“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.”
As Hamiltonians struggle to shape and define our city, it is important to recognize and celebrate the culture and history that makes Hamilton a unique, exciting and richly textured place to live, work and play. Efforts to revitalize downtown Hamilton and other areas run the risk of ignoring the vibrant and diverse cultures that have been flourishing here for decades, even centuries.
Equally important is the need to provide safe, inclusive spaces in which youth can congregate and participate in recreational and social activities that allow for the development of skills, relationships, positive self images and just having fun! Urban cores that do not provide youth-friendly spaces risk problems associated with delinquency, vandalism, crime, unrest, and other self-destructive and harmful behaviours. However, providing inclusive, positive spaces embedded within the urban fabric in which youth can express and develop themselves cultivates a sense of belonging, acceptance, respect and trust.
Beasley Skateboard Park is one such space. Established as an official public, outdoor skateboard park in 1992, the park was used by skateboarders for years prior to this date. When what is now the famous Beasley Bowl was still a kids’ wading pool, skaters would wait until the pool was unused in the evening, then bail out the leftover water in order to ren-
der the paved embankment dry and skatable. Over time, skaters added new elements, such as the parking block curbs shown in this picture from the early nineties.
When the area became an official skateboard park in 1992, significant new paved areas were added, as well as a concrete “quarter pipe” ramp and other features, making Beasley an even more exciting skate spot. Since the turn of the millenium, cities across North America and Europe have been building their own municipal skateboard parks to meet the needs of practitioners of this increasingly popular activity. But in 1992, outdoor parks where people could skate safely and freely were rare, making the City of Hamilton quite ahead of its time by creating Beasley Skateboard Park.
In the over twenty years of its existence as a skateboarding destination, The Beaze (as locals affectionately call it) has evolved into a unique spot where generations of skateboarders have cultivated skills, relationships, pride and memories. On any given afternoon when the weather is right, one is apt to find skaters of all ability and ages hanging out, skating, joking, making films and learning new skills.
“Beasley is a great place because people don’t have the same attitudes as at other skate parks…you can just show up and whatever your ability, wherever you come from, people will accept you as a skater.”
-Local Beasley Skater
The Beasley Skate Jam
In 1992, as part of a Community Arts program, local skater and event planner Derek Lapierre organized the first Beasley Skateboard Jam. Over subsequent years, this event developed into an annual, two day celebration of amateur skateboarding that brings participants from all over Hamilton, Ontario and even farther afield. This event celebrates skateboarders from all age groups, offering a variety of different events that riders can participate in for prizes donated by local skate shops, such as Hamilton’s Flatspot, and companies, such as Vans, Levis and DC Shoes. This year, Beasley was even distinguished with its own signature sneaker. The last day of the contest culminates in the famous $500 Game of Skate, where skaters test their flat-ground skills against each other in an effort to take home the pot. This past summer saw the 20th Annual Skate Jam, making Beasley host to one of the oldest amateur skateboarding events on the continent. Here is a video of the an early Bease Jam:
The Hamilton Skateboard Assembly and the The Beasley Park Reno
The Hamilton Skateboard Assembly (HSA) was formed in 2002 in order to better organize skateboarding events in Hamilton, such as the Skate Jam and, a few years later, the annual Turner Park Throwdown (sponsored by Flatspot Skate Shop). It is a volunteer organization that also serves as a liaison between Hamilton skaters, governing bodies such as the City of Hamilton, and the larger public. Though the membership has changed over the years, the HSA’s dedication to skateboarding and Hamilton skateboarders has not. Over the past couple years, in preparation for the 20th anniversary of the Skate Jam in 2012, the HSA has teemed up with the Beasley Nieghbourhood Association (BNA) and the City of Hamilton to make structural improvements to the aging Beasley Skate Park.
A bit of Background on DIY Skate Spots: In recent years, do-it-yourself (DIY) spots have become a major trend in skateboard culture, with Portland Oregon’s Burnside park setting an example of what some dedicated skateboarders could accomplish, all on their own, with a lot of hard work and bags of concrete. Built by skaters in an underpass beside some railway tracks, Burnside is now officially approved as a skate park by the City of Portland, though for many years it was uncertain whether or not the city would ultimately tear out the skaters’ work. The park now serves as a popular skate destination for skaters from around the world, putting portland on the map in terms of skateboard tourism!
DIY spots like Burnside or Vancouver’s Leeside cater to a deep need within skateboard culture to cultivate spaces that allow for the exercise of personal autonomy. In an increasingly urbanized world where more and more public spaces are given over to private, limited and commoditized uses, skateboarders seek to carve a small place for themselves in which they can feel free to explore their own creative impulses. In the early years of street skating, these spaces were often appropriated from areas designed for other uses (such as the bowl at Beasley Park that started as a wading pool). The first response of cities to skaters’ appropriation of built spaces was often to criminalize and ban the activity, but as skateboarding grew in popularity (it now rivals baseball in terms of numbers of North American practitioners) this strategy proved ineffective.
The proliferation of public skateboard parks that began in the last decade or so is an attempt to curtail skater’s appropriation of space by giving them a designated area in which to skateboard. However, due to unsubstantiated public fears over increased crime and vandalism, these public parks are often located in out-of-the-way or highly regulated spaces, and this diminishes the sense of freedom and autonomy that skaters seek.
