Police, with characteristic understatement, call it the Big Party phenomenon. In Calgary, it took police equipped with riot sticks, aided by club-wielding neighbors, to vanquish 200-odd partygoers at a suburban bash. In Edmonton, firefighters had to take refuge behind the Plexiglas windows of their pumper truck after they were attacked by beer-bottle-throwing teens at a “bush party.” In Lethbridge, police battled for six hours and arrested 122 before they got mobs of partygoers cleared out of a riverbank area kids call “the pits.” And in British Columbia, where the party scene is similar, Kelowna RCMP have been pelted with rocks, beer bottles and flying kitchen chairs, North Vancouver RCMP have answered a house call to find $60,000 worth of damage and Delta police have taken in a dog team to end a party.
While a noisy party complaint once meant 30 people and a blaring stereo, Canada’s westernmost provinces have more recently given birth to their own perplexing version of Saturday night fever. Most weekends, hundreds of falling-down drunks, plugged into a grapevine that always knows where the party is, cram suburban houses or throng outdoor recreational areas in scenes that would make the movie Animal House seem tame as a tabby. Neighbors and property owners, faced with trampled lawns and gardens, ripped-down fences and strangers urinating and vomiting on their steps, flood police lines with complaints. The syndrome is shattering neighborhood peace and giving civic and police officials hangover-sized
headaches as they attempt to defuse the puzzling blowouts.
Of course, crowd-gathering spectacles such as rock concerts and Grey Cup festivities have always carried with them the potential for violence—Vancouver’s annual Sea Festival recently exploded, leaving several injured. But the parties plaguing Alberta and B.C. this summer happen more spontaneously. While participants can be as young as 14 or almost middle-aged, the vast majority of partygoers are 18 to 24, and they are brewing on beer, not hard liquor or drugs. Mostly they just get drunk and disorderly.
The distinguishing feature of the parties, says Calgary Crown prosecutor Tudor Beattie, is the defiance with which partygoers greet any attempt to end their fun. “I remember in college having the police come once or twice to tell us to keep it down. We did.” Beattie, head of a three-man unit that has been handed the task of handling all the prosecutions coming out of the Big Party scene in Calgary, has ushered more than 100 charges through court since last fall and has seen fines soar from $25 to $250 and even $400. But despite the police crackdown, the parties go on. Calgary police average 60 calls on weekends. Last month, a neighborhood block party erupted into a bot-
tie-throwing spree for 700. Street cleaners had to be called out in the middle of the night to shovel away the mountains of glass and debris.
Calgary civic officials have moved to restrict permits for block parties. Lethbridge is now discussing setting aside party areas that can be controlled and patrolled. Edmonton stepped up police patrols of riverbank areas after a series of spring blowouts, including one in which 200 kids twice sent a Toyota sailing over a 45-metre precipice. (The car, belonging to a celebrant’s father, survived the first landing; the second time it bounced and crumpled satisfactorily.) In Delta, the increased policing, or maybe the wet weather, has had an effect—there have been fewer wild bashes this summer. “But it runs in cycles,” says Deputy Chief George Angus. “When you have one incident, you get several. Other young people have to live up to the reputation.”
Police around Vancouver, where the city proper doesn’t have a Big Party problem, feel that the parties are an outgrowth of affluent life in bedroom suburbs like North Vancouver, which faces wild parties of up to 200 people every weekend. “They’ve too much time
and too much money,” says RCMP Cpl. Michael Cairns. Lethbridge’s Sgt. Terry Wauters blames declining respect for any law. “We’ve let things go too far. Parents, schools, society—we’ve all given kids too much liberty. There’s a lack of discipline we’ve never seen before.” Others say the lowering of the drinking age in Alberta from 21 to 18 means that kids start drinking earlier and can’t handle the booze.
In the view of Charles Costello, a psychologist at the University of Calgary, “good, healthy anarchy” would be easier to deal with than the “reflex thing” that turns partygoers into savages. He sees the Big Party phenomenon as the reverse side of the Flower Power movement of the ’60s. But whereas ’60s youngsters decided to withdraw from a world they didn’t want to or couldn’t face, the ’80s youngsters are trashing
the world around them. “The usual explanation is that Alberta, with its affluence for some but not all, frustrates young people who come here looking for wealth and don’t find it.” That explains some of the partygoers. The others, Costello says, are the children of the affluent who are uncertain about their own future. “Teen-age years are tumultuous anyway. But when the adults around you are very well off, it’s an added stress. On one hand, what they have is very tempting; on the other, it is fraught with danger. It’s similar to the situation of blacks in the U.S., except we’re dealing with the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum. These kids are frustrated because they can’t get a hold on life so they act out, they destroy.” Costello figures this, too, will pass when the young grow up and find their own place in society. In the meantime, the former flower children, settled down now in suburbia, lie awake in the night hearing the crash of glass and fearing for their flower beds. As Costello says, the ’60s movement was a lot more attractive to the adults who witnessed it than the Big Party phenomenon is to the people whose homes get trashed. <£>
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