Before the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of people would flood Ezra Avenue in Waterloo, Ont. for an unsanctioned street party. But with most of the street fenced off this St. Patrick’s Day, students moved the party a block away to Marshall Street instead.
City and regional officials blocked access to most of Ezra Avenue in anticipation of what could take place, with dozens of university security constables posted at almost every home to ensure neighborhood safety. There was also a heavy Waterloo regional police presence with dozens more officers and cruisers patrolling the area.
But, for many students, the party went on anyway.
Instead, they hosted parties in their front yards on Marshall Street early Thursday, and by late afternoon the crowds had spilled into the street under the exceptionally-warm 18 C temperature and sunny skies.
“We’re on Marshall Street because police don’t let us on Ezra anymore,” Owen Hunter, a fourth year student at Wilfrid Laurier University, told Nation World News. “If you block off the main party, people [don’t] have to go far, we’re one block away and that’s where people are going to go.”
Police eventually closed Marshall Street between Regina and Brighton Streets for safety reasons and asked people to avoid the area.
“There have been several house parties and some students have moved on to the street on Marshall Street,” said Cherri Greeno, a spokesperson with the Waterloo regional police.
She said police will continue to monitor the university district throughout the day and evening.
However, students say closing off streets for St. Patrick’s Day isnt an approach that’s going to work because they party will just move to another nearby street again.
Alternative approach needed
Anthony Checcha, a fourth year student at WLU who lives on Ezra Avenue, has seen the temporary fencing go up on his street in previous years and hoped this year things would have gone differently. He said he and others feel “caged in,” and installing strict fencing on Ezra Avenue is not the solution.
He said university officials and police should take a different approach next year.
“I feel like there are other options that they come up with that would allow us to all have fun with out completely restricting us off the street like they did today,” Checcha said.
It’s quiet this morning on Ezra Avenue in Waterloo where thousands of students previously gathered for St Patrick’s Day street parties. Officials fenced off the street, & students say they feel “caged in” and feel fencing is a safety hazard. pic.twitter.com/hfzrKM9Q3s
He and several other students who Nation World News spoke to said they’d like to see a sanctioned event, where officials put up watch towers and washroom trailers.
Several neighbors agree.
Ashley Brown and her roommate Amanda Synyard, who are both parents, live on Marshall Street with their children.
They said they’re not bothered by the student gatherings or loud music, but do feel safer with police patrolling the area, although the St. Patrick’s Day commotion becomes an inconvenience.
“I can’t have the kids out to play … it’s a nice day and I can’t even have them outside to enjoy the day,” said Brown.
Both said having a sanctioned street event in one designated area would deter students from spilling on to several residential streets.
“If they could do something like that … have it in a designated area..it would be better,” said Synyard.
Police chief Bryan Larkin urged students to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day responsibly and safely in an online message.
“We will continue to work closely with our community and emergency service partners to ensure a complete and extensive operational plan is in place throughout the next 24 hours,” he said.
While Ezra Avenue is empty, the street over, Marshall Street, is not. Students say they’re taking the party elsewhere. pic.twitter.com/LDonhUr7xF
The message from the universities, police and the city has been to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day responsibly and deter students from attending large unsanctioned gatherings.
“We’re not asking you not to have fun,” said Stephanie Ye-Mowe, vice president of education with Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association told CBC’s The Morning Edition.
She said students should look out for one another and reach out for help if they need it.
“We’re asking you to not go to large unsanctioned gatherings, to find other methods to engage in festivities, whether that be exploring what uptown has to offer or gathering with friends in your private home.”