Building Community, One Hold at a Time
A little golden-haired girl clings to a chalky hold on an underhang. She’s wearing a tie-dye shirt, all vibrant yellows, greens, pinks. “We Shine Brighter Together,” it says on the front. On her feet is what may be the cutest pair of climbing shoes I’ve ever seen, no bigger than an adult’s palm. She can’t be much older than five or six. She’s bicycling her legs, looking for purchase, intently focusing her gaze on her hands, which must be feeling the pull of her weight, as if willing them to hold on for just another second. She’s here, present, in the moment, getting stronger with every climb. Shining brightly. Her parents look on with a mixture of pride and concern, seemingly fighting the urge to help her, lift her, boost her up. I smile. How could you not?
I observe this scene from a Black Diamond crash pad, likely getting my bum chalky, laptop open. I am at the still-has-that-new-climbing-gym-smell Fredericton Bouldering Co-op, surrounded by a kaleidoscopic array of holds and colorful tape that indicates the difficulty level of any given bouldering route. It’s a balmy Friday afternoon in late June, and a warm rain falls beyond the rolled up bay door.
Adam Morgan had been thinking of a world class rock climbing facility in Fredericton for years. When it became clear that the cozy, womb-like space long used by the UNB Rock and Ice Club in the basement of Lady Beaverbrook Gym would not be available for much longer, Adam got together with friend and fellow climber, Marc Labelle, to bring these thoughts to fruition. A diverse board of directors comprising passionate Frederictonians came together to take the project to the next level. This board, as well as countless others, would devote the next two years to making FBC a reality.
As their plans began to solidify, the team decided that they wanted the new gym to embody a core value of rock climbing in Fredericton: community. With this in mind, they opted for a cooperative structure, with members holding shares of the business, and in 2017 the Fredericton Bouldering Co-op was born. By January of 2018 the FBC was incorporated. By the fall of that year, it was fully funded.
Looking around now, it’s hard to believe that in its previous life the space on Smythe Street was a warehouse with a bit of after-thought office space.
The climbing area is enormous, with a nearly 270-degree ring of precision-designed, immaculately constructed walls, and hundreds of holds that comprise 60+ routes, ranging in difficulty from V0 to V10 (in layman's terms that’s, “I can do that barefoot with my eyes closed, while drunk,” to “You want me to do what with two fingers while hanging from one heel?!” Incidentally, I don’t recommend the former as barefoot climbing is gross and prohibited.)
FBC brought in Delire, a Quebecois company that designs, manufactures, and installs top-grade climbing walls to execute the final plans for the climbing area. They couldn’t have done a more bang-up job top to bottom, including mats that ensure climbers’ safety. After all, what goes up must, inevitably and sometimes unexpectedly, come down.
In addition to a locker room, FBC boasts two bathrooms, with another one on the way, complete with shower. There is a soon-to-be events room, and a foosball table on which there is a sign inviting anybody who thinks they’ve got the goods to challenge Adam, ostensibly some kind of foosball Bobby Fischer, to a match. The challenger, having coughed up a toonie that will go towards climbing holds upon their inevitable defeat, stands to win twenty bucks. There is a mezzanine from which one could watch the action below, or simply hang, have a coffee, and do some writing or schoolwork.
I had an opportunity to chat with Adam and Jennie (Dobrowolski, Programming Director) shortly after the gym’s official Grand Opening on June 1st. The two told me that since its unofficial opening in May, more than 200 people have signed up to be full-fledged FBC members. In addition, the co-op sports four full-time employees and approximately 60 volunteers (this writer being one of them).
Many [calloused] hands came together to make the FBC what it is today, and dozens of volunteers contributed thousands of hours to this, a project of tremendous scope. When I asked Jennie and Adam how many hours the founding members and the board of directors (stay tuned for Member Profiles!) had put in, they exchanged a look that was equal parts incredulity, pride, and horror, but either chose not to, or couldn’t, give me an answer. That said, they were both quick and delighted to recognize and express bottomless gratitude to the community at large and the many Fredericton businesses who partnered with the FBC in ways great and small; and to give a big shout-out to The North Face, Black Diamond, and Radical Edge, who provided so much support and materials.
The FBC is growing and it’s a lovely sight. New volunteers, members, and climbers of all levels walk through the unassuming entrance behind Papa John’s every week, and with every one the community expands. The programming is becoming more and more robust and every week there are kids’ camps, birthday parties, and other events—FBC even hosted its first book launch. The near-future will bring more expansion (a weight-training area) and exciting community events (a bouldering competition later this summer).
There has never been a better time to be a climber in Fredericton, and the sport of rock climbing has never been more accessible to beginners than it is today, with a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of the city.
So what are you waiting for? Join us at the FBC and together we’ll reach new heights.
And shine brighter.
Roman, FBC member and volunteer,
June 21, 2019