Western University’s homecoming celebrations kicked off early Saturday with mobs of students blocking traffic and police from multiple jurisdictions preparing for a long night.
Emergency crews were on scene as an estimated 20 thousand young people dressed in school colours spilled out of houses onto Richmond Street and other roads in the university neighbourhoods. Police had to close multiple blocks of Richmond, from Cheapside to Windermere around 5 p.m.
“We have officers from not only London, Ont., but from York Region, as well as Hamilton. So we’re able to ensure public safety here on the street, but also throughout the City of London,” said London Police Service constable Sandasha Bough.
Bough said no major incidents had been reported as of early Saturday evening. Police had set up gates on some side streets in an attempt to keep the crowds to Broughdale Avenue, Huron Street and other non-arterial roadways.
Homecoming celebrations in past years have seen huge parties that have resulted in injuries, significant damage to homes and property, and charges. Problems with street partying began in 2016 when the university moved traditional homecoming from September to October, hoping colder weather and exams would curtail festivities.
However, students rebelled by continuing to party on the September weekend giving the celebration their own name: FoCo or “fake homecoming.” Western has since reinstated the original homecoming dates.
This year, with no COVID restrictions in place, some students out on Saturday said they were keen to make this year memorable.
I hope it gets very crazy because I’m really trying to see what Broughdale looks like.– Kusai Gareiw, Western student
“It kind of sucks how COVID ruined two years of our lives and as a result, we’re all partying up,” said Kusai Gareiw, a Western student. “I hope it gets very crazy because I’m really trying to see what Broughdale looks like at night without any COVID regulations.”
Gariew added that he appreciated the police presence, a sentiment echoed by other students in attendance.
“It’s a pretty crazy day, so things get out of hand sometimes. So it’s good to have some people around that can put the put the law to work,” said Veronica Charles.
Students are expected to continue to party into the night, and police said they were on standby, ready to adapt as the situation changed.
Some London residents voiced their displeasure online in reaction to news of parties extending on to arterial roads and prompting closures. Some took to social media to ask why traffic disruptions resulting from homecoming celebrations seem to be an annual issue.
Now learning both north AND southbound traffic on Richmond Street is closed from Windermere to Regent. Partiers continue to file in as thing get busier on Huron. EMS have had to treat a few people so far, but no major problems according to officials. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ldnont?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ldnont</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/WesternHoco?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WesternHoco</a> <a href=”https://t.co/P4hKdsqUGH”>pic.twitter.com/P4hKdsqUGH</a>
In past years, health care workers have found themselves overwhelmed by the revelers, and have again warned students to avoid injury. Paramedics had responded to a handful of emergencies by late afternoon Saturday.
“So far we’ve had four people that have been assessed by paramedics and all four have been transported to the hospital with minor injuries or medical issues,” said Miranda Bothwell, public education coordinator with Middlesex-London EMS.
Officials say figures like injury counts, damage estimates, and how many tickets were handed out won’t be available until early next week.