"I just remember walking across the field because I knew it was imminent," says Jacquie Thillaye, the president of the Halifax Skate Park Coalition. It was late October in 2006 and though the official opening of the Halifax Skate Park had been pushed to June 2007, due to a delayed construction schedule, everyone knew the park itself would be open for skaters and BMXers at any moment.
"I saw they'd taken the fence down and you could see guys were coming, because they'd been checking every day, these kids." Thillaye, sitting cross-legged on a ledge in the completed park, gestures with her hands, indicating the influx of the curious from all around. "I happened to be walking beside one guy who noticed the fence was down and he was like, "Oh, coooool!' You could just hear the tremor and the excitement in his voice. I thought, that was payment right there, for all the time."
A three-and-a-half-year campaign is almost over for Thillaye, who will be stepping down as HSPC president after the park's official opening on June 23. She can be confident in a job well done. The mother of two teenaged skateboarding sons—the family home is equipped with a battered half-pipe in the backyard—she imagined what a professional skate park could do for the city's riders—"kids of all ages, we're talking kids into their 30s," she says—and helped put together the coalition of community-minded folks interested in creating a place where people could practise, hang out and stay active.
With the help of the province, the municipality and some key corporate sponsors, the coalition raised a little over $600,000. "Once the city realized we were a) determined and b) organized, and willing to do a lot of the legwork, they came on board pretty quickly," says Thillaye. She's quick to credit others in the coalition for their work—everything from grant writing to consultations with riders—and makes sure to offer kind words for the corporate sponsors who did come through, including Aliant, Cyclesmith, West 49 and Pro Skateboards and Snowboards.
Pro Skates co-owner Jon Swinamer is design chair of the coalition and helped the city see the positives of going with a long-lasting, well-designed concrete park. "It's easier to get 50 or 100 grand together and throw one up in a suburb. Like prefab modular skate parks, those things are easy to buy out of a catalogue. But I think we're finished with all that stuff. The city is into concrete parks from here on in." Of Thillaye's key effort he says, "She's the one who kept it all together. Lots of parents come in and have one or two meetings with the city, realize how hard it is and disappear. And Jacquie stuck with it. Power to her for doing it."
Though Thillaye will no longer be president, the coalition will continue. She says HRM is looking at creating a skate park master plan for smaller satellite parks and that it needs to be done properly. "I would encourage people to please join up and help out."
The official launch of the now much-used facility on the Common will be called Ride In the Park and may become an annual celebration. "We're going to see more pro demo tours coming through because now we have a place worthy of riding," says Thillaye. Saturday's event will feature a stage with four or more bands, all MCed by Tracey "Tacktishion" Williams. There'll be a community barbeque, a monument and a mural-unveiling as well as riders from across Canada doing their thing. "It's going to be really fun," says Thillaye, who wants to remind all skaters and BMXers to be aware of the new helmet law in effect.
As she surveys the multi-level cement platforms, Thillaye is happy. She seems to know every second skater. A guy with a Pro Skates t-shirt asks her what the time is and groans when he hears it's 10 after three. "I've been here four hours," he says, before careening down one of the ramps. "That's why you never see an overweight skateboarder," says Thillaye, laughing. "These guys are all lean and mean. Or if they start out chubby, they don't stay that way for long."
Halifax Skate Park official opening: skater demos, live music, deejays, BBQ, fireworks and more. The Halifax Common, Skate Park, 5-10:15pm, free. For more information, call: 453-3931, or visit: halifaxskateparks.org.
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