From 1986 to 1988, our backyard was the home to the largest outdoor skateboard ramp in Western Canada. In truth, it may have been the biggest in all of Canada, or even North America or, hell, the world. But we couldn’t really be sure about that and, being Canadians, we all decided to err on the side of understatement.
Its masterminds were Scotty Jensen, Jason Briscoe and Mark Quan. Briscoe and Quan were high school friends of Steph’s who had been out to our place and rightly suspected that its geography would be perfect for hiding what they were planning. We barely knew Scotty at the time (and he disappeared to Huntington Beach soon after), but his wide, innocent smile and good Alberta manners were perfect for convincing the unconvinced that whatever these kids might be up to, it couldn’t be that bad.
We were pretty sure that our parents wouldn’t know what a “ramp” was, so our one shot at getting them to say yes was keeping them ignorant. We expertly dodged all relevant questions by repeating the same mantra, don’t worry Mom, you won’t see it, you won’t hear it, you won’t even know it’s there! Somehow, after consulting with our step-dad (an orthopedic surgeon who would one day have to personally repair Erika’s Collis fracture after she broke her wrist on one of the City of Calgary portable ramps), our mom came back with a tentative okay, provided we adhered to the usual farm rules: no bottles (broken ones cut the horses’ hooves), no cigarettes on the grass (fire hazard), and watch the noise (don’t want the neighbors complaining). The guys had gotten the green light.
We knew not to ask where the wood came from, and soon lost count of how many random sweaty skateboarders tied their shirts around their waists, popped the tops off cans of Pil, and hammered nails. Steph, at 16, was already too cool to express any outward interest in the project, but Erika, who was 12 at the time, lived by the sound of those hammers and saws (power saws, hooked up to a generator – this sh*t was legit!). She ran through the gully in her rolled Levi’s and Vans, hoping to offer to fetch pop and (sometimes) sneak beers from the downstairs fridge or, on a really good day, get invited on a McDonald’s run.
You could tell from the wood plank skeleton that this thing was going to be big, but it fit the scale of the scenery, flanked by the Rockies on one side and the Calgary skyline on the other. It wasn’t until the final sheets of smooth masonite were hammered into place that you realized just how effing massive it was. 30 feet long, 11 feet tall, with a foot and a half of vert. Although there was a perfectly constructed channel, those who chose not to use it were faced with an instant rite of passage. Every time someone let their board go, pushed down and dropped in, all hearts stopped for just a second.
Cars would pull up and out would spill Jim Thorburn, Bryan Alberstat (Erika’s future brother-in-law!), Stevie Friedlander, Paul Sheppard, Lindsay Rogers and Barry Hiebert – the best vert skaters in the city who effortlessly transcended above the coping and crafted their own unique style of pulling air. Other times, parents would drive out and drop off the younger generation like they were going to Karate Kid II at Market Mall. However they got there, gathering around the fire in the garbage barrel beside the ramp meant being part of a movement at its inception point, when skateboarding truly was a crime and wearing baggy jeans meant risking getting your ass kicked by a redneck.
It came to be known as The Bearspaw Ramp. It was a gathering spot, a point of cultural reference. Friendships were forged, couples formed. It was a part of our epic backyard bonfire parties that closed down city clubs and turned our fields into parking lots.
We never thought to document the ramp until fears of lawsuits and complaints from neighbors spelled its doom. On the day it was to be torn down, Erika head up with her Kodak Disc Camera (!) to snap some shots for the first – and last – time.
Please use this opportunity to share your own photos or other ephemera, write about a memory, and get back in touch with your Calgary roots.
Tony Hawk and his crew came to Calgary in 2001 for a demo at Millennium Park. It was a stacked line up. Joining Tony were: Bam Margera, Jason Ellis, Bucky Lasek, Mike Vallely, Alex Chalmers, and a bunch more.
Check out the video re-cap of it here:
Here’s a brief look at Calgary’s skateboarding history. This video, shot in 1986 by Michael Betzler, shows ramp and downtown ripping. Enjoy!
Thanks to everyone who came out to our AGM on May 1st. We reviewed our year and talked about what we plan on doing in the coming year.
