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The Grey Nuns reading room reopens for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic

The working space located in an old chapel is one of Concordia’s gems 

A hidden gem, the working space is barely occupied and a great silence reigns the grounds. Upon entrance, every little movement is echoed inside the massive church. The great height of the ceilings provide a sense of liberty and space to let one’s ideas wander. One can study at the working spaces at either corner of the church, or even on the altar. 

The Grey Nuns reading room reopened its doors to students after being closed throughout the pandemic. Located at 1190 Guy St., this working space provides a quiet hub away from the chaos of the city. The reading room is the former chapel of the mother house of the order of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, also known as the “Grey Nuns.” 

Lorrie Edmonds, a monitor at the reading room, says she enjoys working in that space for its peaceful and awe-inspiring aspect but also for its rich history.

“The Grey Nuns reading room is also a Heritage Canada designated space,” said Edmonds. “So I also see our monitor duties as being stewards of this amazing space that’s been preserved since the 1800s. There is a lot of history to this space.” 

The edifice was built by the Grey Nuns order, a Catholic monastic order, in 1871 and acquired by Concordia in 2007 to turn it into a student residence at a time where the demand for apartments and inflation rose and students needed a living space downtown. When the last nuns left, the question of what to do with the chapel arose.

“The chapel was available and deconsecrated,” explained Edmonds. “Many businesses submitted proposals about what they would do with the chapel space […] Heritage Canada approved Concordia’s proposal to maintain the peace of the chapel itself to create a reading room. It was minimally invasive to the structure itself.” 

Beyond its grandeur, the deconsecrated appropriation of the chapel is both attractive and revolutionary. It allows us to conceive places of worship as historical artifacts, where new ways of life can take place, adapted to our times.

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Montreal’s nightlife returns, high schools inch closer to normalcy

Following a 19-month shutdown, karaoke bars and nightclubs reopen in all of Quebec

On Nov. 15, dancing and karaoke singing became part of Montreal’s nightlife once again as Santé Québec continues to ease COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, high school students in the city are no longer required to wear a face mask while seated in a classroom.

Karaoke bars and dance floors were forced to close in March 2020 and experienced a longer shutdown across Quebec than in most Canadian provinces and U.S. states. 19 months later, the long-awaited reopening has brought mixed results for Montreal’s nightlife.

La Muse karaoke bar, located near Concordia’s SGW campus, has yet to witness its usual, pre-pandemic volume of customers. Having worked at the establishment for nearly five years, Jack Yu said the reopening did not result in a full house of excited singers.

“It’s hard for us. We were the first ones ordered to be closed, and now we’re the last ones who are able to reopen — it’s been financially challenging all along,” said Yu in an interview with The Concordian. “We had a lot of Asian customers for karaoke, and many of these [international] students went back home, got locked down in Asia and just couldn’t come back,” he explained.

Yu also suggested that some may still be hesitant to attend such venues as the pandemic continues, adding that “the business is still taking a big hit despite being reopened.”

However, nightclubs witnessed a vibrant scene on St. Laurent Blvd. and downtown on Friday night, with hundreds of university students eager to step on the dance floor. While physical dystancing is not required inside the venues because of the vaccine passport system, Health Minister Christian Dubé made it clear that face coverings must still be worn while dancing.

Rocco Balboni, manager of the Jet Nightclub on Crescent St., said the first dancing night since the COVID-19 lockdown was largely successful for both the clients and the business.

“It was a full house and the experience has been the same as during pre-COVID days. Of course we try to enforce the mask rule, but other than that, it’s back to normal,” he said.

When asked about the unpredictability of COVID-19 and pandemic-related restrictions, Balboni noted, “We’ll take it one day at a time and thrive to push forward. That’s been our philosophy since day one, and we’ll keep going in that direction.”

High school students have also been included in the latest wave of easing restrictions, since wearing a face mask in classrooms is no longer mandatory while seated. Ora Bar, a Concordia University journalism student, has a sister who witnessed the rule changes first-hand as a Secondary 5 student at Chateauguay’s Louis-Philippe-Paré school.

“My younger sister feels quite comfortable with the new rules, and she knows that pretty much everyone is vaccinated. Her classmates already took off masks for eating in classrooms before, so she believes the risk has almost remained the same,” said Bar.

Around 85 per cent of her sister’s classmates now attend classes without a face mask. “She said the remaining students who aren’t yet comfortable with taking off their mask aren’t obliged to do so, but those who make this choice — like herself — now have a chance to live normally again,” Bar explained.

