A skateboarding win for Montreal

We spoke to David “Boots” Bouthillier about how all the work that he and the people at SAT have done to legalize skateboarding in Peace Park is finally paying off.

Peace Park
David Boots. Photo by Danny Stevenson
Last week in a totally unexpected display of random coolness, Mayor Denis Coderre fast-tracked a pilot project that local documentarian, photographer and skateboard nut David “Boots” Bouthillier worked on with the Societé des Arts Technologiques (SAT) to have skating legalized in neighbouring Peace Park, infamously populated by some of the most red-lit characters in the city.

A lifelong Montrealer who moved around the west end some as a youth, Boots has been a staple of Montreal’s skate scene since he began going downtown to the fountain at City Hall as a young teen. Tonight, what began as a film screening for the films he made this year as part of the project has become a victory party.

By email, Boots explained how he convinced the city to do right by one of its seediest squares.

Darcy MacDonald: Please explain how you got Mayor Coderre to sanction legal skating in Peace Park year-round.

David Boots: SAT teamed up with me in 2004 to legalize skateboarding in Peace Park, but unfortunately the proposal was rejected for many reasons.One was that the city sold the land surrounding the park at a $10-million loss to entice condo development, because no one wanted to invest in the seedy neighbourhood.

During this time, the park was a drug war zone. After the Hell’s Angels were locked up during “Operation Springtime 2001,” street gangs started fighting for control of the park. In 2005 someone was murdered there, and violence was out of control.

To help ensure the sale of the condo units, the city responded by attempting to shut down all of the park activities, including skateboarding.

Even though (then) the idea of legalizing of skateboarding was rejected, every time there was an opportunity to present skateboarding as a solution to animating the park and improving the image of Montreal’s historical Red Light District, I was present.

So, shortly after the movie premiere, I mentioned to Monique Savoie at the SAT that I was ready to try and legalize skating again.  She agreed that the timing was right and pushed the idea through her pipelines while I went and officially presented the pilot project to the Mayor.

Mayor Coderre liked the idea and put it to a vote. The project was approved in July, which gave us time to organize four events; three Skate and Tea Tuesdays, and Peace Park’s 20th Anniversary.

We put together a report of a short video of the events, which were a huge success. I brought documents to Denis at the Ville-Marie city council meeting on December 9, expecting him to say he’d review the material and get back to me.  However, he heard so many good things about the pilot project that he decided he wanted to go ahead with legalizing in the park on the spot.

I’m still kind of in disbelief, haha.

DM: How did your relationship to the park begin?

DB: Back in the early ’90s, everyone used to skate at City Hall. As it was becoming a bust, Peace Park was being built. Peace basically became the new meet-up spot replacing City Hall.

DM: I think someone told me once you were the guy that made the “skater special” happen at Pool Room.

DB: Being right next to the park, I’d go eat there all the time. After a while they started hooking me up with hot dogs here and there. To show my appreciation I brought them a skateboard, which they hung up behind the counter. After that, every time I’d make an order they would say in a heavy accent “skater special,” and told me to spread the word. The skater special was two steamies, a fry and drink for $3.

DM: Please tell me about your film The Peace Park Documentary. What made you decide to document the park and its people?

DB: The documentary arose out of my fear of failure and my willingness to do what I thought was necessary in order to go pro.

When I was 21, I got hit by a taxi on my way to the park. The car clipped my right foot, which eventually needed surgery. My love for skating was so great that I was determined not to let the accident keep me from my skateboarding dreams. I knew that the best way to stay motivated and in the game would be to get a video camera to put together a promo video.

Over the next four years, I spent almost every day in the park skating, as much as my ankle would permit, and filming everything that was going on around me. During that time, certain events changed the focus of my promo video, eventually leading me to make a full-length documentary. In 2003, over a year and half after the accident, I finally got the surgery for my ankle. As I was recovering I could only skate for short periods of time. When the other skaters left the park to go skate elsewhere, I stayed and skated at Peace Park.

Because I was spending so much time there, I got to know the drug dealers, addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and homeless — the park’s permanent fixtures. Over the years they got to know and trust me, which enabled me to film things an outsider could not.

What I did not realize at the time was that along with the street life I was documenting, the footage I was capturing of the police ticketing and kicking people out of the park was a consequence of a broader attempt by the city to clean up the image of the park for condo development and gentrify the area.

Before long, I had captured more gnarly street footage than skateboarding, so I figured that instead of making a promo video I could make a movie about the park as a skate spot and all the crazy things we had to put up with just to skate.

To accomplish this, I started collecting all the skateboard tricks that have ever been filmed at Peace Park. While I was obsessively looking for footage, the focus of the film changed again. In 2004, when the SAT put together a plan to legalize skateboarding in the park, they asked me to be a consultant on their project. I started to do a bit of research about the park and the area and found out that the construction of Peace Park was a part of the city’s original gentrification plans.

The research I did for the SAT made me realize that there was potential to make more than a skate video. The history of the area combined with the problems in the park and the city’s plans to clean up the area were enough to make a full length documentary about the park, the people in it, and the way both were affected by the city’s urban planning projects in the area.

The documentary touches on so much history, culture, and social and urban issues, it became overwhelming. I was very fortunate to have met Jessica McIntyre at Café Cléopatre’s 30th anniversary party. She really helped pull the documentary together, for which I am forever thankful.

DM:  What is the most atrocious shit you have ever seen happen at Peace Park? And the most uplifting?

DB: The most uplifting thing I’ve seen there was all the young kids that came for the free skateboard lessons Sam Kardash and I gave this summer.

I’ve seen pretty much everything you can imagine there, including murder, but I think one of the most disgusting things I saw was a woman stuff part of her Subway sandwich up some dude’s ass, then casually continue to eat her sandwich. ■
Celebrate the legalization of skateboarding at Peace Park with a victory party and video launch, feat. music by DJ Redd Dredd, at TRH-Bar (3699 St-Laurent) tonight, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 10 p.m., free