“There’s people! It’s working!” An organizer of Dal’s officially sanctioned 2023 homecoming party—HoCo—celebrated students and guests who showed up to the university’s free festivities on campus Saturday, Oct. 7.
A Dalhousie spokesperson says as many as 1,500 students, alumni, faculty and staff came to the school-sponsored event, which included a Dal Tigers football game, party-music DJs in the Studley Campus quad, a licensed drinking area and food trucks.
A full and cheering grandstand at Wickwire Field watched the Dal Tigers football team win 32-23 over the visiting Holland College Hurricanes under threatening storm clouds.
Behind a chained fence, students, guests, alumni and HoCo organizers stood around the concrete beer garden for legal drinking on campus—IDs and bags checked at the entrance. Contracted security guards watched from the corners. Two DalSAFE staffers and a Dal Security guard moved between the drinking and non-drinking zones at the game.
This year, for the first time, there were two HoCo weekends: the one hosted by Dal in an effort to mitigate illegal street parties that have been a problem since 2017, and an illegal street party led by students. Dal planned their on-campus celebration during the Thanksgiving long weekend, when many students are away. While officially dubbed “HoCo” by the university, students instead partied-like-HoCo the week prior, on Sunday Oct. 1., in what they named “FoCo”—fake homecoming.
A video posted from FoCo, AKA the real HoCo, makes it clear which party was bigger. The earlier weekend saw a crowd of 3,000 people from Preston Street to Payzant Street, near the Studley Campus, said police. “As was seen last year,” read an HRP statement, “many participants were intoxicated, climbing trees, damaging property, causing disturbances and fights were occurring within the large crowd.”
Police handed out 93 public drinking tickets, and three tickets related to driving. One driver received a DUI. They also made two arrests. According to police, “an 18-year-old was arrested for assaulting an officer, and a replica firearm and sensory irritant were seized.” The man is scheduled to appear in Halifax provincial court at a later date to face multiple charges. Police say a 19-year-old man was arrested in a separate incident for assaulting another man in the crowd. He is scheduled to appear in provincial court at a later date to face one count of assault.
In response, 14 residents from the neighbourhood where the street party happened wrote an open letter to Dal president Kim Brooks, Halifax mayor Mike Savage and Halifax Regional Police chief Don MacLean the following Monday, Oct. 2.
The letter called Sunday’s gathering “another disappointment and a far different response than was conveyed to our community from your institutional representatives we've met with over the past several months.”
The letter’s signees ask for a meeting with Brooks, Savage and MacLean “in order for community members to share our perspectives of this event and to learn more about the short-comings of your preparations for this year…and how we can work together to avoid another similar party next weekend,” when Dal was planning its version of HoCo. Holiday HoCo, we might call it, if Uncool-Dal-Sponsored-HoCo is too unweildy, or too true.
Perhaps in response to the neighbours’ letter of disappointment, dozens of Halifax police officers stood end-to-end on Jennings Street between Larch and Preston Streets the Thanksgiving weekend of HoHoCo. The party that day was significantly smaller than the weekend prior, at real HoCo. Only a handful of students passed by, and none lingered for long.
Three police cruisers, an SUV and a wagon stayed parked on the edges from noon till midnight. An officer told The Coast a post had gone up on social media Saturday saying simply: “Jennings at 1:30.” Officers said “a street party will not be happening today”—and they would stay in place until midnight to make sure of that. As the football game broke up on campus around 4pm, students clad in Dal's gold and black colours walked the nearby streets—followed by cops on bikes—and dispersed towards the free concert held at the Garrison Grounds downtown.
In an email to The Coast, HRP’s public information officer said “on Saturday [Oct. 7] we deployed significant resources in multiple areas of Halifax in relation to both planned events and informal student gatherings. There were no criminal arrests in relation to the events and officers issued approximately 10 summary offence tickets for violations of the Liquor Control Act.”
The officer wrote that “similar deployments were used on the previous Sunday [Oct. 1] and in the past. Each situation is looked at with the information available at the time and we adjust our resources accordingly,” and that “Officers were in the area at all three dates prior to the arrival of most of the students,” meaning both 2023 HoCo weekends and the HoCo party in 2022.
To recap, this year there were two HoCo weekends. But one had a street party with 3,000 students, and the second had a street full of police and no students.
So, why such different outcomes if the police presence was the same for both? Did the first HoCo weekend stifle the spirit of the second?
Did Dal mess up HoCo by breaking tradition?
Every year before Thanksgiving, students flood a short section of Jennings Street between Larch Street and Preston Street. Why? Because it’s right beside Dal’s Studley campus and many of the houses on those streets are divided into student apartments. Some single-detached homes have as many as 16 students living inside them. Another reason is because it’s become a yearly tradition that thousands of students celebrate near the start of their university life.
Dal has known about this tradition since 2017 when the HoCo party turned what CTV calls “rowdy.” In previous years, the university has emailed students warning them against having unsanctioned HoCo street parties.
