Teenager remembered with special bench at Amherst skate park.
Christopher Baxter had a smile that would light up a room and a personality that drew people to him.
The 22-year-old Amherst native died in Halifax on Oct. 26 last year, but his memory will live on in a new park bench that will sit at one of Baxter’s passions, the Lions skate park next to the Amherst Stadium.
Baxter, who was on the Amherst Youth Town Council, was an advocate for the park and served on an ad hoc skate park committee that lobbied the town to erect the facility that is regarded as among the best in the Maritimes.
The 10,000-square-foot park opened in May 2011 at a cost of $370,000.
“We were blown away. We really didn’t know what to expect, but to see it was just awesome,” said Christopher’s father, Peter, who attended the unveiling with his wife, Tammy, and other family members. “We weren’t sure what they had in mind for a design but we knew they were gathering skateboards. We knew they had something like that planned, but didn’t know the scope of it.”
Tammy said the bench is a great way of remembering her son.
“To know his friends loved him that much that they would hand over their stuff to do this is kind of overwhelming. It’s a great way to remember him,” she said.
Baxter’s own skateboard is central to the bench while many of his friends provided their boards too. Not only does the bench preserve his son’s memory, but Peter is hopeful it sends a message to other youth that they can make a difference in their community.
“It’s just so emotional and so heart-warming to see this,” he said. “It’s also wonderful to know that some other young person can see what Chris and others his age (did) and how they made a positive difference in their community.”
Peter remembers the park being a huge passion for his son, who was also a talented hockey and baseball player. He remembers Christopher spending hours at the park after it opened and being called to bring meals and the occasional bottle of Gatorade to the park.
“There were times when we practically had to drag him away from the park because he was there so much,” Peter said. “He absolutely loved being there with his friends.”
Peter, who works at IMP Aerostructures,
was approached soon after Christopher’s death by a coworker, Mike Clark. He had taken his eldest son to the skate park and asked him if he knew Christopher.
“My philosophy is that when someone passes away we do everything in our power to tell the stories of the good times and successes,” said Clark, who now works for the United Steelworkers of America in Labrador City, N.L. “Peter is a great friend of mine and I just felt we needed to celebrate what Chris had done as a member of the youth town council
and what they accomplished in getting this skate park built. It’s going to be used for years and years to come. I thought what a great tribute to have up at that park.”
Christopher’s aunt, Grace Jarvis, was another strong advocate of doing something in his memory.
“Christopher was an avid skateboarder,” Jarvis remembered. “When I heard of his passing, I felt we should do something in his memory because of the big part he played in obtaining the skate park.”
When Clark’s job called him to Labrador, she picked up the cause and renewed the connection with recreation director Bill Schurman.
Chelsea Baird, Amherst’s horticulturalist, said she was approached by Schurman about the family wanting to place a bench at the park.
“I knew we needed to have a bench that was a reflection of Christopher and something that would honour his memory for both his family and his friends,” Baird said. “Now I was on a mission to find used skateboards, if possible from Chris’ friends to build the bench.”
Baird said her co-worker, Jennifer Bickerton, said her stepdaughter, Ashley, was a close friend of Chris’ and she’d be willing to gather up as many boards as possible from his friends.
“Once we had the boards, and the design had been finalized with Chris’s board placed in the middle surrounded by his friends’ boards, local contractor Rick Gilroy graciously donated his time towards the construction of the bench,” Baird said. “Once the construction of the bench was complete, we sealed it with a marine varnish to help prolong its longevity. The bench will be brought into the stadium for the winter months, a place where Chris spent time playing hockey growing up.”
Mayor David Kogon and several members of town council were there for the unveiling.
“I thought it was a great idea to honour Christopher,” Kogon said. “Despite his young years, he contributed greatly to the town by first being on the very first Amherst Youth Town Council and second by being one of the driving forces behind the creation of the skate park. His contribution to the youth council and to the development of the skate park truly help make Amherst a great place to live, work and play.”
Tammy and Peter Baxter sit on a bench recently dedicated in memory of their son, Christopher, who died a year ago at age 22. Baxter was on the first Amherst Youth Town Council as a teenager and was instrumental in getting the Lions Skate Park built next to the Amherst Stadium.