Tonight we held a vigil for longboarder Ralph Bissonnette at St. James Park in Toronto, around the corner from the site where he lost his life, needlessly on Monday night, when he was struck by a taxi cab.
These are the words from the speech by organizers Rob Sydia and Suzanne “Ponyta” Nuttall, and me.
“Hello my name is Rob Sydia, this is Lee-Anne Bigwood and this is Suzanne Nuttall. We are longboarders and would like to thank you in advance for allowing us to speak today at this vigil for Ralph Bissonnette, on behalf of the Toronto Longboarding Community. I would like to welcome everyone during this sad and tragic time and pass our condolences to Ralph’s family and friends.”
“Like many of you here, on Tuesday morning, when I found out on my Facebook newsfeed that a 28 year old longboarder had been killed at King and Jarvis, I was in a state of shock. I am a 29 year old longboarder and have been riding for almost 7 years. The majority of my best friends are also longboarders, or are deeply connected to the community. When I started, if I saw a longboarder go by on the street, it would be certain that I would either know that person, or would meet them within a couple weeks at a group session, and though the number of boarders in Toronto has increased greatly since then, I was certain that I knew the victim and was terrified to find out who it would be.
I do not know Ralph Bissonnette, but when I read the article that announced his tragic death, I felt no relief that it was someone I didn’t know, because we are all Ralph Bissonnette, and we all know and love a Ralph Bissonnette. It could have been our best friend, our brother, our son, our coworker, our partner, or one of us…
In October of last year, one of my best friends, Alexandra Dodger, was hit and killed by a drunk driver in Ottawa, and I remember the sick feeling of realizing that I would not be able to see her again. I remember the feelings of sadness, confusion and rage and trying to understand my role in the aftermath. But all I could do was mourn, and my heart aches deeply for Ralph’s friends and family as they try to come to terms with this tragedy.
We are here tonight, as a loving and respectful community, to recognize that ache that comes from the loss of someone special and to let the loved ones he left behind know that Ralph Bissonnette will be remembered and honoured by us, always”
“Unfortunately, I never met Ralph Bissonnette, nor did we have the opportunity to cross paths when skating in the city, but as a fellow skater felt the need to bring the community together to celebrate his life and to offer support to his family and friends in light of this terrible event.
Being here tonight makes all of you a member of the longboard community, an amazing and always interesting family made up of friends that spans the world – this community brings together the most unique mix of people who share the simple passion of having urethane wheels rolling on pavement under their feet. It does not matter if you are a racer, slider or a commuter – we are all brothers and sisters.
I am extremely proud of this community, since it re-emerged over 10 years ago – every rider has always been openly accepted, irrelevant of ability, experience, background or age and we have always focused on taking care of our own – respect is a word that means a lot to all of us.
Longboarding is not just an activity or a sport, it is a lifestyle that encompasses every aspect of who we are and how we live our lives – Ralph shared this passion and all of us are lucky for having found something that offers all this and more.
Longboarding has exploded everywhere, from small towns to large cities and it is growing. It will not be going away!! It is for this reason, that society needs to recognize us and share the roads with us. In this time of everyone being concerned for the environment, longboarding has become a viable, green means of transportation and a popular athletic activity in every city, and more needs to be done to embrace us – not turn us into targets. All of us – drivers, pedestrians, and those who use alternate forms of transportation – need to re-evaluate our roles on the road and to think about the people around us, treat them how we expect to be treated. Every human life is sacred.
Over the past few years we have lost a number of skaters to accidents with vehicles: Hilton Byrne and Aaron Beamish have died doing what they loved and are sorely missed. Ralph is one more name added to this list of people whose lives were taken way too early and should never be forgotten.
There has been a lot of speculation of what transpired on Monday night and we ask everyone to hold judgement until this matter is fully investigated by the police. As of now, the driver of the taxi has been charged with second degree murder and is being held, without bail, until May 22nd when he is due back in court. Please let the police and the legal system determine what happened and, if punishment is warranted, then it becomes our responsibility to demand accountability.
In this time of sadness and frustration, I know we all want to do something to bring some sense to this tragic event – please concentrate on continuing to act positively and respectfully.”
“Dear longboarders, we have all been deeply affected by the death of Ralph Bissonnette. Please do not go to a place of hatred. We know that every longboarder AND every taxi driver in Toronto is currently reflecting on this incident and it has left us all with a heavy heart. Let’s learn from this. There are positive actions that each one of us can take to make a difference every day: wearing our helmets, making ourselves visible when riding on the road, skating safely and offering our collective knowledge and advice to new riders. Everyone needs to share the road and keep calm at all times. Events like this do not need to happen if we care for and respect ourselves and each other.
Thank you again for joining us today to honour Ralph Bissonnette, the young man who’s life ended tragically on Monday. By all accounts Ralph was a young man who enjoyed life, travelling, cooking and longboarding through the streets of Toronto. Today he is no longer with us and we feel this is a tragedy. Our condolences go out to his friends, his girlfriend, his co-workers and his family in Quebec. Let’s take one minute of silence to honour the life of our fallen brother, Ralph Bisonnette. May he rest in peace… or as us longboarders like to say: May he ride in peace. “
* one minute of silence *
Thank you. At this time, we’d like to invite you to follow Rob and Sebastian to the site of the accident, where we will mount a ghost longboard in Ralph’s honour, and have one more minute of silence in recognition of Ralph’s life.
Links are being posted as they are discovered on the vigil’s Facebook event page to all the media coverage (there was a LOT).