In Montreal, construction has long since become the rule, rather than the exception. As such, it is fitting that Montreal’s 375th birthday next year is being brought to us by more orange cones, roadblocks, and detours for the construction of the Promenade Urbaine Fleuve-Montagne project. Perhaps it really is time for Montreal to take a recent Montreal Gazette call to rebrand itself as “The City of Cones” seriously. Additionally, given Montreal’s history of behind-schedule construction projects (the Olympic stadium comes to mind), the birthday wish we should all make this year is that the project actually gets completed before the city’s birthday has come and gone.
By virtue of its location, McGill’s downtown campus is often subject to such construction projects. Which leads one to wonder—has the inevitability of a city under construction simply become a part of the student experience? Indeed, Montreal’s endless construction escapades have become a running joke amongst the McGill community. The email sent to explain that McTavish is once again being dug up, this time for the City’s Fleuve-Montagne birthday project (it has been barely a year since the last time it was torn apart), was met with eye rolls, groans, and pitiful laughter from students. But, surely, nobody would have been surprised. In many ways, the never-ending construction site that is McGill’s downtown campus is the best metaphor for the academic experience.
For one, continual roadblocks and detours ensure that students never set their standards too high—both on the way to and seated in class. Construction work is like an average B to B+ essay: It might not be perfectly polished, but it addresses most of what it needs to and shows some signs of effort and improvement. Sure, you may have missed a few points and made a couple mistakes, but the stone on the Arts Building crumbles from time to time and it’s still standing—it even manages to remain one McGill’s most iconic buildings!
During the 2015-2016 year, McTavish was finally clear of construction and freshly paved. It didn’t even flood, and getting to Quesada or Bento was no longer a huge hassle. Even the Arts Building was uncovered last year, and some began to believe that McGill had finally moved beyond the days of decline and disrepair. This was the A essay—the one you get back after working especially hard on and find, to your amazement, that the hard work actually paid off. You build up some confidence—finally, you think to yourself, you have figured out this whole university thing. Maybe you lined up a nice summer job, too, and feel pretty good. Then, just as things seem to be improving, another curveball gets thrown at you. Whether it’s just missing the 24-hour quota to get one of your three successive exams moved, or receiving notice that McTavish is going to be under construction yet again (along with parts of Sherbrooke, University, and Dr. Penfield), McGill and Montreal like to keep you on your toes.
So begins another school year of navigating papers, midterms, and the trenches of McTavish. Inevitably, the elusive pathways across campus will never be in the same place you swore they were yesterday. This, incidentally, explains why you always seem to be late to class. But no matter how frustrating life at McGill can be, one can only hope that it will build character for when we finally have to enter the ‘real world.’
So thank you, McGill, and thank you, Montreal, for never failing to surprise. If nothing else, these detours and roadblocks ensure that our expectations are kept low, allowing us to truly appreciate the small victories. After all, construction does imply that hard work will (eventually) pay off.