Opinion

paddling Forward, Looking Back. Keeping history in mind will help the Canoe stay on course

UFV’s new student restaurant, at a glance, is remarkably different from its predecessor. The brightness, cleanness, and openness of the Canoe have replaced the dim, grungy, and cramped Aftermath (formerly Casey’s). Instead of dumping your stuff at any old table and waiting for a server, a smiling student employee waits by the entrance to take you to a seat.

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By Katie Stobbart (The Cascade) – Email

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“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”

—Michael Crichton

It may seem like a strange quote to begin an assessment of a campus restaurant. Yet even in the context of UFV’s campus pubs and politics past, history is a vital resource for the construction of our future.

UFV’s new student restaurant, at a glance, is remarkably different from its predecessor. The brightness, cleanness, and openness of the Canoe have replaced the dim, grungy, and cramped Aftermath (formerly Casey’s). Instead of dumping your stuff at any old table and waiting for a server, a smiling student employee waits by the entrance to take you to a seat. Decorative glass partitions bearing river reed impressions replace the commissioned student mural (now whitewashed) and death star decal of the old campus lounge. The SUS-funded campus restaurant, when it moved up from the first floor of the Envision Centre to the second floor of the new Student Union Building (SUB), took on new vibes as well as a new name. But the identity change feels a bit like an erasure of the campus restaurant’s history, instead of just a move and a makeover.

Judging the Canoe by its cover: aesthetic and atmosphere Despite the aimed-for swank feel, the Canoe does suffer from a few atmospheric glitches. The Canoe’s logo seems to juxtapose the look of the venue, and the red scrawl of “Campus Restaurant,” emblazoned on the glass that separates the space from corridor and atrium, invokes a generic cafeteria-like tradition of aiming too short of real restaurant class — you always know what’s behind that font won’t live up to the façade. As a comparison, look at the logos of real, higher-end restaurants — you’ll find clean, simple fonts to match a modern aesthetic, understated because there’s no drive to compensate for what’s inside.

But my real problem with the restaurant’s aesthetic is not strange fonts. It’s that these remind me of what I would prefer from my campus lounge: a laid-back, quirky, comfortable place to grab a bite to eat while studying, or hole-up and listen to a dimly-lit poetry reading while the rain beats at the exterior windows. In other words, a lounge, rather than a restaurant. I’ve heard a few people mention in passing that, while the new restaurant is nice, they’re not exactly going to go in there in their pyjama pants with an essay to write.

The atmosphere problem is not just cosmetic. The image of a place can be lived with or altered at a low cost. More concerning are the longer-term choices made for the space. Newly purchased furniture is already, two months after opening, showing a lack of longevity; at least three tables have small pieces of folded up cardboard or foam wedged underneath one leg and, despite this handiwork, are still rickety. I’ve asked to move tables to avoid the possibility of tipping water all over my schoolwork. And huge television screens viewable in almost every part of the restaurant make it difficult to concentrate, even on conversation. Once, while eating there, I flinched subconsciously (to the amusement of a friend) when someone in the small projector image above my head threw a dart in my direction.

The Canoe isn’t an appealing place to hole-up and have that much-needed drink while pounding out a paper or poring over notes; it’s no longer friendly to time-biders nursing a plate of nachos (now missing from the menu) among friends before class starts. It seems more the sort of place SUS or UFV administration might bring nonstudents, visitors from off campus, to look out over the Green (in a kind of “everything the light touches” way) and talk about the glorious new Student Union Building and everything accomplished by virtue of its splendour.

The SUB, at least, seems to be achieving its aim of bringing students together in one place. While I’ve been given many occasions to hold my tongue in cheek, I am pleased to see that students are happy with the space and, so far, using it. But I’m afraid that with the restaurant, SUS has forgotten the lessons of its not-so-distant past, and aimed to make it more of a business than a service.

The time Aftermath shut down Aftermath was established in place of Casey’s campus lounge in 2011. While the move from Aftermath to the Canoe was tied to a literal move of physical locations, Aftermath replaced Casey’s as a result of financial turmoil. For a few years, SUS’s financial management was grossly mishandled. As covered in The Cascade those years ago, the deficits run by SUS (which included but were not limited to the U-Pass and Casey’s) were compensated for by taking money from other lines: notably SUS’s capital fund, which lost $300,000 over a threeyear period, leaving it at about $15,000 in November 2012, and a Health and Dental reserve fund, which was supplemented by residual Health and Dental fees after student claims were paid. (See “The Aftermath decision” by Dessa Bayrock, The Cascade, in print January 9, 2013.)

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