London party

Western Homecoming: Excited Students, Worried Officials, Nervous Neighbors

A London nightclub owner says he struggled to get insurance for an outdoor event on Saturday and warned the city center doesn’t have enough bars and clubs for revelers celebrating the Western University’s first full-fledged homecoming since the pandemic began.

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A London nightclub owner says he struggled to get insurance for an outdoor event on Saturday and warned the city center doesn’t have enough bars and clubs for revelers celebrating the Western University’s first full-fledged homecoming since the pandemic began.

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A councilor, meanwhile, has been busy answering phone calls from worried voters and London police have called in reinforcements for the annual party that has left taxpayers responsible for six-figure police bills in the past.

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John Scott-Pearse, owner of The Belfort, spent two weeks frantically searching for an insurance company to cover an outdoor event at his Piccadilly Street venue on Saturday.

John Scott-Pearse flies a large Western Mustangs flag from the roof of the Belfort where an event is taking place on Saturday.  (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)
John Scott-Pearse flies a large Western Mustangs flag from the roof of the Belfort where an event is taking place on Saturday. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

“They wouldn’t touch a night event, they wouldn’t touch anything for underage students. We can’t do concerts or anything like that,” Scott-Pearse said of insurers’ reluctance to provide coverage.

Scott-Pearse, who has owned and operated several bars over the years, said he finally found a business in British Columbia that would run a daytime event for more than 19 years.

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Le Belfort became the go-to St. Patrick’s Day venue earlier this year, the last big party in londonwhen the streets around Western and the town center became noticeably quieter during the afternoon as thousands of revelers descended on the site at the western end of Piccadilly for an outdoor event.

Members of the London Fire Service inspect regulatory compliance amid a sea of ​​greenery as hundreds of people celebrate St Patrick's Day on March 17, 2022 at The Belfort, a Piccadilly Street nightclub.  (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)
Members of the London Fire Service inspect regulatory compliance amid a sea of ​​greenery as hundreds of people celebrate St Patrick’s Day on March 17, 2022 at The Belfort, a Piccadilly Street nightclub. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

Scott-Pearse predicted the city would find itself with a hefty police bill starting Saturday, just like in previous years on homecoming weekend.

“Londonians are saying, ‘Well, we have to get tough on these kids’, but there’s no crackdown on them. You have to offer them an alternative,” he said, referring to bars and nightclubs. “Basically, all the alternatives are drying up.”

A homecoming task force – made up of city officials, police, paramedics, London Fire Service, Middlesex-London Health Unit, Western University and Fanshawe College – held regular meetings to prepare for Saturday.

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Police officers from York Region and Hamilton will assist London police, spokesperson Const Sandasha Bough said.

“It’s basically making sure we can provide service to the rest of the city,” Bough said of the request for additional officers, adding that police will have a heightened presence around Western’s campus.

In recent years, crowds of up to 20,000 have invaded Broughdale Avenue, a dead end street near Western that has traditionally been the epicenter of an unauthorized party, making it difficult for emergency crews answer calls in the area.

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“We have operational plans in place for large gatherings,” Bough said. “We will monitor events and react accordingly.”

In an unsuccessful attempt to call off rowdy student parties in 2016, Western officials postponed the return home until mid-October, hoping cooler weather and ongoing exams would deter students from partying. But the movement backfired when students started their own tradition on the original weekend, known as the Fake Homecoming or FoCo, which drew revelers from across Ontario.

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Last year, Western postponed the reunion celebration by three days to September, although most of the events took place virtually because of the pandemic.

With most public health restrictions now lifted and the West returning to in-person learning, there are fears this weekend’s homecoming will see record crowds.

“I got a lot of nervous phone calls,” Coun said. Mariam Hamou, whose Ward 6 encompasses Western’s student neighborhoods. “They worry about trash and noise.”

Hamou, a resident of the Old North who has seen with his own eyes how going back to basics is transforming the neighborhood, said student safety was the top priority.

“These children come to London to learn. Their parents send them to us, so we have to send them home safely. But that doesn’t mean students don’t have a responsibility to protect themselves as well,” she said.

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  1. A screenshot of a London Police photo shows crowds of people filling Broughdale Avenue in London for what Western University students are calling a fake homecoming, or FoCo.  This photo is from October 3, 2018

    Officials tighten holiday limits and fines ahead of homecoming, FoCo

  2. Police officers monitor a house party on Broughdale Avenue near Western University during the homecoming weekend.  Picture taken Saturday September 25, 2021. (Jonathan Juha/The London Free Press)

    Online videos show wild late-night street parties amid reunion

Western vice-chancellor John Doerksen said students are responsible for maintaining the university’s community values ​​on the weekend, which includes a football game on Saturday and a reading on Sunday by the Canadian hip-hop entertainer Maestro Fresh Wes and a Western graduate with whom he wrote a children’s book.

“We encourage students to be safe and take care of themselves, their friends and their community. The health and safety of our campus and our community is a shared responsibility and we must all do our part,” Doerksen said in a statement.

The problem of rowdy parties is not unique to London. Other cities with large student populations, such as Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo and Hamilton, have introduced new regulations and other measures to quell uncontrollable gatherings.

McMaster University in Hamilton does not hold college football games or homecoming events to deter large gatherings. The city also introduced a new bylaw that targets “harmful behavior,” such as public intoxication and excessive noise, with fines ranging from $500 to $25,000.

In Waterloo, fences were erected this week on a street near Wilfrid Laurier University ahead of planned weekend holidays.

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