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Joe Rockhead’s Buys Toronto’s Second Oldest Climbing Gym

After 24 years of independent operation, The Rock Oasis will join Joe Rockhead's, consolidating two of Toronto's best communities

In 1998, it was a different place. Instead of its current Carlaw location, The Rock Oasis sat at the base of Bathurst Street in Toronto, Ontario. Today, it won’t change locations, but will join the Joe Rockhead’s family.

“We are excited about the opportunity to continue the legacy of the brand and by breathing new energy, love, and investment into the facility we will be ushering the next evolution of the gym for future generations to enjoy.” – Joe Rockhead’s and Up The Bloc

The Rock Oasis

At the time, founder Karen McGilvray had already established the now closed Toronto Climbing Academy (TCA). Now she wanted her own gym.

Building at Bathurst and Front, the original Rock Oasis sat between Joe Rockhead’s and TCA. The prized location would become  one of the three major climbing gyms in the city. Boulderz would not be built for another decade.

By 2011, The Rock Oasis would have to move because of a building project that was supposed to take over the space. Pivoting quickly, McGilvray spent months building at their present location in Carlaw. In the intervening years, McGilvray had built a community at the Rock Oasis. That community came with her to the neighborhood just southeast of Riverdale Park.

This new neighborhood had kids and schools, introducing a new generation of climbers to the sport. In that time, The Rock Oasis grew staff that helped define climbing in Ontario. Up The Bloc’s head route setter Adam Tataryn got his first head-setting job at The Rock Oasis. The community and the setting made it a home, to many nationally competitive climbers as well. It has since grown into a Toronto favourite.

As climbing moved into the modern era, competition and commercial route setting became the dominant styles of route building. Despite the pressure to change, The Rock Oasis stuck to its values. Rock-climbing-inspired setting for rock climbers.

The roped routes were hard and short: boulder problems spanning 10 or 15 metres that required focus and technique. In the roof bay, a climber could move through 15 metres of nearly horizontal roof climbing, making for one of the coolest rope features in all on Toronto.

Despite limited hold resources, the setting at The Rock Oasis under head setter Adam Tataryn and his protege Hans Schiemann, turned The Rock Oasis into a paradise for the psyched Glen climber. As Schiemann took over, an increasing psych for the Niagara Glen started to boil in the hearts of Torontonians.

Becoming Different

The fingery, sandbagged style of difficult boulder problems solicited a reputation for The Rock Oasis among Ontarians. Although the setting did set the gym a part, it was not only the difficult movement that made Oasis so incredible. Instead, it was also the angles.

The bouldering area has it all.

At the back of the gym, an immense 45-degree wall looms over the matts. On your left, a 30-degree wall that Schiemann converted into a spray board persists. On your right, a 60-degree wall climbs at least 12 feet into a slab. This 60-degree is inset, laterally providing opportunity for unique, angle changing climbing that could move into the features surrounding it. Face, slabs, corners and more separate this wall from the roof.

Found on the other side of the bouldering area, the roof represents the only perfect roof in Toronto. The problem with roof climbing in gyms, most of the time, is that the roof is nearly always not horizontal or it is too small. Outside, roof climbing often takes place on a massive, horizontal angle. The Rock Oasis replicated this in their roof. Perhaps 25-feet wide, 15-20 feet deep, and with a gnarly angle change coming out of the headwall, not to mention the surrounding features, the roof bay became one of the three main bouldering focal points for Oasis regulars.

A massive low-angle slab, another near-30-degree wall and a feature called the transformer surround the cave. Together, the facility has some of the best angles in the city.

Oasis Joins the Rockhead’s family

With that said, it struggled to have new climbing holds. It seems this might change. Tuesday afternoon, The Rock Oasis announced that they will be joining the Joe Rockhead’s family. In an announcement made on the Joe Rockhead’s Instagram, the current Rock Oasis staff will be retained and Rockhead’s is looking to invest in the facility.

While many will always love the original Rock Oasis and the one that replaced it, this new chapter will inspire yet another new generation of climbers. Rockhead’s and The Rock Oasis have held ties with one another and today is perhaps the manifestation of that bond. To those who love it, The Rock Oasis will continue to be an incredible place led by incredible people. The family will just be a little larger.

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