Rick Ezekiel, the vice-provost of student affairs who planned Dal’s recent official HoCo, wrote a letter in 2022 addressed to students and Dal’s neighbours.
To the students, it said: “We have learned that a large unsanctioned ‘HoCo’ street party is being planned off campus the weekend of Sept. 23-24. Through its Instagram account, Canadian Party Life is making efforts to cultivate and profit from a toxic party lifestyle and competition among Canadian university students, including Dalhousie students. This includes the orchestration and promotion of large, illegal street parties. We want to be clear: organizing and attending an unsanctioned and illegal street party is unacceptable, given our responsibilities of kindness and respect to our shared Halifax community and fellow members of our Dalhousie community.”
The letter recommends ways for students to celebrate HoCo without street parties, saying: ”You can register for activities happening around campus and within the community. Also please consider joining in one of the conversations being organized by Student Affairs and Dalhousie Student Union [to] create new traditions at Dalhousie.”
To the neighbours of Dal who have watched HoCo happen on their doorsteps for five years, the letter says: “Our integrated response team is working to help address and mitigate the potential impacts of this party and this is being done in partnership with [Halifax Regional Police]—HRP, [Halifax Regional Municipality]—HRM and emergency services. We are designating additional resources required to help keep students and our community safe.”
This is what 2022 HoCo looked like:
The Dalhousie Student Union—the DSU—published their own letter in 2022, in the wake of that year’s 4,000-student HoCo street party in which one person was stabbed and others were injured. It “calls for on-campus Homecoming and action oriented, proactive responses to yearly unsanctioned gatherings” considering the university has ample time to prepare each year.
The letter says that during the summer of 2022, “the DSU participated in several consultations to…outline a plan for mitigating community impact in future years [with] members of Dalhousie Administration and staff, and members of the Dalhousie Student Union. Representatives from Halifax Regional Police and Halifax Regional Municipality were notably absent.”
The letter says after social media influencer group Canadian Party Life announced the date for the off-campus homecoming party, “the DSU reached out to Dalhousie University to propose co-hosting an on-campus sanctioned Homecoming celebration that would feature an outdoor concert, licensed drinking area, and on-campus harm-reduction supports. However, due to funding restrictions from the university, we were unable to host this event.
“In response to the announcement [from Canadian Party Life], Dalhousie University sent campus-wide emails discouraging students from attending the event. This email was intended to warn the campus community of the event, but instead students reported it served as free publicity to those who were unaware of the unsanctioned party and Canadian Party Life prior to these notices.”
Says the DSU letter: “As we move towards Fall 2023, we hope both the City of Halifax and Dalhousie University will work directly with students and neighbours to develop proactive solutions to mitigate the harms of unsanctioned street parties and provide students with safe spaces to gather on campus to minimize disruptions to the surrounding community.” The DSU declined to comment on this year's back-to-back HoCo weekend, saying only that they were not involved in its planning.
Dal created an HRM-Dal task force prior to September 2023 “to facilitate collaboration and coordinated planning from key stakeholders involved in proactive initiatives, and immediate response and safety initiatives to mitigate the impacts of unsanctioned street gatherings in the Halifax South end.
The task-force’s mandate includes an Ad-hoc Security and Public Safety Collaborative Response Group “ who will collaborate in the immediate lead up, during and following an event to support a collaborative response.” This group will use “ a joint-response structure,” and “invite participation from: Halifax Regional Police Patrol and Public Information Office, Dalhousie Security Services and Communications, Marketing & Creative Services Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Emergency Health Services, Halifax Transit, [and] others as needed.”
This is what Dal’s 2023 student-led HoCo, the real HoCo, looked like:
Dal did not comment on whether they considered HoCo mitigated this year. This year, Dal did not send a letter to students condemning HoCo parties while accidentally promoting those same parties—they planned their own.
A spokesperson for Dal said: “The university ensured that all sanctioned events at Dal were equipped with health first response support, and harm-reduction resources. Our own security team was on site as well, alongside a contracted security presence.”
Was their party a week too late?
Dal’s spokesperson said: “We have seen very positive engagement and success in our sanctioned events this year…We know that this complex issue will continue to take multi-level efforts and time to address…. We will take the lessons learned from sanctioned homecoming events and our broader efforts this Fall, in discussion with our partners through the HRM taskforce and those in our Dal community to inform our future efforts.”
Dal’s recent efforts included a “community mural project at Larch Street and Jennings Street in September; the shifting of the Dalhousie Campus Medical Response Team (DMCRT) to “a student-led, university-affiliated service offering medical and mental health first aid to our community during weekends in residence and at large-scale events”; the launch of Dalhousie Care Hubs on campus providing students food and water, medical and mental health first aid; and a shift away from zero-tolerance towards safe-drinking practices in residence included in Dal’s updated Residence Community Living Guide.
While Dal is clearly doing work to mitigate large street parties, it’s difficult to know what would have happened if HoCo had been one weekend instead of two this year. Perhaps the answer lies ahead in 2024.