Leeside Tunnel is kind of like a Child to the old Locals, and we’re the parents. We remember the day it was conceived, the day it was born, when it took his first baby steps, and have watched it grow soooooo much. There’s been good times and bad, and the years of puberty were very difficult, but now young Leeside has really transformed into a solid Teenager ready to graduate into the world of life and become a full blown grown up Man…
It was 1999 when Lee Matasi showed up at our apartment on Hastings Street with the biggest smile I had seen on a guy that was completely straight-edged in years. He told us how he had found this sick tunnel for doing graffiti underneath Hastings Street and he had approached the City of Vancouver about allowing us to build some wood ramps down there. They gave him approval, to paint and to skate. He said he wanted to call it Leeside. Within a week there was a pile of ramps that magically appeared, none of them that awesome. I remember going down there for the first time and there was a tiny manual box, a flat bank, some barricades and a nasty little launch ramp that we were blasting over a garbage can off. Soon afterwards a mini-ramp showed up, and then disappeared again. There was a sick wallride quarterpipe that arrived out of the blue and that was sweet. You could tell that the word was getting around about this place and something big was eventually gonna happen. Then the PM Team went on Tour of BC and Alberta and they had a sick setup of ramps that all fit nicely on top of this big trailer bed, which was used as the centre of their pyramid during the demos. Johnny B Dread, Josh Evin, Eugene Voykin and many others were on that tour and they all showed up one day out of the blue and somehow backed the truck right into the Tunnel donating the entire set of ramps. All of a sudden, we had the most amazing skate park, and just in time for Winter. This place was jumpin’ every day full of some of the best skaters out there at the time. Then this Film Crew was making some TV Show that I can’t remember the name of and they filmed scenes down there for a couple months in the daytime. But the lighting sucked, so they installed all these awesome Spotlights across the entire length of the Tunnel. So now, you could skate there all night long. The skaters took over….
But as time went on, the ramps got damaged, and I moved away to Surrey and stopped taking care of Leeside all the time, and our whole crew wasn’t skating their anymore, and it kind of fizzled out a bit. Unfortunately this opened the doors for the bikers to start making use of it and they demolished the ramps that made us who we were, and built everything higher and higher with holes in the wood just covered by chunks of plywood and it just looked undesirable. There was no style left at Leeside other than the paintings now, and people stopped skating it.
The City of Vancouver was not impressed anymore with the disaster under Hastings Street and they shut the Tunnel down and they cleared out the mess, covered the floor with gravel, and steamrolled it tight. This was right before the time when Tragedy struck – Lee Matasi shot dead. This place was founded by Lee and we did refer to it as Leeside, and when he was killed so abruptly, that was the place that we all went to pay our respects, and it created an uproar. We all loved Lee Matasi as the kind gentle switch hardflippin’ maniac he was, and it hurt us all so much that not only was he gone from our lives, but we couldn’t even celebrate the times we had with him with a skate in the Tunnel. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there that day, and it was all over the news, and the story was very real, and this created a spark in some people’s minds to bring back that place that Lee found that brought so many of us together as friends for life, and they started working.
It was secret for a long time, no one knew it was going on. A little section of gravel would get cleared out and some small concrete obstacles would appear. Then more people would get involved and more gravel would get cleared out, and some bigger concrete obstacles appeared. And at some point, all the gravel that was ignorantly placed across the ground was cleared and put right back into some massive concrete obstacles. Now there supposedly has been an agreement with the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition allowing us to build in the Tunnel. And with support, comes more support.
The entire Tunnel known respectably as “Leeside Memorial Tunnel” is now completely covered end to end with concrete ramps – big ones, little ones, nice ones and nasty ones, and you can expect that it is not even close to being over yet. Vans Canada just put down over $16,000 towards the building of the huge corners that are in the midst of construction right now through their DIY Collaboration Projects and a mass crew of people showed up on September 29th to start building the walls. Things are getting bigger in Leeside Tunnel and more and more people are helping our baby grow. And I think this is a perfect time for us to send praise to the man that started it all Lee Matasi. If only we knew at that time that he wouldn’t be here to see it, maybe things would have been different and not gone the way they did. But without the whole scenario, would we be standing in the same Leeside today? Who knows?
It was 7 sad years ago that Lee Matasi lost his life, over something so unbelievably ignorant, and I personally would like to say thank you to him right now. For this Tunnel that he brought us to because of his passion to paint brought the entire Lower Mainland Skateboard Community together in so many ways and is one of the biggest reasons we are so strong –
So next time your in the Tunnel below Hastings Street, lift your beer and tip your hat – To Lee!!
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Next build – October 20th
Miss your crazy tricks Lee