COVID-19: Western Homecoming sees smaller-than-normal turnout amid pandemic

Students partying on Broughdale Avenue as police monitor crowd sizes during homecoming weekend. Sept. 25, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

A large police presence and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic kept Western’s Homecoming celebrations relatively tame this year, but still attracted people to Broughdale Avenue on Saturday.

The unsanctioned street party on Broughdale Avenue did not reach anywhere near pre-pandemic levels but did see pockets of students gather outside of houses and along the sidewalks. The on and off downpour of rain may have also been a factor in the smaller turnout.

Leading up to the event, there were a lot of concerns from community leaders about what might happen with students partying for Homecoming amid the pandemic, with past years seeing a crowd reach upwards of 25,000 students.

A large police presence on Broughdale Avenue which student celebrate Western’s homecoming weekend. Sept. 25, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

A large police presence was noticeable, with officers patrolling Broughdale Avenue and neighbouring streets to disperse the crowds and keep the partying contained to people’s homes and the sidewalk.

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“A lot of planning has gone into this weekend and we want to ensure all these resources are utilized to ensure everyone there is safe,” said London police relief media relations officer, Cst. Scott Mandich.

“There is a large presence of emergency services, but I think it has remained a safe area, and that’s the most important part.”

Broughdale, which is largely comprised of student housing, would often see thousands gather on its roadway during pre-pandemic Homecoming weekend or Fake Homecoming (FoCo) weekend, an informal bash that was organized in protest of Western pushing back its Homecoming date in an effort to reduce unsanctioned parties.

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This year marks the first time since 2015 that Homecoming Saturday will fall on its original late September date.

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An exact number is unknown, but there were hundreds of students out on Broughdale Avenue mid-afternoon on Saturday.

As of Thursday at noon, new orders issued by the MLHU are in effect that essentially double the fines for violating Ontario’s social gathering guidelines.

The province currently caps gatherings at 25 people indoors and 100 outdoors, and exceeding those numbers can now result in a $750 fine for individuals and a $1,000 fine for businesses or organizations under the new local orders.

London police officer ticking a young adult for having an open container of alcohol on the street during Western’s homecoming weekend. Sept. 25, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

Police did not have a number on how many tickets were handed out, but they did confirm some students had been ticketed. Police were also seen ticketing a group of people for having open containers of alcohol on the street.

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“The London Police Service is taking a firm but fair approach to things — we take it on a case by cases basis, and where education does not work, enforcement is an option,” said Mandich.

“Police have been working with a lot of the students and people on the scene to ensure we are not having a large gathering on the street, people have been really receptive with moving along.”

A group of students on Broughdale Avenue celebrating Western’s homecoming weekend. Sept. 25, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

Last year’s festivities were put on hold by the pandemic, but with all Western University students required to be fully vaccinated, more students seemed willing to join in on the fun.

For first-year Western student Olivia Rymkiewicz, homecoming was not exactly what she expected.

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“I have heard of pretty large gatherings in the past, and I was pretty excited for it, but with COVID it’s a little different from what we expected and a lot of cops,” Rymkiewicz said.

“I think it’s to be expected (police presence) with COVID, but with all of us vaccinated I think it should be more lenient.”

When asked about the higher fines for large gatherings, Rymkiewicz says she is trying to have fun in her first year of University, but she is avoiding larger crowds and wearing her mask when needed.

Third-year Western student Aidan Haskell says he is out enjoying the day with friends but is still trying to be responsible.

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“We are trying to be respectful and listen to what the police officers are telling us and trying to be mindful of the COVID regulations as well,” Haskell said.

“I can understand the rationale — I think very often the university students forget there is a greater community in the area, so we obviously want to be mindful of these people,” Haskell responded when asked about the doubled fines for large gatherings.

London Police are expected to have a crowd estimate and count of how many tickets were handed out next week.

With files from Andrew Graham

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