeting, I hop in the car to skate the city. I spend the first few trips at Parc Jarry, knowing little about spots on the island.
During one of those summer visits, on a rainy day, I notice a wet flyer stuck to one of the concrete pillars supporting the shelter at the entrance of the park. Boardwalk, a skateshop on Parc Avenue, is organizing a demo with Ocean Howell and Willy Santos.
Back then, and probably up to this day, Howell is one of the styliest skaters on a board. He was among my favorite skaters, together with Matt Hensley, Guy Mariano, and Kris Markovich.
Willy Santos, in those days, can be seen all over the magazines and videos. If the SOTY (skater of the year) Award would be a Transworld skate mag thing, that would have been his year. Those are gloomy days for the skateboard industry, a time of decadence materialized through the miniature wheels, the pressure flips and the huge jeans. Santos skates every terrain with speed and style, getting most of the attention.
The demo date didn’t match any of my dad’s appointments in Montreal, so I took an early bus from Magog, then the subway, in order to catch the legends at Jarry. There was a contest being held besides the demo, and what I remember the most about that sunny day twenty five years ago, much more than Howell or Santos, is my encounter of the Montreal skate scene.
I clearly recall that summer morning, Raj Mehra entering the park with his braided hair and his followers. Eric Mercier throwing big frontside airs on the quarterpipe until he broke his board and exploded in fury. Phil Beausèjour, whose voice covered everyone on the two lines around the bowl, the lines to skate down the 3-stair set.
Mark Mikahail, a.k.a. Brown Kid, won the contest, ending his line with a big ollie late back foot flip. A few years later Brown would break his ankle, learn to skate from scratch, but opposite footed, getting ahead of the game on the switch stance skating movement.
On the fast six-foot ramp Barry Walsh rocked indy straight legd and breakdanced on the flat bottom. Barry also skated the street contest, finishing his run by doing a backflip, no board, from the top of a launch ramp. The best trick of the day still went to Willy Santos who cleared the entire pyramid with a backside 360 ollie. He clearly deserved all the coverage he was getting.
During my next few trips to Montreal, I was able to explore some of the epicenters of the 90s scene. The first required stop was the Olympic Stadium (a.k.a. the Big O), a natural, disproportionate, skate plaza. During that same summer, at 13, I saw a group of skaters followed by a filmer with a big camera. I recognized Barry because of the glasses, already ripping his beloved whistle-shaped structure.
Barry Walsh, frontside tailgrab. Big O, 2005. Photo by Félix Faucher.
On top of the many miles of cement, on top of the curbs, rails, wallrides, stairs and the perfect natural ramp that is the pipe, the Stadium also counts with a roof that is somewhat of a skate heaven, if you don’t mind the drop.
Nathan Lacoste, blunt to fakie. The quarterpipe Nathan skates is actually the edge of the roof. On the other side there is a drop that goes down many dozen feet. Big O, 2004. Photo by Félix Faucher.
In the beginning of the nineties, during a summer day, you could find over a hundred skaters at the Vauquelin Square, next to the Montreal City Hall. Frank Saint-Pierre went around the fountain full speed, clearing the tree crates that had become gaps.
Once in a while, just like bamboo shishi-odoshi that paces passing time in a Japanese garden, a shout would interrupt the ambience. You would hear a -“Five-O”, and the entire crowd of skateboarders would run down towards Chinatown. Some time later, little by little, the skaters would reappear, and the soundscape of the fountain would once again be accompanied by the snapping of wood against the stone and the rumbling of bearings covered by a few thin millimetres of urethane.
The City Hall heyday also matched that of the Radical, a skateshop at the end of a gift shop on the Main, as well as the era when a group made of Lik, Pik, Khit, Sivone and Somsay were a reference in terms of style and technical wizardry. Steve Cantin, Alex Gavin and other pre-450 (the code hadn’t been enforced yet) suburban skaters were also part of Montreal’s elite skate scene.
Jai Ball, swicth backside 180 nosegrind, City Hall, 2005. In the nineties, people mostly skated the bottom curb with slappy noseslides, as well as the fountain curb and the famous benches. Photo by Félix Faucher.
In 1995, I moved to Montreal. The Peace Park appeared in the Red Light District, winning popularity over the City Hall, whose rolling surface had been degrading at the same rate as security had been increasing. Peace Park was witness to an important change as skateboard fines, which sky rocketed to the ludicrous amount of $600, eventually disappeared, thanks to “Crazy” Dave Bouthillier’s efforts at the city council. Effectively, he made skateboarding at the Peace Park legal. A few years earlier, Barry and Marc Tison also succeeded in winning an analogous manner, saving the pipe from being destroyed, twice, the second time managing to translocate it ! It’s an impressive road traveled for the Montreal skate scene and for the sustainability of the spots that enable it.
Carl Labelle is, to my knowledge, the third person to clear the Peace Park gap, the same summer as Aaron Johnson and Joe Buffalo. It was in 2005, at a time when skating Peace Park meant running away from cops to avoid getting a $600 fine. Photo by Félix Faucher.