Nova Scotia

Wolfville tries new tactic to end unruly off-campus parties

COVID-19 restrictions appear to mean more students at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., are gathering to socialize off-campus this year, according to police, and nearby residents are trying new tactics to keep a lid on loud parties.

Long-time residents joined mayor and university officials on door-to-door expedition to party houses

Representatives from Acadia University are working with the mayor and residents to head off unruly house parties thrown by students off campus. (Robert Short/CBC)

COVID-19 restrictions appear to have led to more students at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., gathering to socialize off-campus this year, according to police, and nearby residents are trying new tactics to keep a lid on loud parties.

Over the weekend, Nova Scotia RCMP issued 27 liquor act tickets and two noise bylaw tickets, in addition to some parking tickets, said Cpl. Jennifer Clarke. 

The number of tickets isn't unusual for this time of year, but the location of the parties is, she said. Wolfville is one of the few university communities in Nova Scotia where students are still going to some in-person classes during the pandemic. 

"We find that there are a lot more get-togethers with students that are off-campus and sort of decentralized from the university, so they're kind of migrating out into the residences or the residential areas of the community where students live," Clarke told CBC's Mainstreet on Monday. 

Bob Lutes has lived in a neighbourhood near campus for more than 40 years. 

He's been trying to find a way to co-exist with students for years, and has a new approach this fall — going door-to-door with some big names in town. 

On Sept. 14 he and his wife joined Peter Ricketts, president of Acadia University, Mayor Jeff Cantwell as well as the president of the Acadia Students' Union to visit about half a dozen known party houses. 

COVID-19 restrictions appear to mean more Acadia University students are gathering off-campus this year, according to police, and nearby residents are trying new tactics to keep a lid on loud parties. 19:10

"We got different reactions from different students," Lutes told CBC's Mainstreet. "But I think they were impressed by the fact that the president of the university would go door to door and the mayor, which clearly indicates the fact there is a big problem."

Jeff Cantwell, mayor of Wolfville, joined Bob Lutes earlier this month to speak with students about partying respectfully. (Robert Short/CBC)

Lutes said he's not against parties, but sometimes the festivities go too far.

"It's not just the party. It's somebody who walks out the next morning and finds broken glass behind her car. She's 80 years old and she can't take her car out of the driveway," he said.

He's eager to find a solution by speaking with students directly rather than having to call the police, he added. 

"I'm coming to the conclusion that what we really need is somehow for students to better understand the impact they have on residents and their mental health and their physical health and their right to enjoy their property," Lutes said.

Resident says he was forced to move

Mark Pearce knows what Lutes is going through. It was homecoming weekend in 2018 that finally drove him and his family to move from a home they bought in 2007 to a quieter part of town.

He said there was a party on a Saturday afternoon that year that attracted 300 to 400 people to his neighbourhood.

"When the loud drunken behaviour and the language and the noise and the public urination and all the things that come along with those types of wild parties were going on, we felt like we were basically prisoners in our own homes," said Pearce, who has two young boys.

He said September and October are always prime party season, but it seemed to be getting worse as more homes were bought by landlords and rented to students. 

He estimates he called the police 20 times between 2018 and 2019, but said nothing was ever done, and last summer his family decided to move. 

Mark Pearce said he tried to talk with students about the loud and destructive parties, but it never helped the situation. (Mark Pearce)

Brendan MacNeil, president of the Acadia Students Union, said he's working closely with residents like Lutes and believes the majority of students are listening, especially now with concerns about spreading the virus. 

"There are still a small amount of students that go on regardless and what those reasons may be, I'm unsure, but I am certainly disappointed to see it," he said.  

Still, MacNeil stressed that most university students are respectful neighbours who volunteer in their community and want to be a part of the town. 

He's lived off campus for three years and is no stranger to the parties Lutes is concerned about. 

Wolfville is one of the few university communities in Nova Scotia where students are still going to some in-person classes during the pandemic.  (Robert Short/CBC)

"I think it's unfair to the degree that students have been ubiquitously convicted of all being, you know, disrespectful and unconcerned and apathetic community members. I believe that there are only a very small minority of students that that would apply to," he said. 

MacNeil thinks the best way forward is for residents and students to have frank conversations like they did at doorsteps earlier this month.

A spokesperson for Acadia University said the university appreciates the partnership with residents and the town in trying to find a solution to the party problem. 

"Together, we can help those few students who act out occasionally to be better, more respectful neighbours," Sherri Turner said in an emailed statement.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet

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