A 1995 London Free Press headline reads: “Neighbours are fed up with their antics.”
“And they want the University of Western Ontario do something about it,” it continues.
Then-president of the Broughdale Community Association Susan Bentley appears in the article, petitioning the University to implement a Student Code of Conduct to curb raucous street-partying along the notoriously student-populated neighbourhood.
Almost 20 years and 10,000 students later, the few long-term Broughdale residents that remain finally got their wish.
Hemmed by the Thames River on 3 sides and extending south to Huron Street, the Broughdale neighbourhood is perhaps London’s most culturally relevant. Symbolizing the decades-long, symbiotic endurance of both the city and Western, Broughdale has stood as a tenacious party mascot for years.
Before the competitive day drinking and rooftop ambling however, Broughdale had its suburban halcyon days. From the 1940s until the late ‘70s, a typical Broughdale weekend meant barbecues, block parties (no not that kind of block party), going to church on Sunday, and the unsullied sound of children’s laughter ringing in the streets.
While Broughdale today is far from a burning hellscape of student anarchy, roughly 90% of housing in Broughdale is now student owned and its name evokes an almost sinful connotation among most – so what happened to the Johnsons?
“In the late ‘70s, it was something like 11% of houses were landlord-owned,” says Bentley. “But then in the ‘80s that changed.”
In 1986, Ontario premier David Peterson’s Liberal government passed the Residential Rent Act which outlined a wide array of housing policies and stipulations. The one of most concern to the then-quaint Broughdale neighbourhood being a new law that permitted many homes previously limited to being single-family residences to rent to multiple unrelated tenants.
“Then [student housing] kind of exploded,” explains Bentley. “Parents started buying houses, landlords started buying houses and the community changed significantly because of that.”
Yet while Bentley, a long-time resident in the neighbourhood and an active community member, appreciates that many students can be perfectly neighbourly, the constant change can get tiring.
“I had some young men living down the road who used to borrow a chicken roaster from me and so on,” she says with a laugh. “But next year they were gone, and you start all over again.”
It’s a sobering dilemma, and one whose effects can be seen in the fabric of Broughdale today. Unlike other student neighbourhoods in London, Broughdale feels the most like a real neighbourhood. A community where children were raised, where people grew old together. The wide roads and suburban planning belie a deeper a notion of community – one that exists only superficially today.
“It was always a lovely neighbourhood because it was mixed,” explains Bentley. “It wasn’t one of those grand, gated communities.”
Despite the demographic overhaul the community has experienced over the years, Bentley is adamant that Broughdale is still like the neighbourhood of yore in many ways.
“It’s still a great place to live,” says Bentley. “We are so close to so many good things, including the university itself. Our neighbourhood has access to all the amenities of the university nearby.”
Her 7-year tenure as president of the BCA in the 1980s occurred at the outset of the student housing debate in Broughdale – an argument that has stubbornly persisted for decades since. While the association, as a collective of long-term Broughdale residents, stood firmly against the new changes there’s little animosity to be gleaned from the record books.
A 1991 entry in the BCA’s official Chronology outlines the “discovery of a sorority house at 222 Broughdale Ave. – in restricted area!” Outside of this (albeit comical) imagery and a smattering of other administrative notes, the BCA’s stance against rampant student housing has always been neatly kept and was rarely ravenous.
Pinpointing the exact start of Homecoming festivities on Broughdale is however, a less clear-cut task. While the event’s turnout and immense media coverage seem to hint at a storied history of long-standing tradition, the street party’s inception is rooted in rebellion.
The events of 2013’s homecoming festivities were certainly a contributing cause.
“That was the year when Project LEARN was in full effect,” recalls Bentley.
Project LEARN (Liquor Enforcement and Reduction of Noise), a London police initiative, was one of the city’s primary responses to curtailing the rampant street partying that ravaged both the city, and Western’s reputation.
“The police introduced a zero-tolerance policy against open drinking, explain Bentley. “It was a pretty stringent program; the police would take no apologies or arguments they would just ticket people.”
While the program, aimed at controlling Fake Homecoming celebrations, still exists under laxer attitudes, that year’s response was the subject of intense national media scrutiny.
“The [Mustang] cheerleaders were there, and they started performing and they were ticketed by the police.” says Bentley.
Max Gow, captain of the Mustang cheerleaders that year was indeed ticketed $140 for “causing a nuisance in the street by conducting a cheerleading performance”. Homecoming of that year was attended by a 2000 to 3000 students and this particular mishap received coverage from most national news outlets.
The University Students’ Council almost immediately released a statement condemning the ticketing and the student body united against a perennial enemy. Their partying fervor was thus reinvigorated, and Homecoming celebrations have continued stronger ever since.
Dangerously high ambulance response times and fire hazards galore, Fake Homecoming has become as important a culture staple as the Broughdale neighbourhood itself – at least to students that is.
Thus, given its overall enormity, even Bentley with her years of experience in the neighbourhood treats the beast more like a necessary evil than a pandemic.
“I think we have this big, big bash in September and everything seems to go relatively quiet,” explains Bentley. “So maybe it’s an outlet that prevents other stuff from happening. I don’t know how we stop it or control it because it’s a social media thing.”