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Students and staff on Ryerson’s campus know it as Lake Devo. But to the skateboarders who have frequented the space for decades, it’s affectionately called “the pond.”
In the autumn and spring, when the large pool that is the focal point of campus isn’t filled with water or converted into a skating rink, it’s a popular hub for Toronto skateboarders.
Ariel Stagni, executive member of the Toronto Skateboarding Committee and a former Ryerson student, says the smooth concrete ledges, lack of traffic, and downtown location make it an ideal spot to skate.
“It’s a nice, smooth slab of concrete in the middle of the city, and it’s often underused. Skateboarders are always looking for spaces to be inspired in, and smooth spaces to roll around on, so I think it’s a pretty obvious space.”
But with large sections of Gould Street undergoing construction and limited space available to pedestrians, Ryerson says it’s time to enforce the rules and make the area a pedestrian-only zone.
“There have been several security incidents this year involving skateboarders striking people and causing injury,” said Ryerson’s Facilities Management and Development department in an email. With the construction on Gould Street, “the pedestrian zone is (to) be further reduced, making it important that action is taken now to preserve this as a wheel-free zone.”
The space, officially called Devonian Square, has been open since 1978 and was partially funded by the Devonian Group of Charitable Foundations of Calgary. The square is bordered by Gould Street to the north, and Victoria Street to the west. When the pond is filled with water, iced over, or too wet to skate in, skateboarders will skate at the intersection of Gould and Victoria Streets.
For many skaters struggling to find a welcoming place to practise their kickflips and back tails downtown, Ryerson’s accommodating and accepting atmosphere is a comfortable change.
Stagni, who skated at Ryerson when he was an urban planning student and still returns occasionally, says his experiences at Lake Devo have always been positive.
“I’ve never felt intimidated by security guards or other community members… I feel like it’s a pretty welcoming space. And it should be. It’s a university campus neighbourhood. It should be inclusive also for skateboarders.”
Gould Street has been a pedestrian-only zone since 2010. But for many of the regulars who have been skateboarding on campus for years, they have never faced any hostility or pressure to leave. Until now.
A pro skateboarder who goes by the name of Mr. Madn3ss says he’s been skating at Lake Devo since 2000. Madn3ss says he comes to Lake Devo almost every day, and he’s never been asked to leave by security before, something that’s changed since the new school year started.
“That for me is such a shocker. For the duration of time I’ve spent here, things have always been on the contrary, the opposite of what people think. We’ve always had a great relationship (with) security.”
No-skateboarding signs were installed at the Gould and Victoria Street intersection, though one of them is hardly noticeable, buried under stickers with the “MADN3SS” insignia printed on them. When Madn3ss was asked if he put the stickers on the sign, he nodded and smiled.
“Do you know how many times I’ve mopped this whole pond by myself, just with a squeegee? Very few people care about this place as much as myself and some of my other friends do.
“So when I saw the whole thing with the security guards, it was baffling. Like, what do you mean? You really think you can tell me to not skate here?”
The skateboarder, who was once sponsored by Converse, says that enforcing the wheel-free zone rule won’t stop him and his friends from returning.
“We have a thing, some of the skaters that have been coming here for a long time, we have a policy. You can’t make us stop skating here. Nothing’s gonna make us leave.”