Student Life

50 years later: Re-examining the past

A closer look at the role of student journalism in the SGW Affair

With the Sir George Williams Affair, one tends to think about the riots, the violence and the destruction of property, amongst other things. The Affair took place between Jan. 29 and Feb. 11, 1969, when students overtook the seventh and ninth floor computer centres in the Hall building. The students occupied the centres to protest anti-black racism in classrooms. It started as a peaceful protest, but turned violent after the riot police got involved, and was later classified as the largest student occupation in Canadian history. According to CBC, about 200 students occupied the computer centre for roughly two weeks, and on the day of the police riot, 97 arrests were made.

Most accounts of the events that took place focus on the occupation, the involvement of the police, and the destruction of the computer centre that resulted in $2 million worth of damage. While we can expect there to be more to the story than what’s available, what most often don’t consider the integral role that student journalism played in the SGW Affair. The Georgian, the student newspaper at the time, was there from the beginning, covering the events leading up to the Affair, giving readers a more complete version of what happened.

A pop-up exhibition in the CJ building’s media gallery is a continuation of the Protest and Pedagogy event series. Photo by Victoria Blair

As a continuation of the Protest and Pedagogy event series that was held from Jan. 30 to Feb 16, a pop-up exhibition in the media gallery of the CJ building on the Loyola campus offers a glimpse into these events from a different and more personal perspective.

“It was a very important part of the whole process,” said Christiana Abraham, curator of the pop-up exhibition and a Communications Studies professor at Concordia. “It played an important role in mediating and reporting on what was going on during the occupation, and before the occupation started.” The Georgian acted as a platform to send a clear message to large numbers of students, similar to today’s social media. Its writers were authorized to go in and out of the occupied spaces, allowing them to report on the events as they were happening.

This archival material included a lot more information than the mainstream press; it often offered more details and context about what was really happening. Our perception and remembrance of the events might have been different if the mainstream press had included these details.

The SGW Affair took place between Jan. 29 and Feb. 11, 1969. Photo by Victoria Blair.

“It offered a different narrative of the events,” said Abraham. “It’s given us other kinds of truths and representations as compared to the historical narrative that we have.” The representation of the events portrayed by the mainstream press did not include many truths like this. They did not accurately portray the students and their frustration, the solidarity between them and the strong female roles that came out during the event.

“The mainstream press made it out to appear as if it was a very racialized event, between black and white,” added Abraham. “But when you start looking through these archives, you come to see that there was a lot more solidarity than we have come to know.” The Georgian published the names of all 97 students who were arrested and went on to add how a majority of the students arrested were white. These 97 names included the names of some of the women involved in the Affair. One of the women arrested was Anne Cools, one of the protesters who later became the first Black person to be appointed to the Canadian Senate.

“I was really impressed with the professionalism of the student press at the time,” said Abraham. “Even fifty years later, they are a very important source for us. They gave us an inside view of what was going on that the mainstream press didn’t offer.” The pop-up gallery presents visitors with a new and more intimate perspective on the events that took place 50 years ago. The CJ building media gallery is open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until March 29.

Student Life

Reopening a heartfelt chapter from the past

Moe’s diner finds a new home in the CJ basement

When I was a kid, I spent most of my time in the basement of a 60s-style diner behind the Old Forum. My days consisted of playing “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls on the jukeboxes on repeat, riding around the block in one of the regular customer’s cabs, and mixing coffee, ketchup, pancake mix—anything I could get my hands on—together in a giant bowl. I called it a potion and begged my dad’s staff to have a taste.

The Corner Snack Bar—dubbed Moe’s—was opened by a man named Moe Sweigman in 1958. It was purchased by my grandparents, Vasiliki and Petros Thomas, 20 years later. For decades, the 24-hour greasy spoon served as an after-game pitstop for the Habs, whose home arena was located just across the street before they moved to the Bell Centre in 1996.

Eddy Thomas, father of Katelyn Thomas, in the 90s. Photo by Lee Jenkinson.

The Thomas’s eldest son, Eddy, dropped out of school at 15 to work at the diner full time. Eventually, a woman from Ontario named Lee was hired as a waitress. After a few years of bickering, the two fell in love and went on to have two children: my brother and me.

My grandparents passed the diner down to my dad in the 90s, and it’s where my parents worked for the better half of my life. It was everything to me; everything to us. Customers at Moe’s were as intrinsically tied to us as our family members. Even now, after all these years, they remain threaded into my memory like quirky, lovable characters from a Disney film.

I cried when employees quit. I cried when employees were fired (actually, the first time my parents told me they fired someone, I thought they meant they set him on fire). My mom used to say that when customers I didn’t like tried to talk to me, I’d just swivel around on my stool to face the opposite direction. I also apparently used to command customers to “talk” if they wore CHOM 97.7 apparel, in an attempt to recognize their voices, since the station served as the soundtrack to Moe’s until aux cords became a thing.

The diner meant so much to so many people. For some, it was a 3 a.m. poutine pitstop after a drunken night on the town. For others, it was where they brought a first date whose heart they would go on to claim forever; a place where you could bump into actors who were in town to shoot a movie; even a refuge during the Ice Storm of 1998 and the Dawson College shooting in 2006. For me, it was a go-to hangout, bottomless fries, Yiayia’s unrivaled tzatziki, and my first (and longest) full-time job. But above all, it was home.

Eddy, Katelyn and Justin Thomas (left to right). Photo by Lee Jenkinson.

When times got tough and we had to close in December 2015, it felt like I was losing part of my soul. My mom passed away six years prior to that, so it also felt like I was losing yet another part of her. A chapter of my life closed forever, and it still feels like I’m being stabbed in the heart when I drive by its former location to find a trendy café in its place.

Nowadays, Moe’s crosses my mind every so often, like when I come across an old photograph I haven’t seen in a while. But for the most part, it’s been compartmentalized into a part of my brain labelled “this hurts too much to think about.”

Since the diner’s closing, I’ve taken on a few different jobs, but most of my time has been devoted to the journalism degree I’m pursuing at Concordia. As a journalism student, I spend a lot of time in the CJ building on the Loyola campus. Last fall, as I was walking down the hallway that leads to the tunnel connecting CJ to the SP building, I looked up and stopped dead in my tracks. Hanging there on the wall was a 7UP sign that read “CASSE-CROUTE DU COIN RESTAURANT.” It took a second, but then it hit me: I know this sign. It used to hang above the window outside my diner.

It’s hard to put how I felt in that moment into words, but for the most part I was overcome with a distinct feeling of warmth that I’ve never experienced before. It might be comparable to bumping into an old friend you haven’t seen in years, whose whereabouts you were entirely unaware of up until your paths happened to cross again. A twist of fate.

Of all the places on earth this sign could have ended up, it so happened to be in a building where I spend most of my days. Moe’s lives on forever in the hearts of everyone who frequented it over the years, but also in the basement of Concordia’s CJ building. Somehow, three years later, it made its way back to me.

Exit mobile version