St. Patrick’s Day celebrations kicked into high gear in London, Ont. on Thursday as scores of post-secondary students hit near-campus porches and downtown patios to enjoy the unseasonable warmth and to put away some beverages.
The province has lifted most of its pandemic-related health measures, save for a mask mandate which lifts on Monday, meaning local bars and restaurants are also accommodating full capacity St. Paddy’s crowds for the first time since 2019.
On Richmond Row, lineups were forming outside Barney’s patio before 11 a.m. rolled around. By the early afternoon, the patio was packed as more people waited in line to get a spot. Other local watering holes were seeing similar high turnout.
Further to the north, near the student-dominated Broughdale Avenue area, students decked out in green could be seen enjoying the double-digit temperatures on decks and porches near campus.
London police urged revellers to celebrate responsibly in the days leading up to St. Patrick’s, and say they’re monitoring all areas of the city, including Richmond Row and typical student hotspots near campus.
Speaking with Global News shortly after 2 p.m., police Cst. Sandasha Bough said officers responded to a number of smaller house parties, but had otherwise seen no major issues.
“We’ve had a number of smaller gatherings at residences throughout the city, so no specific areas. There are a number of people in the downtown core as well, and we are responding to calls for service,” she said.
Global News visited the Broughdale Avenue area early Thursday afternoon and spoke with several Western students about their thoughts heading into — what was for many of them — their first St. Patrick’s Day of university without COVID-19 restrictions.
“I think the weather is definitely really helping. It’s nice to see everyone out on campus and everything,” said Reese Corcoran, a second-year student at Western.
“A lot of first year was pretty much ruined, so it’s really nice to just see everyone out and celebrating and being safe and having a good time.”
Elaine Whitmore, also a second-year student, added, “This weather is honestly carrying the day. I had class this morning and all I could think about was like, ‘I just want to go out and see everyone.”
Both were surprised, but also glad to see a lighter police presence in the neighbourhood as of the early afternoon, in contrast to the stepped up patrols that occur during homecoming and FOCO, or ‘faux homecoming.’
“A lot of people go to different universities, like a lot of people were going to Laurier and Queens. Even just seeing on social media, just like… there were police there last night preparing for it,” Whitmore said.
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“Western isn’t really like a St. Paddy’s area, but there’s obviously still things happening.”
With restrictions lifted and with Ontario’s mask mandate set to end next week, Corcoran and Whitmore, along with several other students Global News interviewed, acknowledged there would be a bit of an adjustment period when it came to the changes.
“Masks and stuff felt normal for so long. So now switching back, it’s like, ‘this is weird again.’ But that was the original normal, so it’s nice to go back to normal normal, not mask normal,” Corcoran said.
At a nearby house, Kusai Gareiw, a second-year Western student, described the last two years as feeling like a dream because of the restrictions implemented during the pandemic.
“Honestly, we don’t know what’s going to happen today. We’re planning on just meeting a bunch of new people. Honestly, just living St. Patrick’s Day. This is our first St. Patrick’s Day of uni, so like, why not?” said Gareiw, who was joined by fellow second-years Ismail Abdel Malek and Yousuf Ali.
“We’ve had it pretty tough since like high school, first year of COVID, so it’s really nice to be out,” said Malek.
“For FOCO, the police were, kind of, being extra, and the university was being a little extra, so it’s just nice to see that we’re finally opening up.”
At another Broughdale-area house, second-year student Ben Namo said his plans for the day were just to “drink beer, have fun.”
“This is… at least (the) first significant event that we can celebrate with not many restrictions,” he said.
“Obviously, there’s no more capacity restrictions, so we can have as many people out here as we want. It just so happened to line up with some pretty weather, so we’re thinking of having a nice big party today.”
During the interview, a police cruiser made a pass down the street in front of the house.
“They can’t do nothing about it this time,” Namo said with a laugh.
“Just wave and smile, boys!” chimed in someone from the porch.
Like the others, Namo said the shift away from pandemic restrictions, in place for the duration of his time at Western, would take some getting used to.
“Residence was just not that fun. It was just constant, ‘Oh, you’re in trouble for this, you’re in trouble for this,’ which makes sense, obviously, there’s a pandemic,” he recalled.
“It just feels kind of weird now, just not having rules. I don’t know. I feel like that’s been normalized for us, so now it’s weird.”
Down the street, Cassandra Lundsgaard noted that this St. Patrick’s was looking to be a big improvement over last year’s.
“Last year for St. Patrick’s Day I went outside for like 10 minutes and then I tested positive for COVID. So, that was kind of unfortunate. So I’m excited about this year,” she said.
Lundsgaard and friend Delaney Johnston said they weren’t planning to head downtown, but were instead going to check out a house party along Huron Street.
“It’s all coming together. It’s like the weather brought this to us,” said Johnston.
“It does feel safer and like more comfortable. I feel more comfortable seeing all my friends. Feels, like, not illegal.”