All four of Marie-Andrée Cantin's children started their speed skating careers in the short-track discipline, skating for clubs in LaSalle and the Southwest boroughs. Eventually, they wanted to try long track.
Short-track speed skating clubs operate out of arenas, but long-track requires a 400-metre oval to train on. There are none in Montreal, so Cantin had to drive her kids to Quebec City every week to practise.
In the time spent waiting for them, she often thought there had to be a better way.
"Why couldn't we have the same kind of outdoor facility in Montreal for long-track speed skaters? But not just that, because it's such a gorgeous facility in Quebec City, to be able to, as a parent or as a citizen, to go and skate at night for a couple of hours outdoors?" she said.
So eight years ago, Cantin, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Sainte-Justine hospital, banded together with other parents and community members in the Southwest borough to lobby for a permanent, outdoor, refrigerated 400-metre oval.
As recently as 2018, there were talks of creating a temporary oval in the city, a plan that didn't pan out. But in November, the city revealed it has set aside $20 million as part of its 10-year capital works program to build a permanent oval. The money is earmarked for 2023-2024.
There are few details about what the city wants to do, including where the structure may be built, but the group Cantin is part of has created a detailed plan.
They want the oval built in one of the parking lots at Angrignon Park, which is steps away from Angrignon Metro, and close to major highways.
The oval, which would have a concrete surface, could be used for inline skating or youth cycling events in the summer.
It would be able to accommodate more than 1,000 skaters a day in the winter, and it would be accessible for those with mobility issues. The oval would mainly be used by the public, and provide a low-cost activity for families in the area and a place for schools to visit as part of a physical activity curriculum.
Infrastructure needed to develop athletes
The oval would also host speed-skating competitions and be a place for athletes to train. Cantin's children are no longer competitive speed skaters — one of her daughters is now coaching in Calgary — but she believes that having the option to switch to long-track, which isn't as fast-paced, could keep Quebec kids from quitting the sport entirely.
Robert Dubreuil is director general of the Quebec speed skating federation, which has been involved in the grassroots effort to build the oval nearly from the start.
Quebec is a powerhouse in the realm of short-track speed skating, which is an easier entry point for a child starting out in the sport, he explained. Some children then switch over to long-track as they get older.
He explained that the bulk of the federation's members are in the Montreal area, where there are plenty of arenas for short-track skaters to train in.
But since Montreal doesn't have the infrastructure long-track skaters need, it's harder to develop those athletes, which means there aren't as many of them. To justify this kind of project, Dubreuil said, the key is to make sure there are plenty of opportunities for the public to use it too.
And that suits Dubreuil just fine — the more people who are on the ice, whether they are speed skating or not, the better it is for the development of the sport, he said.
"Having the oval, which generates so many opportunities of practice, training and other activities and events, that growth will come."