One response by skaters to the unsatisfactory nature of city-built skate parks was to find and build their own environments, usually in derelict or underused parts of the city, or in remote, hidden locations. Often built without explicit permission on private property, these sites enable a sense of autonomy, but skaters run the risk of having the fruits of their hard work torn out by property owners concerned about insurance and other risks. These sites also tend to be exclusive in nature, frequented only by a select group of friends, and hidden away from the general public.
The renovation of Beasley Park has followed a different model. With skateboarders working alongside the City and Neighbourhood Association to improve the park and ensure that their work was “legit,” these parties have collaboratively succeeded in producing a space that is both open to the ebbs and flows of the surrounding city and that gives skaters a sense of stewardship, responsibility and pride. In July of 2010 city workers dropped off two concrete
Jersey Barriers, which skaters then covered in layers of concrete to make for a smooth, if steep, transition. In the summer of 2012, one of these barriers was moved closer to the bowl, and a new, more ridable transition was applied, giving new life to the obstacle. This past May (2013), with some unexpected help by two neighbours with concrete laying experience, a transition was added to the other side of the barrier, making it into a “spine” that has greatly increased the possibilities for skating this feature. With the help of City Councilor Jason Farr as well as the Parks and Recreation department, new elements such as a slider bar and grinding ledge were built. Skaters also took part in smoothing and repairing the cracks in the aging concrete, as well as painting and decorating parts of the park. By partnering skaters with the City and larger community, Hamilton has once again proven itself to be ahead of the curve in terms of finding progressive, inclusive solutions to issues of urban development and youth culture.
This past summer also saw several fundraising events at the park which helped raise money for repairs and events permits. With the help of the City of Hamilton, the BNA, local philanthropists and donors such as Wesley Urban Ministries, and a lot of love and hard work from local skaters, Beasley Park saw a fantastic summer of skateboarding events and spontaneous sessions.
Skater Love and Civic Pride
One neighbour who has long lived across the street from the skatepark said to me this summer: “I’ve lived here twenty years and watched these kids grow up. They’re good kids.” Beasley Skate Park provides a hub for downtown skaters in an urban environment that has precious few spaces where youth and older folks can meet and focus their energies on creative, social activities. Skateboarding provides the kind of informal, but still structured, activity that gives people a sense of accomplishment, identity and community. The HSA’s partnership with the City of Hamilton and the Beasley Nieghbourhood Association has helped foster and maintain this positive space for skateboard culture in the heart of Hamilton.
When skateboarders are given the opportunity to take part in shaping their own historic and social space, it gives them a sense of inclusion, accomplishment and pride. For three generations of skaters who have grown up skating Beasley Park, and for the countless others who have visited, taken part in the Skate Jam, or just passed through, the park has a special resonance and character that speaks to the hope and resilience of youth.
Beasley Skate Park’s unique history and topography fosters a sense of inclusion both socially and in the civic sense that helps skaters feel like members of a larger community, while still preserving a sense of autonomy and cultural distinction. This special energy is the product of the countless hands and feet that have contributed to its local skate culture over the years. From world famous professional skater Mark Appleyard to no less talented local veteran and beginner skaters alike, Beasley Skate Park has a deeply inscribed place in Hamilton’s popular culture and identity as a city. This aura has been cultivated and encouraged by the HSA, the Beasley community and the City of Hamilton, making the Skate Park an integral strand of the urban fabric. Such a treasure deserves to be preserved, even in the midst of the great changes and challenges that Hamilton faces as it moves towards an uncertain future.
Over the past year, the HSA has been working with the City of Hamilton to create a Trust Fund to handle the many donations that have been materializing from both the general public and interested partners within the skateboard industry. These funds are very much needed since, despite the care and attention it has received in the past couple of years, the skate park still requires serious upgrades, especially for the cracked, aging concrete.
Plans are also in the works to renovate the Cannon Knitting Mills building beside the skate park into an “Innovation Exchange” that will foster the creative industries that city officials and planners have identified as a dominant strategy for helping reinvigorate the downtown core.
Creating space for urban professionals, artists and entrepreneurs, the proposed repurposing of the Knitting Mill will help preserve an historic building as well as bringing a whole new class of person into the Beasley neighbourhood. However positive these changes may turn out to be, it is important that future development respects the people and cultures that have long made Beasley home. It is not enough to cater merely to business and industry in the hope that the revenues generated will “trickle down” to the rest of the population. The Beasley neighbourhood has traditionally welcomed new comers from all walks of life, including immigrants from many parts of the world, and there is no reason not to greet creative industry as well, just so long as these new residents acknowledge, respect and support the spaces, cultures and people that already form an integral part of the life of the neighbourhood.
As dedicated innovators who, through acts of cooperation, vision and hard work, have been able to productively engage with their environment, we might say that the skateboarders of Beasley Park provide local examples of just the type of creative industry that the Knitting Mill renovation hopes to capitalize upon. By recognizing Beasley Skateboard Park as a cultural and social asset, rather than an impediment to future growth, we hope that all parties involved will be able to pursue a model of development based on celebrating, rather than covering over and forgetting, Hamilton’s rich traditions and histories.