Although they are two halves of a single university, for downtown students, it may seem that the main things that the Macdonald and main campus share are the McGill name and a shuttle bus. The two campuses have separate student unions; therefore, students from one campus do not often engage with the services or clubs of the other. McGill is slowly beginning to advertise the benefits of Mac campus to downtown students—for example, by offering Science Literacy Week events at both campuses—but many students don’t bother to find out more about them. The result of this divide is two groups of students who know nothing about each other and are not interested in visiting their non-native campus.
As a member of the McGill Agricultural Association, a club located at Mac campus, I was dismayed when local students told me that I was one of the few downtown students they knew personally who makes a habit of visiting Mac for non-academic reasons. Students who never make the trek out to the West Island are missing out on the chance to explore a rural and bountiful campus that offers much more than just classes.
For downtown students, it is easy to never leave the city core and venture out to Ste. Anne-de-Bellevue. The only obvious markers of Mac campus’ existence downtown are the shuttle bus stops—currently situated in front of the Strathcona Music Building due to construction on Sherbrooke—and the McGill Farmers’ market at the Y-intersection on Thursdays in the fall.
Located across the street from the St. Lawrence river, Mac campus houses the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Beyond the main buildings of campus are acres of experimental farm land; across the bridge is the massive Morgan Arboretum and nature reserve. Students have access to a forest less than an hour away from downtown, yet many of them are unaware of its existence. Instead of going to the crowded libraries of Redpath during finals, downtown McGillians can find a change of scenery in the Macdonald Campus Library and take study breaks by the canal.
The distance between the two campuses may seem daunting, but prospective commuters should take advantage of the shuttle bus that leaves from McGill’s downtown campus. Although it is primarily intended to transport students and staff who have courses at Mac campus, the bus is quite empty at non-peak hours. All that students need to do is get a sticker on their McGill ID card from Service Point, and they can take advantage of the shuttle bus, which, by the way, has Wi-Fi.
Groups from both locations are attempting to dissolve the boundaries between the two campuses. The McGill Farmers’ Market brings produce from Mac campus downtown in the summer and fall to sell to students at a low price; the geography and environment student associations organized an apple picking trip at the arboretum this fall. Initiatives such as these are important because they provide occasions for downtown natives to interact with Mac campus and participate in activities that are not possible to hold downtown. Students may feel hesitant about visiting Mac campus alone; however, when McGill hosts events that highlight the unique attractions of Mac, newcomers may like what they see and visit more often.
Downtown students should reap the benefits of both campuses and visit Mac at least once in their university careers. The services and scenery offered by Mac campus can broaden a downtown student’s university experience and provide a natural retreat from the hectic downtown core. Student societies could allow students of the other campus to pay membership fees to Macdonald campus, or create more initiatives to bring students together. Mac and downtown campuses should not feel like mutually exclusive worlds; this idea prevents students from exploring all that McGill has to offer.