In-line skates: A vehicle, a toy or a sidewalk menace?

You have to skate somewhere, but in the 1990s not everyone could agree where in-line skaters should be.

Trendy sport's use of sidewalks led to pushback from pedestrians in the 1990s

'Make room for Rollerbladers'

32 years ago
Duration 0:42
In 1991, Colleen Jones explains the in-line skating phenomenon.

For Canada's original generation of in-line skaters, the struggle was real.

Because when the modern version of the roller skate became popular here in the 1990s, it became something for some people to worry about — and then for politicians to make bylaws about.

How to classify in-line skates

28 years ago
Duration 0:18
Hamlin Grange explains the tension between in-line skaters and the rest of the world.

"In-line skating is the fastest-growing sport in North America and while everyone from young kids to grandmothers are lacing on skates, municipalities are struggling with how to regulate the sport," said host Hamlin Grange, summing up some of the issues for Midday viewers in 1994, a year in which a reported half-million Canadians would purchase in-line skates.

Skate debate

For starters, where should in-line skaters be allowed to skate? On the road? Sidewalks? None of the above?

Some people wanted to skate on the sidewalk, while some other people — i.e. pedestrians — wanted them to skate somewhere else.

In-line skating became a popular leisure sport in Canada in the 1990s. (1st Edition/CBC Archives)

A related debate rolled on as to whether or not they should instead be on the road.

'How can it be a vehicle?'

"It doesn't run on any gas or anything, so how can it be a vehicle?" said a young woman, who spoke to CBC News in 1994, while walking on a Toronto sidewalk with her husband and a stroller carrying her infant twins. "It's a toy — you buy it in a toy store or a sports store."

She didn't want in-line skaters and their skates the sidewalk either because they "take up too much space."

Problems for in-line skaters in the 1990s

28 years ago
Duration 0:50
Sandy Nimmo of the Canadian In-Line and Roller Skating Association explains the problems in-line skaters were facing in 1994.

Sandy Nimmo of the Canadian In-Line and Roller Skating Association told CBC's Midday these were unresolved issues then affecting an estimated 1.5 million skaters across the country.

"What we have to walk at the moment — or skate at the moment — is a very fine middle ground, trying to work co-operatively with municipalities, with legislators and particularly with enforcement bodies, to try and make it a pleasant environment for everyone," she said.

The sport would continue growing as the decade progressed. According to an Ottawa Citizen report, some two million Canadians had in-line skates at home as of 1996.

'Quite frightening'

Another aspect of the where-should-the-skaters-be debate was the different needs and different speeds of their fellow sidewalk travellers. And that was something that concerned the inline-skating community as well.

Some people saw risk in having in-line skaters share the sidewalk with slower-moving pedestrians. (Prime Time News/CBC Archives)

As Nimmo pointed out on Midday, the people on two wheels could be moving up to three times as fast as their pedestrian counterparts.

"The mismatch in the speed is quite frightening, particularly when you consider the number of elderly or disabled people that might be on the sidewalk," Nimmo said.

'Lawmakers are reacting'

These kinds of concerns led to politicians dictating where skaters should be and not be.

"While in-line skating is hugely popular, lawmakers are reacting," Lorne Matalon told Prime Time News viewers in August of 1994. "Vancouver forbids skaters to use roads, Montreal has banned skaters from the downtown core."

In-line skates aren't going away

28 years ago
Duration 0:53
In 1994, Prime Time News explores the tension between rollerbladers and non-rollerbladers.

In Toronto, there was a question as to whether they were considered a toy or a vehicle — and that apparently would determine whether they could go on the road or not.

The following year, Toronto would create a bylaw giving police to power to hand out $90 tickets to what Matalon, again reporting on in-line skating, described as "selfish sidewalk skaters."

Fine for 'selfish sidewalk skaters'

28 years ago
Duration 0:43
In 1995, Toronto councillors approved a $90 fine aimed at problem skaters.

Today, you can still spot in-line skates in use on city streets, but in seemingly fewer numbers than in the past.