The 2012 fiscal year was a good one for CASE and Calgary skateboarding. Here are some of the things we accomplished:
-consulted with City officials on Skateboard Amenities Strategy
-raised funds through benefit rock show at The Palomino
-increased web traffic and Facebook reach
-met with several communities who have an interest in skateparks
-worked with the City to find a work around for the ramp by-law
-conducted interviews with several media outlets including TV, print, and radio
-held Go Skateboarding Day events/contests
-cleaned up Millennium Park in our annual Spring Clean Up
-sponsored/helped out with contests at Millennium, Westside, and McKenzie Towne parks
-helped out with Boarding 4 ‘Betes event at Millennium park.
-skate art auction to raise funds
As a result of the hard work of city administration, officials, and CASE, an RFP (request for proposals) was issued by the city. The RFP asked for firms to submit proposals to implement the Skateboard Amenities Strategy.
“Scope of requirements for this project includes communication, site selection, concept planning, construction drawings, and construction tendering.”
The RFP closed on April 30th, 2013 and promises a pretty aggressive timeline:
-Selection of highest rated proponent: two (2) to three (3) weeks after close of RFP
-Kick off meeting: 2013 June
-Finalize Project Scope with project Team: 2013 June
-Site Selection for all sites: 2013 end of July
-Participatory Design Process: 2013 end of November
-Construction Drawings: 2014 January
*The City reserves the right to modify any of the dates noted above.
“The Skateboarding Amenities Strategy envisions the development of a network of fifty (50) outdoor skate parks across the city over the next ten (10) years. The total City of Calgary planning, design, development and construction budget for the first two (2) years of the Strategy is two million dollars ($2,000,000) in 2013 and two million dollars ($2,000,000) in 2014.”
Keep in mind that “fifty skateparks” is their vision. It may be more, it may be less. A more accurate figure to look at is the skatepark terrain square footage the Skateboard Amenities Strategy says Calgary is currently lacking by — 243,860 (P.70). The bottom line is we’ll have new skateparks by next year. Multiple parks. In different locations with varied terrain.
The City of Calgary has planned skateparks at these sites:
-Seton Regional Recreation Centre 18150 56 St SE (Neighbourhood Skatepark)
-North West Regional Recreation Centre 11300 Rocky Ridge Road NW (Community Skatepark)
The communities shown in the table below have expressed interest in having a skatepark in their area:
Another action item that has come up for CASE is the possibility of an indoor park. The City has put out an Expression of Interest for “DEVELOPING, PROMOTING AND OPERATING, AN ARTS, CULTURE AND/OR HERITAGE FACILITY”.
There is a city-owned building that will be usable by non-profit groups who are in line with the statement above. We’re hoping we’ll be able to convince the decision makers responsible that skateboarding is an arts/culture activity that would be suitable for use of this building.
Other stipulations include:
-Building would be leased from City at a nominal fee
-Operator will be responsible for all maintenance, taxes, and utilities
-Proposal due on June 4th
-Building has a large warehouse-type room with high ceilings, minimal support pillars
-Measures nearly 8,000 sqft
-Heated, well-lit, with washroom facilities
-Very close to Millennium Park
As you can see by the photo, a lot of people are looking to get in on this space. CASE is committed to submitting a full-detailed proposal for why this location would make an excellent indoor skatepark, which is badly needed in Calgary.
From the CBE website: “[the] original James Short School was built in 1904. The school was named after James Short, a pioneer, teacher, lawyer, and school board trustee. The cupola of the original school holds a place of honor in James Short Square on 4th Avenue S.W.”
James Short is a well-known downtown Calgary skatespot. Pretty much all of the ledges have been capped at this point but we can still enjoy some old footage like this quick clip of a Ryan Curry line (courtesy of Rob Thorpe):
CASE supporter, Kevin M sent us a link to his video Extra Medium. It was made in 2005-2006 and features a lot of well-known Calgary skaters in their younger days. If you missed it back in the day, watch it here:
Friend of CASE, Lyndon Strandquist sent us these gems scanned from some old magazines. All photos by Ian Snow: