Match of the Day: Derby vs. Flea Market

Let me be clear, right off the top: I am a big fan of the CBRM’s roller derby girls. They are that rare combination of fierce and kind, as Ali MacDougall (or Rollin’ Stone, as she’s known on the track) can attest:

“Roller derby is the strangest sport,” says MacDougall. “One minute you’re out there smashing people around and the next thing you’re dancing and giving hugs.”

Strange, perhaps. Sport, most definitely, and if you doubt that you clearly haven’t tried it. (Full disclosure: I did, for a couple of months four years ago. It both thrilled and terrified me.)

The roughly 25 derby girls (and it’s okay to call them ‘girls,’ I checked) of the Tar City Rollers, Cape Breton’s one and, so far, only roller derby team, do all the things sports teams do: they invest in expensive equipment (good roller skates don’t come cheap), they fundraise, they take part in community events, they travel for competitions and they juggle work and family responsibilities to make all the aforementioned possible. They also have volunteers who ref and keep score and coach and train.

Ali MacDougall aka Rollin' Stone

Ali MacDougall aka Rollin’ Stone (left) Terri Johnson aka Forget Me Not (right).

But there are those who can’t see the sport for the fishnets.

Yes, a derby girl’s sartorial choices owe more to the Rocky Horror Picture Show than to Wimbledon, but that’s part of the game. Over-the-top fashion is part of many sports — just look at what some NHL goal tenders wear on their heads.

Still others don’t understand how much skill is involved, although the main components — skating and hitting — are integral to hockey and no one doubts the athleticism involved in that.

That may change if the players are successful in their quest to have Sport Nova Scotia recognize roller derby as a sport — you know, the same recognition given to lawn bowling, body building and rope-skipping.

No Fixed Address

The Tar City Rollers have called a number of places home in the four years since they were first established, practicing in the former St. Andrew’s Church Hall on Bentinck Street in Sydney; later in the gym at the New Dawn Center for Innovation (the former Holy Angels High School), also in Sydney; and most recently, at the Etoile de l’Acadie, Sydney’s French school, which remains their winter venue. For the past four years, though, they’ve held their summer practices in Sydney’s Centennial Arena.

It’s a venue well suited not only to practice but to competition, says MacDougall.

That arrangement came to an end abruptly this August, when the team was informed they’d no longer be permitted to practice at the Centennial because the Flea Market formerly housed in the Coxheath Arena (another CBRM recreation facility) was moving there. And while the market is only open on Sundays, the tables will remain set up throughout the week, limiting recreational use of the facility to sports that can be played in and around flea market tables. (Rope-skipping, perhaps?)

MacDougall thinks the CBRM has strange recreation priorities:

“I just don’t understand why a sports team can’t use that facility which is a recreational facility.”

Tar City Rollers Fan-C

Nancy MacPhee (aka Fan-C-Nancy) and Benita George (aka Miss Bee’Haven).

MacDougall says the team even offered to move the tables themselves (which sounds like exercise to me), but were turned down. A spokesperson for the Flea Market, who prefers to remain anonymous, says setting up and taking down the tables is very labor intensive and cannot be done by just anyone because the market has a special numbering system for the tables. The spokesperson also says the Flea Market will be at the Centennial until September, but after that, he doesn’t know. He was very clear, however, that putting the market in the Centennial was the CBRM’s idea, and came about because the ice went in early this year at the County Arena.


Paul MacDonald, CBRM facilities manager, confirmed that, telling the Spectator in an email that the decision came down to revenue:

We have had a longstanding relationship with the local Flea Market that for the most part was situated at the County Arena in Coxheath. However, this year the Screaming Eagles were holding their training camp at the County Arena beginning on August 17th. With that in mind, we moved the flea market to Centennial Arena for August 9th. Since then, they are operating out of the Centennial Arena. There [are] no other users in the facility at this time.

David Ferguson, our Operations Supervisor did inform the users of this prior to the Flea Market moving in.

…To move tables and goods around continuously is very inconvenient for them and considering they are third largest revenue generator behind the Screaming Eagles and County Minor Hockey we are allowing them to keep their tables in place moving forward.

Of course, the ice went in at the County Arena last year too, at which point the Flea Market moved to the former Target store. That facility is no longer available (for a good reason, a new business has located there).

MacDonald says the other sports teams using the Centennial — for roller hockey and lacrosse — don’t have to worry about finding new venues because “they’re playing hockey” now, which is not really an option for the Tar City Rollers, who like their skates with wheels.

The CBRM’s decision is doubly disappointing to the derby team because the Centennial Arena has been “decommissioned,” according to Recreation Department head Jennifer Collins, and will no longer have an ice surface. MacDougall says the Tar City Rollers had been hoping that meant they could practice there year-round, something they would be willing to pay for. In fact, Cape Breton Roller Derby League President Stephanie MacPhee (aka Jampyre Slayer), says her team would have considered paying more to retain the Centennial for its summer practices, but it wasn’t given an opportunity to do so.

What really puzzles both MacDougall and MacPhee, though, is why a recreation facility is giving priority to a flea market over a sports team.

Tar City Rollers, Pride Parade, CBRM, 2016

CBRM Pride: (l to r) Melanie Blackwood, Nicole Haddad, Amanda MacDonald, Allanna Serroul

“CBRM has an Active Living Facebook page,” says MacPhee, “if they want to promote active living and community growth with it, they should give the community sports teams first chance at their sports facilities over vendors.”

And really, giving the Flea Market priority because it pays more establishes a dangerous principle: what if “Flea Markets on Ice,” a company I just made up, offered more for Centre 200 than the Screaming Eagles pay? Would the CBRM tell Marc-AndrĂ© Dumont, “We hate to do it but, we’re a cash-strapped municipality and–there’s no way around it–they’re paying more.”

Multi-Sport Facility?

I have nothing against flea markets (I really like them, actually — I think they were green before green existed, encouraging people to recycle and re-use) but I can’t help but sympathize with the roller derby girls. Their sport brings together women of all ages and walks of life — lawyers, doctoral students, church secretaries and radio announcers, to name just some of the professions that have been represented on the Tar City Rollers — not to mention from all corners of the CBRM. Says MacDougall:

“The funny thing is that I never in my life have played a sport. I finally found something that I like…I started at 40 and now I’m 44…We practice really hard, we’re trying to grow the sport,” and to be bumped from their practice space by a flea market is “maddening.”

When I share with MacDonald the derby girls’ argument that a recreational facility should give priority to a sports team over a flea market, he says they “had a point.”

But when I ask if anything will change, he says, “No.”

Which is odd, given what he has to say about the future of the Centennial Arena, a subject now under study by the municipality. One suggestion is that it become a municipal warehouse, but MacDonald says staff aren’t taken with that idea:

We have had proposals that include a Field House for basketball and tennis along with gymnastics which is housed at BiCenennial Gym.

It could be a facility that is programmed by CBRM Recreation with their offices and staff located there.
It could become a warehouse, but that is not the preferred option among staff.
Staff would like to see it as recreation facility of some sort. We have asked for proposals and have had an architect look at what would be involved in converting from ice arena to a multi-purpose or multi-sport facility.
Maybe, in a “recreation facility of some sort,” a “multi-sport” facility no less, derby will trump flea market.
Until then, I’m throwing out a challenge to the CBRM Recreation Department (of which I’m also a big fan). Could you hook a derby team up?

Featured image: Tar City Rollers in action, Jampyre Slayer (Stephanie MacPhee) and Titanium Tankdown (Tara Noseworthy).

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