Rolling Into The 21st Century

Haley Giles is a derby and park skater from Sheridan College. Her roller skates are custom-made from a pair of Doc Martens. (Photo By Jeremy Worden)

By: Erin LeBlanc

Walking into Scooter’s Roller Palace feels like stepping straight into the eighties. It evokes nostalgia even in younger generations who were not around in that decade. 

Black carpet with funky space patterns reminiscent of bowling alley birthday parties. Disco balls spin from the ceiling, casting glimmering spots on the skaters below. Neon lights highlight the people on roller skates, gliding around the polished wood floor. 

Michael Mastrodicasa and his family have owned the Mississauga roller skate rink since the ’90s. It first opened in 1976, at the height of a roller-skating peak. 

Since its creation over 200 years ago, roller skating has had its ups and downs. According to Skate World, the first roller skate was patented in 1819 and was invented even earlier, in 1735. During the pandemic, roller skating has seen a resurgence that it hasn’t in decades. In the spring of 2020, roller skating shops across the country were sold out for weeks. As pandemic restrictions decrease, roller skate rentals and rinks are opening up again across the city. 

Henry O’Brien and his girlfriend opened one of Toronto’s first outdoor skate rental services this summer. The company, Retro Rolla, used the space of the city’s Bentway, a smooth concrete public space beneath the Gardiner Expressway, as a place for skaters new and old to join together and enjoy the sport. 

O’Brien spoke to sweat about the quick rise in popularity of roller skating and if he thinks this trend will last. 

“I wish I could kind of look into a crystal ball and tell you a definitive answer. I do think it is back for the foreseeable future as a trend. And for lack of a better term, if whether that trend will last a couple of years or longer, is yet to be determined,” 

This is not the first time a rise in roller skating has happened. In the late 1800s, roller skating was very popular as a pastime. The journal Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies featured Rinkualism, Punch, and Women on Wheels by Kathryn Ledbetter, explains that roller skating was a unique sport in its time because it was a “fashionable and suitable” activity for middle-class women, who did not have many opportunities to partake in sports. 

“Skating took women out of the home into masculine spaces of the gentlemen’s and sports clubs that established the first rinks, enabled women to choose romantic encounters with men of various classes, and put women on public display as physically strong and independent.” Ledbetter wrote. 

It then fell out of style until the 1950s, where roller-skating waitresses and suburban families took to the sport. In the 70s, roller skating continued to be a popular sport among minorities,

with the LGBTQ and POC communities bringing back roller skates during the height of disco, for aesthetic and social purposes. Now, the pandemic has found people turning back to roller skates as a pass-time. 

“I think the big difference now versus the popularity of skating in the [past] is the rise of social media. I think that gets a lot more people interested at a much quicker pace. And people sharing videos on TikTok, Instagram… I think that virality is something that’s never existed before,” said O’Brien. 

Scooter’s Roller Palace has been a staple in the community since the 70s, Scooter’s Roller Palace has always been a place for people to join together and try something new. (Photo By Jeremy Worden)

Mastrodicasa and his family haven’t felt the impacts of roller skating trends in the same way. Being a staple in their community since the 70s, Scooter’s Roller Palace has always been a place for people young and old, beginner or experienced, to join together and try something new. 

“We’ve always had a unique business to the area, we’re one of the last roller rinks around, last authentic one, you know, even though roller skating as a whole seems to have been taken more of a public interest in the last couple of years we’ve always had a very busy place.” 

Mastrodicasa says an important part of roller skating is the diverse community it can bring together. He says they’ve seen patrons of all ages come to skate, from as young as two years old and up to skaters in their nineties. All levels of experience are welcome, from beginners who have never put on skates before, to skaters training for the Pan American Games. Even celebrities have taken to the Roller Palace, with Mastrocasa saying that Drake and Russel Peters have rented out the place for parties. 

“I guess the beauty about this place it’s a melting pot for everybody. Everybody comes to roller skate… it’s a very recreational, very friendly, fun place that people come enjoy themselves in,” said Mastrodicasa. 

Recreational skating is not the only way skaters can enjoy the sport. Park skating, artistic skating, and roller derby are all ways people can strap into some skates and have a good time. Roller Sports have even been included in the Pan American Games since 1979. 

Haley Giles is a student at Sheridan College, who plays for Tri-City Roller Derby’s rookie team. She showed up at the roller palace with lots of enthusiasm, and the coolest custom skates made with floral Doc Marten high-top boots. 

“It took me a couple years to work up the courage to eventually try out [for roller derby]. Then I did, and my life kind of changed from there.” 

A unique thing about roller derby is that it is predominantly a women’s sport. To play roller derby, you first had to try out and pass minimum requirements. This rule has since been changed to accommodate all levels of skaters into derby.

‘Bout Time! Renegotiating the Body in Roller Derby’ by Jessica Strubel and Trent A. Petrie explores the way roller derby can boost women’s self-esteem by being a sport for people of all body types. 

It took me a couple years to work up the courage to eventually try out [for derby].Then I did and my life kind of changed from there. -Haley Giles

“In general society where thinness and a stereotypical feminine appearance is idolized, the Roller Derby environment encourages women to accept, and even embrace, their larger than average-sized bodies … with the appreciation of a larger body and the celebration of its functionality on the track, skaters become more comfortable with their physiques,” they said. 

With games that require players of all positions to exhibit speed, strength and agility, derby players must train multiple times a week to stay in shape. 

“A lot of the people are a little bit more tough, but we are a lot of oddballs, a lot of like accepting people. I feel like it’s a really open community like no one’s pushed aside. Everyone’s welcome no matter what you look like.” Giles said. 

The sense of community is strong in derby. With Canada boasting nearly 50 teams across the country, there is a team everywhere for anyone who would like to get involved. To make a commitment, stay fit, and find a community Giles says, are some of the best parts of the sport. 

“I’ve never been able to really stick to something continuously and roller skating. I don’t know if it’s the physical aspect, or the community, or something about it. It’s just so ingrained in my core now that it just feels like part of me.” 

With so many ways to skate, it’s no wonder roller skating is back and once again taking the world by storm.

Haley Giles is a student at Sheridan College, who plays for Tri-City Roller Derby’s rookie team. (Photo By Jeremy Worden)

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