The bad omens of Fall 2019

We all remember the day we heard about the samosa ban. The news rocked all of our worlds; we had been robbed of our beloved, cheap campus snack. But the ban was not the first of bad news on campus in the Fall of 2019. Reflecting on this particular semester—the last to be unaffected by COVID-19—I realize now that the samosas were one of three terrible omens of what was to come just a few short months later. 

Let’s rewind a bit. The first event that indicated the coming doom was the closure of the Arts Lounge and the subsequent decline of Bar des Arts (BdA) as a central social location on campus. I remember when I heard this news in the summer of 2019. After having just finished my first year at McGill, an experience that was defined in large part by being a BdA staff member, the thought of not spending my Thursday evenings in the basement of Leacock serving beers was difficult for me to wrap my head around. I chose to remain optimistic, but this hope later proved to be naive.

I barely had time to process the absence of BdA before even more devastating news struck the McGill community: Selling samosas had been banned on campus. Samosas, a uniting force, a delicious treat, a shining light on a dark day, were no longer there to make our days. We had been robbed of the savoury, spicy glue that held our large and often flimsy campus community together. Surely, it could not get any worse than this. 

Although I was disappointed that my second year experience would be different from what I had envisioned, I remembered that Gerts was set to reopen in December 2019. Knowing that my BdA experiences could be replaced by good times spent at a different beloved student bar relieved my mourning. I had never experienced a night at Gerts, but from the excitement of my upper-year friends I could tell that it would be worth the wait.

Of course, this dream too was crushed. An Oct. 28 email from SSMU announced yet another delay in re-opening the University Centre. I was disappointed, of course—the dream of having a go-to social spot on campus that was not the Redpath Café was becoming more and more unrealistic. To consider Blues Pub as an alternative would go against my BdA roots.

Undoubtedly, there was good news in the Fall of 2019 that eased some of the pain. One example was the surprise that Première Moisson, with its overpriced snacks and bad coffee, was replaced with better food options. More importantly, McGill did the bare minimum and finally changed the racist men’s varsity team name after months of protests led by Indigenous students.

While it is nice to focus on the bright side, let’s face it: Things suck right now, and we should let ourselves mourn what once was. The reality is, most students are missing campus life and are fondly looking back on the months before the pandemic flipped our worlds upside-down. However, as we reflect, we should remember that even before March 2020, a certain kind of McGill student culture was already on the decline. We can understand now that the trifecta of BdA closure, samosa ban, and the Gerts delay was only a taste of what was to come.

Hopefully, one day, we will be able to attend campus social gatherings and eat old samosas without washing our hands beforehand. It will be a beautiful day, but it must not be taken for granted. McGill students deserve to experience the vibrant campus community that slipped away from us in the Fall of 2019, hopefully with the same traditions that shaped the campus culture for which McGill was once known.

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