It’s 7:30 a.m. on Saturday morning and the parking lot in front of Université Laval’s PEPS Stadium is already bustling with activity.
Laval fan Réal St. Amant said he’d been in the parking lot since 5 a.m. grilling up countless chicken wings and racks of ribs on his trailer-mounted charcoal barbeque for his friends.
He said the tailgate is an essential ingredient in enjoying the football experience in Quebec City.
“We don’t have NHL, so football’s the big thing,” he said. “It’s like Christmas every weekend and we have a party. You meet new people and make new friends. When other schools come to town we say, ‘Hey, come over and join us!’ It’s the football mindset.”
Tailgaters weren’t the only football fans who were up and about before the sun rose. In Kingston, 544 kilometres away from the PEPS, five coach buses filled with students and fans hit the highway at 4:30 a.m.
Chris Lund, ArtSci ’11, who donned a yellow-painted army helmet for the game, said the Vanier Cup was an event he couldn’t miss, adding that he’s been to all but one of the Gaels’ games this season.
“It’s one of those once-in-a-generation things,” he said. “To have this kind of thing happen—I know a lot of people probably don’t appreciate it to the extent that we do, but this is the national championship. This is to be the best in Canada, we’ve got to come out here and support the boys.”
Michaela Trelford, ArtSci ’11, added that the game’s magnitude made the seven-hour bus ride bearable.
“Imagine having this be your university memory,” she said. “Going to the Vanier, winning the Vanier, being there when they win. It’s pretty amazing.”
Of course, the game’s progression dictated the fans excitement. By the end of the first half, the Gaels were down 25-7 to the Calgary Dinos. While there was still hope in the standing area most Queen’s fans were relegated to, the game’s tension led to restlessness.
James Johnson, Sci ’10, had his view impaired by the two teams on the sideline and loudspeakers pointed at the stands.
“It’s pretty ridiculous,” he said. “You pay $85, you show up expecting okay seats, and you get here and you’re looking through a speaker so you can’t see anything on the field at all.”
On whether he felt the trip was worth it, he had a simple answer after glancing at the scoreboard, showing an 18-point Dinos lead.
“Not right now.”
The Gaels picked their game up in the second half, though, and the fans reacted accordingly. Being on the sideline, it was difficult to keep from joining in with the cheers of “Go Gaels Go!” and “Dinos is a stupid name!”
With each touchdown and Oil Thigh, Gaels fans got increasingly excited and rowdy. Their spirit wasn’t even dampened by the constant loudspeaker reminders that fans weren’t allowed on the field after the game.
As the clock wound down, the excitement ramped up. Even the Laval fans, who weren’t cheering for one team or the other so much as for a good game of football, joined in.
As the final whistle blew, Jamison Giangrande, ArtSci ’10, said he was overwhelmed with emotion.
“This is the greatest experience of my entire Queen’s career,” he said. “Right here right now, this is the pinnacle of it.”
Queen’s alumni of all graduating years were in attendance, some sporting varsity jackets from bygone decades.
Principal Daniel Woolf, ArtSci ’80, said being at the PEPS brought back memories of his time as a student.
“I was at the Vanier Cup in ’78 when we won,” he said. “It’s been amazing. What a comeback in the second half. The team has had an amazing season—top opposition today from Calgary and just a great result.”
An avid football fan, Woolf flew out to Quebec City on Saturday morning to get there in time for the noon kickoff, sitting in a box with Kingston mayor Harvey Rosen and Board of Directors Chair Bill Young.
Woolf said he felt a connection with the fans, both in attendance and back in Kingston.
“I feel the spirit of their cheering,” he said. “I’m getting tweets from all the fans back home in Kingston. It’s just great.”
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