The Rebirth of Montreal's Big-O Is Proof that Skaters Can Turn Trash into Gold
On August 18th one of North America’s most iconic skate spots reopened: Montreal's Olympic Stadium, also known as The Big-O, or Big Owe (the name it was given thanks to the 25 years it took the city to pay off the now crumbling stadium).
Montreal is passionate about anything that falls into the category of awesome. That’s why, whenever I think about Canada’s most European city, my head gets filled up with sugarplum dreams of public drinking, cheap tuition, French culture, and skateboarding. So, being the kind of guy that I am, I hitchhiked to Montreal from Toronto a few weeks ago to enjoy all of those things, with skateboarding being the awesome thing I had the biggest boner for.
Anyway, on August 18th one of North America’s most iconic skate spots reopened: Montreal's Olympic Stadium, also known as The Big-O, or Big Owe (the name it was given thanks to the 25 years it took the city to pay off the now crumbling stadium). The stadium was originally forecast to cost $134 million, but I guess someone forgot to carry the one, because the final bill actually came to $1.61 billion, only to literally cave in on itself multiple times over the past 20 years. Besides being incredibly expensive, and essentially a huge piece of shit, its saving grace was that the building once contained a massive pipe that was absolutely perfect for skateboarding.
The round stadium was originally built for the 1976 Olympics, but thanks to its shoddy construction and the loss of the Montreal’s international sport teams, it’s now regarded by basically everone in the city, except skateboarders, as an embarrassment to Montreal. As usual, you can leave it to skaters to make the best of any situation. In this case, the old cliche that one man’s trash is another man’s wheely-board amusement park could not be truer.
After plans emerged in 2011 to expand and renovate the stadium, it looked as though the stadium’s accidentally built skate ramp—that was cherished and skated since the 1980s—would be demolished. Skateboarders have been the long haired, beer loving groundskeepers of the park since the late 1980s, but it still came as a surprise to the President of Montreal’s Olympic grounds that a documentary, and a book called Pipe Fiends: A Visual Overdose of Canada's Most Infamous Skate Spot, had already been written about the Big-O. After the authors of the book, Barry Walsh and Marc Tison, displayed their work to the landlord, the stadium’s owners had no other choice but to dig up the entire 350,000 pound pipe and move it 25 meters. It was a pretty chill move.
So, after this massive pipe was uprooted from the stadium and moved elsewhere, I caught up with Barry Walsh to ask him a few questions about his favourite skate spot and the event they held to skate the newly moved Big-O ramp.
VICE: Did the move go as expected? I was kinda worried the whole thing was gonna collapse or something.
Barry: The move of the Big-O went as smooth as ice and we couldn't be more grateful.
Word. So, for someone who doesn’t understand why anyone would care about a slanted slab of concrete, how has the O affected skate culture?
The Big-O has made a major impact on the local scene and also around the world! We are very blessed as Montrealers to have people like Joey Saputo and the Olympic committee helping with this historical move!
Are there any other spots in the world that can bring people together like this? I mean, not too many skate spots have a book written about them.
I’m pretty sure Pipe Fiends is the first book in the world to be produced on a single skate spot. We are very proud of our heritage and history of our skaters and longevity of Montreal skate culture! Saving the Big-O took a lot of determination and the locals banding together and fighting the man for the sake of our art. The Big-O Rebirth is the most rootsy skate event to ever happen in Canadian history, nothing can compare...
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