Masks still remain mandatory in elementary schools, as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged five to 11 was only approved by Health Canada on Nov. 19. Dubé announced that Quebec aims to administer one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to every child in this age category by Christmas. 

Meanwhile, Quebec Premier François Legault suggested that “most [public health] measures will disappear” for everyone in the province by early 2022, if the children’s vaccination rate reaches 80 per cent.

 

Photograph by Catherine Reynolds

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The U.S./Canada land border is re-opening: Here’s what that means

Some hopeful travelers say that the opportunity to cross the U.S./Canada land border should have happened a while ago

The world’s longest undefended land border will re-open to fully vaccinated Canadians for non-essential travel on Nov. 8.

The land border between Canada and the United States first closed on March 20, 2020. After 19 months, those with American friends and family or those just looking to get some cross-border shopping done will now be able to cross the land border.

The news was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Breanna Sherman, 23, normally visits her family in Florida once a year for the holidays, but border closures have barred her from doing so.

“This December, it will have been two years since we last saw them,” said Sherman.

Among the family who Sherman has missed is her cousin’s newborn daughter, born in May 2020, which the pandemic has kept her from meeting.

“I hoped I would see her in December of 2020, but that didn’t happen,” said Sherman. “When I eventually meet her now, she’ll be one and a half, not even a baby anymore, which is sad.”

“It will be fun to not only be in Florida for the first time in two years, but also continue that tradition of driving and sitting in the car with my family for two days.”

Michelle Lam, 22, says that although she’s enthusiastic about visiting the U.S. again, the lineups she expects at the border are worrying.

“I feel like it’s going to be chaos at the border,” said Lam. “I’m kind of nervous about it.”

While air travel into the United States has remained open to Canadians with proof of a negative COVID-19 test administered three days before they travel, some feel that driving is a more affordable and easier alternative.

“Not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford to fly. It’s just more accessible to everyone that wants to travel,” said Sherman.

Lam shares Sherman’s sentiment, saying “I feel very safe travelling by land, because it’s me and my car driving across the border as opposed to flying in the States, where I have to go through an airport and sit in a tube with however many people for X amount of hours.”

Before travellers get ready to hop over the border for a weekend, there are a few details to pay attention to.

All travellers, whether coming in by land, sea, or air, must be fully vaccinated in order to enter the United States and are required to show their proof of vaccination.

After speculation, the United States confirmed that travelers with  a combination of either FDA-approved doses, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen, or those approved by the World Health Organization, which include AstraZeneca, are considered fully vaccinated.

Travelers arriving by land or sea — that is by car, bus, boat, ferry or train — from the United States must provide proof of a negative PCR test taken 72 hours of their expected arrival into Canada.

The news of the re-opening did not come without criticism from hopeful travelers.

“It really makes no sense to me that it’s taken the U.S. this long to open the border,” said Sherman. “Not only are our vaccination rates way higher, but they could have just asked for proof of vaccination and a recently negative Covid test.”

The Canadian government reopened its land border to U.S. travelers in early August. As it currently stands, 74 per cent of Canadians are considered fully vaccinated, compared to 57 per cent of Americans.

Lily Cowper is a dual-citizen of the U.S. and Canada. She has flown to Florida and Virginia twice to visit her family since May 2021. Her travels did not come without complications.

“Everytime I went, there was so much drama,” said Cowper.

Cowper said that the cost and requirements for COVID-19 tests made visiting her family in the U.S. a cyclical headache.

“Every time I went back and forth, I had to pay hundreds of dollars extra and had to change my flight,” Cowper explained.

Cowper and her boyfriend went to visit her family in Virginia in September. After taking multiple tests to ensure they received results in time for their return flight to Canada, the test that did come on time contained a lab error. As a result, they were turned away from their flight.

Cowper says that she and her boyfriend each paid the equivalent of $300 CAD to receive a last-minute airport test to re-enter Canada.

“I’m happy that they’re finally opening up [the land border] and I hope they drop the testing requirement,” said Cowper.

The option to cross the land border into the U.S. without proof of a negative COVID-19 test is a cost-effective decision that Cowper says should have happened a while ago.

“It’s about time. Why are we constantly living in the past if we’re vaccinated?”

For Cowper, the opportunity to get in her car and drive to the U.S. could not come sooner. She says that the re-introduction of a more simplified way of travelling from one country to another is necessary.

“This whole two years has been so complicated, the rules are always changing, they don’t make sense,” Cowper added. “All I want to do is visit my family.”

 

Graphic by James Fay

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