Montreal's Big O moved but preserved

Dan Mathieu

Long-time Big O local, Marc Tison gets in one last session at the spot's original location before it got moved.

Last summer, skateboarders in Montreal, Canada, could hear the death knell ringing for one of North America's oldest skate spots. But now, in what some are calling a small miracle, the city's famous Big O concrete tube will be preserved for generations of skaters to come.

The spot -- a 50-foot-long, eight-foot-high concrete pipe originally built as a pedestrian passageway for the 1976 Summer Olympics -- has been regularly skated for 35 years, drawing skaters from around the world to its whiplash speed lines and challenging transitions. But when locals heard in July that their longtime proving grounds would have to make way for the expansion of the nearby soccer stadium, they were certain that the fun was over.

"Believe it or not, that spot has never been a bust," says Barry Walsh, 40, who's been skating the Big O for 25 years. "That's part of the reason why we've been so stoked on it for so long.

"I figured that they were just going to destroy it," he continued. "I was skeptical that it could be saved. I mean, when does the system help out with something like this?"

Luckily, Walsh and the rest of the skaters, lead by longtime local Marc Tison, 38, found an ally. They had gone to Joey Saputo, president of the Montreal Impact soccer team, with a book called "Pipe Fiends," which chronicles the spot's renegade skate history. Saputo liked what he saw, and pledged to move the 175-ton structure about 100 feet out of harm's way.

Dan Mathieu

The entire Big O spot, once a gateway to an Olympic stadium, loaded onto a gurney for safe transit to a new location.

According to Walsh, "Saputo basically floored everybody when he said, 'We're going to move it!'"

"We understood ... that the Big O was a huge deal to the skateboarders," Saputo explains on the Impact Montreal website. "When we decided to expand the stadium, we had no choice but to put a big column in its location. We needed to move it to save it. Everyone in the project was pretty confident it could be done."

Walsh says that the relocation project has cost over $100,000 so far, and that the Big O now sits on a giant gurney of sorts. It could be back on the ground in its new, permanent home, as early as the end of the week, he added.

"It's pretty mind-bending, really," says Tison. "To us, the Big O is a temple. [When it warms up this spring,] we're going to have some bands play and a big jam session."

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