Edmonton’s only roller rink offers a new twist on an old pastime

Chloe Spelliscy skates at Rollers Roller Rink in Edmonton, where she teaches. At the height of the hobby in the 1970s and 1980s, Edmonton was home to three rinks. Rollers, which opened last December, is now the only one of its kind in Western Canada.Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail

Mika Boutin, 21, snuck up on two men who had walked through the mirrored doors of a business in suburban Edmonton on an unusually warm fall Friday night. The men surveyed the scene around them curiously. There was music pumping – Blondie, or was it Kate Bush? – and metallic fringe fluttered along the wall of windows. A pair of spinning disco balls sent a swirling chaos of light through space.

So, do you rollerblade here?one of the men asked.

Since Rollers Roller Rink opened last December, Boutin and his small team of colleagues had grown accustomed to the diverse reactions of people walking through the doors for the first time.

Many, like these men, were surprised to find that Edmonton once again had an ice rink, after coming across it in the sprawling shopping complex that includes a Moxies, Cineplex movie theater and Chuck E. Cheese.

Some people, mostly older, shared their own memories of roller skating at the time. Others, mostly younger, were excited to try it for the first time.

Roller skating, by its very nature, evokes a sweet nostalgia, evoking the joy and pleasure of the past, whether you actually lived in that time or not. Because of this, people who walked into Rollers always seemed happy.

Boutin wore beige roller skates decorated with giant fluffy pom poms. The men each bought a cute pair of socks (pugs and rainbows, respectively), grabbed their rental roller skates, and headed to a bench to roll.

Rollers owner Claudia Garcia, 50, grew up roller-skating in the 1970s and 1980s, at one of three rinks open in the Edmonton area at that time. It seemed like everyone was skating then, and Garcia often went, with his friends, school groups and his parents after church on Sundays.

Since its invention over 250 years ago, roller skating has seen several dramatic waves of mainstream popularity, with ping pong going from being fashionable in some periods to, on the downslope, nearly obsolete. The 1990s and 2000s saw the closure of most roller rinks in Canada, and skates and equipment became hard to come by.

Garcia got involved in roller skating again as an adult about 15 years ago to play roller derby, a sport that had enjoyed its own resurgence in off-season curling rinks, empty arenas and d other redeveloped spaces across the country. Unable to find the gear she wanted, Garcia, then working as a parole officer, started a small roller-skating business, Toe Stop Derby Shop, selling roller skates and other gear out of her own pocket. home.

Skates for rent at Rollers.

Garcia and her daughter were on their way to a roller-derby event in California when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and brought the close-contact sport to a sudden halt.

But while the pandemic ground derby stalled for a while, it has also, just as unexpectedly, lit the fuse on an explosion of interest in recreational roller skating and roller dancing, as people were looking for interesting new hobbies and exercise that could be done alone, outdoors and/or remotely.

In many ways, roller skating was ready for a mainstream comeback. It is both a rigorous exercise and a creative art, both a social and an individual pursuit. It’s active and stimulating, but also a lark and a rollick, best accompanied by a punchy soundtrack, very accommodating for a pretty outfit and plenty of room for individual panache.

On social media, the roller skaters have racked up views and followers with videos of themselves gracefully rolling down empty highways and sunny paths, making them look both extremely cool and incredibly effortless.

Online tutorials showed novices how to skate, including a whole genre of videos in a small space, demonstrating a surprisingly wide range of moves – including bubbles, pirouettes and balance exercises – that could be performed in quarantine at home.

Reports in Vogue and the New York Times confirmed that roller skating is, indeed, having a moment (again).

Carmen and Jonas Lopushinsky, top, and Seth Anderson and Alayna Hoy were among those who enjoyed a Friday night at Rollers earlier this month.

Garcia’s house swelled with stock as she worked to fill orders, rooms filling to the ceiling with roller skates and gear. Customers were lining up in the driveway for pickups and she was sending multiple packages a day.

Given the level of interest, the idea of ​​opening a roller rink — which Garcia had long imagined as a distant goal — suddenly seemed very possible. Finding places to skate has been a long-standing problem for roller derby and recreational roller skating, and while there are fleeting events and meetups, Garcia dreamed of something more permanent.

After extensive research to find a location that could meet the city’s zoning requirements while still being viable as a commercial location, she opened Rollers.

As the rink approaches its first anniversary, there are more and more birthday parties and bachelors, school groups and dates. Many people like to come in costume, and among their regulars is a man who was a professional roller skater. A woman came from Texas, as part of a roller rink tour across the continent. A family came from Saskatoon just to go skating.

There are weekly lessons and monthly passes, and Garcia intends to continue adapting and improving the space, in hopes that Alberta’s roller skating scene will continue to evolve and grow. .

“Here in Edmonton, everybody’s new to skating, basically, because we haven’t had a rink in so long,” she said, as the song Xanadu played in the background.

Upstairs, Chelsea Richardson and Mika Boutin sit on the counter while Ms. Spelliscy skates; Soon, Mrs. Boutin and Mrs. Spelliscy are on the ice together.

Chloe Spelliscy, 24, learned roller dance by watching online videos and tutorials, practicing against the rules on an outdoor tennis court, sometimes paying to use an old racquetball court in a sub- dusty ground. She is the only full-time employee of Rollers and also teaches lessons at the rink.

“It takes a lot of patience,” she told her students. “But anyone can roller skate.”

The two men who entered that night circled the rink with the efficient athleticism of hockey players. Across the room, Seth Anderson, 21, and Alayna Hoy, 19, were riding awkwardly together, laughing and holding hands.

It was a quiet night, and as Spelliscy finished her shift, she threw herself to the floor, lifting one leg in the air, twirling, strutting, doing disco circles. She wore a pink and orange jumpsuit, and the wheels of her roller skates lit up as she spun.

“I probably wouldn’t really be anywhere else,” she said. “If I wasn’t working here, I would definitely be the person here every Friday and Saturday night.”