Skip to main content

Liquor flowed freely during homecoming celebrations at Queen's University in Kingston in 2005.

Mark Bergin/The Canadian Press/The Canadian Press

Either a tornado just touched down or this must be Aberdeen Street, the party nexus of Canada's party university.

A minefield of red beer-pong cups, broken glass and empty pizza boxes lie strewn across patchy lawns. In front of one devastated house, the landlord eyes a large Starbucks cup filled to the brim with vomit.

"They're a bunch of spoiled rich kids who don't want to be seen with a garbage bag," he mutters, setting out a recycling bin full of glass along a street lined with a Mercedes convertible, two BMWs and a Cadillac SUV. "But that's the way it's always been."

Story continues below advertisement

Queen's University students have long been the blondes of Canada's university community: They seem to have more fun than everyone else. But in recent years that convivial reputation has taken on a tinge of recklessness. From homecoming celebrations that descended into a near riot in 2005 to the death of 18-year-old Cameron Bruce at the close of Frosh Week revelry earlier this week, the school has struggled, despite its vaunted academic reputation, to overcome a name for equally hard partying.

As the institution prepares for homecoming later this month (the administration has formally cancelled the party for two years running, but the tipsy crowds still come), students, alumni and school officials insist the party reputation is undeserved. Some even say that the crackdown on partying has sapped some of the school's legendary spirit.

On a recent weekday evening, two nights after Mr. Bruce, a first-year engineering student, plunged to his death from a sixth-floor dorm, the scene along Aberdeen was college casual. Unshaven kids played guitars on porch-fronts. Small groups slugged beer at a swift but polite pace. No sign of shotgun, beer pong, flip-cup or any of the other games designed to hasten mass inebriation. None of the car-flipping, bottle-hurling drunkards that dog the school's otherwise good name.

"Yep, this is the famous party central," a very un-hungover student named Ian Gilbert proclaims the next morning. "People seem to think it's a non-stop party here. It's not. There's more to ghetto culture than that."

The student ghetto, a region of rental houses sandwiched between the university and downtown Kingston, has long been the scene of late-night hijinks. Over the years, cars have appeared in trees, impromptu street-hockey games have enveloped whole city blocks, a million renditions of fight songs have been sung.

"American universities have tailgate parties and we have street parties. It's always been that way," says Rick Powers, a faculty member at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management who attended Queen's for 12 years in the late 1970s and '80s and remains an active alumnus. "It generates immense school spirit, but at some point, someone will go overboard."

That moment came to campus in 2005. The morning after homecoming that year, Kingston woke up to a burned car, a road strewn with broken glass and its prestigious university's reputation in tatters.

Story continues below advertisement

"This unfortunate reputation we have, it all goes back to that one incident," laments Dr. Powers.

Video of thousands of carousing students streamed across televisions and Internet connections. Parents were horrified but students as far away as B.C. were enchanted, and made a road trip of it in subsequent years as attendance at the homecoming ballooned beyond control.

Last year, homecoming was cancelled indefinitely. Local police actively publicized their annual bill for the event - more than $300,000.

Other Queen's events came under scrutiny as well. At a university senate meeting last year, officials vowed to quash parties known as "Slosh the Frosh, Wail the Gael, Sauce the Boss, Wreck the Frec, etc." because they put students at risk, according to meeting minutes.

Frecs, bosses and gaels are titles for veteran students who chaperone first-year "frosh" during raucous orientation-week activities.

"Queen's had done all it can to keep drinking out of frosh-week activities without infringing on the good times too much," says Glen Turner, a second-year engineering student. "Students will drink no matter what you do."

Story continues below advertisement

But some worry that the school spirit has been neutered.

"It's like a police state here sometimes. A lot of the events have been watered down, made politically correct," says Colin, another engineering student who wouldn't give his last name.

The university says the restrictions were necessary.

"All universities across the country face the problem of excessive alcohol consumption and we have to approach it pro-actively," says John Pierce, Queen's vice-principal and dean of student affairs. "We have had to make improvements in many areas and our complaints are down as a result."

Can Queen's strike an equilibrium between rules and revelry? Dr. Powers thinks so. "When you look at the alumni of this school, they include captains of industry, thinkers, leaders," he says. "I'm confident that the Queen's brand will outlive any negativity."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter