By Christie Melhorn, March 2 2018 —
When I saw the huge line of people stretching out of Lloyd’s Roller Rink on Feb. 18 — the last day of the facility’s operation — I almost abandoned my plans for one last skate. I showed up grumpy, and standing outside on a freezing day for an unknown amount of time wasn’t appealing. But my friend, David Wenzel, was determined to stick it out and reminded me of the historical significance of being there.
On March 15, 1964, Florence and Lloyd Cooper opened Lloyd’s after three years of planning and preparation. As Calgary’s only public roller rink, it became a cultural staple and inspired the creation of multiple local roller clubs, such as the Calgary Roller Club. But the Cooper’s influence extended beyond the rink. They funded the largest privately endorsed doctoral scholarship in integrated health care at the University of Calgary and made regular contributions to Calgary Health Region’s clinics.
Lloyd’s manager Austin Giles told Breakfast Television that the Coopers’s will detailed the facility’s closure after their death and that their $18-million estate would be donated to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and Calgary Health Trust. Lloyd passed away in 2002 and with Florence’s death in 2016, plans were initialized to honour this.
I considered all of the quirky childhood birthday parties and weekend afternoons spent at Lloyd’s, eating cheap hot dog dinners and feeling like a total badass rolling around to the Spice Girls and Britney Spears. Going there is like pilgrimaging through different phases of my life backdropped by an enduring and quintessential retro charm. After an hour wait and $10 for admission and skate rentals, we got in and joined my roommates, Jacqueline Li and Heather Erikson.
The pulse of techno remixes, alternating multicolour lights flickering off painted palm trees and the hum of rolling skates immediately diffused my bad mood. The space was at maximum capacity, boasting a diverse crowd. Families, couples, teenagers, professional skaters and my group of 20-something-year-old friends seeking nostalgic reprieve indulged in the compelling atmosphere.
The scent of greasy deep-fried goods wafted from the concessions kiosk and glass Coca-Cola bottles lined the lounge’s placid blue-and-yellow table tops. The murals of sunsets, the carpeted foyer and the black hexagonal seating gave the space an eccentric and wonderfully tacky aesthetic. Kids ricocheted around, novices cautiously wobbled and seasoned skaters whirled about fluidly, sometimes exchanging tricks with others. It was a point of common ground and a positive shared experience between so many different generations, identities and experience levels.
Despite the chaos, the staff were calm and collected, handing us our skates immediately. Even though I hadn’t skated in years and barely knew what I was doing, those lace-up roller skates can make anyone feel cool and confident enough to try some slick moves. Hitting the rink and synchronizing with the music gave me a fresh hunger to learn a new skill. Following some of the experienced skaters and trying to mimic them was really fun. As a dancer, I have the advantage of strong co-ordination and observational skills. But dancing on skates was a challenge, forcing me to carry my weight differently to prevent a spectacular wipe out.
However, seeing so many people fall without being judged or fussed over was refreshing. It reminded me that failing is a totally normal part of learning and is usually worth it — if not for the practice, at least for a laugh. I felt comfortable and allowed the rink’s natural flow to separate and reunite me with my friends.
Seeing the freedom of expression and style at Lloyd’s was also very satisfying. One lady rocking an afro and tasselled crop-top busted out disco moves. A guy with tall green hair and a baggy black floral shirt rhythmically spun in circles around the floor. My inner ‘90s kid was liberated by Aqua and Vengaboys songs booming from the speakers, surfacing buried memories of my sister and I hosting mock concerts in our childhood home.
In a silver bodysuit and bell-bottom jeans, Angie Thomas, a Lloyd’s regular and owner of FreshRollers dance skating company, grabbed my attention on the rink. Thomas effortlessly squatted down on one foot, extending her opposite leg and whirled upright in one fluid motion to face the opposite direction. As she continued skating backwards, little jewels beside the outside corners of her eyes caught the light, giving the spectacle an extra dazzling effect.
Thomas says skating is a powerful release and was grateful for the opportunities Lloyd’s presented her.
“In skating, there’s this balance of enjoying and losing yourself. You can be in tip-top shape, but skating is so good for the soul. Sharing it with others is really special,” Thomas said. “It gives me shivers when I think of being able to share the confidence that it’s given me with other women and young girls.”
Thomas says that the Lloyd’s community became even more inclusive in the last few years. She hopes to continue the legacy through FreshRollers.
“[Lloyd’s] used to be mostly a fast rink. At first, some people didn’t like the dance skaters coming in. They were used to the speed,” she said. “But [now], it’s completely diverse. Now there’s every type of skater from artistic, derby, rhythm, speed skaters and some with no background at all. That’s why rinks are successful — they’re communal.”
As Thomas and I spoke, the DJ announced the last song of the evening and said that it would “finish things off the way they started,” implying it was one of the first songs to fill the rink. We were caught off guard. The rink’s hypnotic effect rendered time irrelevant but four hours had gone by since I arrived. As the perky acoustics of “Wheels” by the ‘60s band String-A-Long faded, Angie and I cut our conversation, hugged and raced onto the rink to savour the last few seconds. When the speakers fell silent, the flashing lights flickered off and everyone rallied for a final group photo.
Skaters wiped away tears between shots, delivering playful jokes to each other and holding hands. Even though my experience at Lloyd’s mostly involved occasional outings with friends and family, I was touched by the depth of relationships evidently fostered there.
After the group photos, we were asked to pack it in for the night. Many people lingered, snapping photos in a panic around the building or sitting on the benches silent and misty-eyed. The locker area bustled. I ducked and weaved around people hugging while wrestling their skates off. A lady excavating a locker near mine mentioned it had been her’s since she was 17. It was the first time in 15 years she ever fully cleaned it out.
The staff member I handed my skates back to bit back tears as she thanked me. The concessions staff complacently sat in the empty lounge area, watching skaters shuffle out for the last time.
Lloyd’s regulars and high-school students Gabby Martinez and Aislinn Walker lamented the building’s closure.
“It’s so crazy to think this is happening. [Skating at Lloyd’s] impacted me in such a big way,” Martinez said. “Skating here regularly helped me build so much confidence. I grew as a person and as an athlete.”
“It’s like losing a second home. It got me involved with sports and got me out of my house. I’m going to really miss it,” Walker added.
Outside the building, groups leaned against the chipping red walls with jackets unzipped, embracing the cool air and indulging in a final post-skate cigarette. As we turned the corner to leave, David scratched the wall to retrieve a fleck of paint as a memento.
Many different rumours are circluating about the building’s future. Some say it will be demolished and replaced with a strip mall. Others say high rises will be built on the property, while many believe a Visions Electronics will take over the current space. Whatever the building’s future, it’s unlikely it will ever be as electric as when it was Lloyd’s Roller Rink.