The popular St. Patrick’s Day celebration on Ezra Street has become a tradition of sorts for students in the Kitchener–Waterloo area.
However, after 7,000 students flooded Ezra Street last year — exceeding the street limit of 2,100 according to Waterloo Regional Police Services (WRPS) — stakeholders in the area have been thinking of ways to better control the crowds and increase safety for both residents and those looking to enjoy the festivities.
Nick Manning, University of Waterloo director of media relations and issues management, said the city “spearheaded” the initiative, teaming up with UW (including Feds), WLU, WRPS, and EMS. The St. Patrick’s Day tent was held at the parking lot of the KW Granite Club along Seagram Drive, behind the UWP residences. Its purpose was to offer an alternative celebration to the festivities on Ezra Street.
Besides safety, Manning said the main goal was to address “the challenges posed by having so many people in a big open space.”
The police and the University of Waterloo consider the tent party a success. Approximately 3,000 students attended the sold-out event.
The city and police department’s primary concern was the safety of the patrons enjoying the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
“The idea behind another venue was to offer a licensed event for people to attend in a secured and controlled area rather than having them on Ezra Street, which is not a licensed location, placing residents at risk. We don’t want to stop anybody from enjoying St. Patrick’s Day, but want to make sure they do it in a safe fashion,” said WRPS communications co-ordinator Alana Holtom.
Manning expressed similar sentiments, saying: “The first priority for everybody here is the safety of students … The purpose of the initiative was to bring together all the stakeholders in the community to find ways we could provide a safer environment for celebrations.”
The tent party directly reduced pedestrian traffic on Ezra Street from the 7,000 people, last year’s figure, to about 3,000 during the peak of the day (2 to 4 p.m.) on Monday, WRPS announced.
WRPS reported 24 cases of vandalism, five alcohol-related arrests, while EMS responded to 15 St. Patrick’s Day related calls — all down significantly from last year’s numbers. “There are still issues occurring, but when you consider the large scale of the event, we consider it a success,” Holtom said.
“I did not hear any problems. From all accounts, I heard the party was well attended and a safe environment for people to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day,” Manning said.
“We found how wonderful the kids are that go to the university. They’re very respectful and responsive. And generally we didn’t have issues. If the event is going to expand we want it to expand in a lawful, safe way. Nothing to do with affecting the university culture, just want to make sure we plan for it,” Holtom said.
When asked to comment on criticisms that the police had over-exaggerated the likelihood of a riot, Holtom said that they didn’t expect one. However “[their] job is to identify and plan for the worst case scenario… We’ve seen other instances such as in London where St. Patrick’s Day did result in a riot, so it’s nothing personal against our own community.”
Funding-wise, the University of Waterloo contributed $5,000 to the joint initiative according to Manning. The City of Waterloo contributed $15,000.
The police will release the details regarding costs and resources spent on St. Patrick’s Day next week, including a door-to-door campaign that was conducted last Tuesday evening, as police, fire, and bylaw distributed flyers with recommended safety tips.
Manning said that although it’s early, the success of this year’s event will mostly likely mean students can expect the tent to be part of next year’s celebrations.