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Panda
Panda almost went extinct after the 1987 tragedy. Illustration: John Sekerka/Fulcrum
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Collapse of guard rail on Carleton side of Lansdowne Park caused at least 25 students to plunge, some head first, four metres to concrete below

Originally published on Oct. 22, 1987

Following last Saturday’s tragic Panda game mishap in which about 30 students were rushed to hospital, the U of O and Carleton student associations are now trying to convince city council not to stop them from holding another Panda. 

Both the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and Carleton University Student Association (CUSA) will attempt to show Ottawa city councillors at a meeting next week they are prepared to crack down on student rowdyism themselves, preventing the need for a ban on Panda activities.

Eleven students remain in hospital following last Saturday’s collapse of a guard rail on the Carleton side of Lansdowne Park which caused at least 25 students to plunge, some headfirst, four metres to the concrete below.

One 20-year-old male student remains in stable but serious conditions with extensive head injuries.

The 30-foot section of railing snapped under the weight of fans hanging onto and climbing down it in an effort to reach the playing field to take part in the annual halftime antics.

Apparently, students who tried to back away from the railing couldn’t, and the jam forced the metal to snap. 

About 15 other students in the stands were hurt in the crush after those who didn’t fall pushed back into the rows of seats behind them.

A paramedic attending to an injured student. Photo: Ron Kocsis/fulcrum

Ottawa city police inspector Jim Carroll, who was in charge of the 83 officers at the football game, said rowdyism was out of control. 

Lansdowne manager John Gray said an engineers’ investigation of the accident site isn’t yet ready but should be completed by next week’s city council meeting.

While it’s still uncertain if a weakened railing or drunken carelessness caused the accident, Carroll says the U of O and Carleton should eliminate the pre-game activities which lead to dangerous student rowdiness.

Carleton University was particularly criticized for encouraging or not preventing drunkenness. “An example of the ‘thinking’ at Carleton is that they actively support a food throwing party on the eve of the Panda game and immediately after,” said Carroll in a preliminary report on the game.

The University of Ottawa students “appeared to be better able to police themselves,” he said.

Nevertheless, the inspector said the city, which owns Lansdowne, should bar the game from the park if changes are not made. 

Carroll is receiving some support in his position from councillor Rob Quinn, whose ward includes the football arena. “I don’t think the city should allow itself to be a part of that tragedy any more,” he said. 

However, Mayor Jim Durrell has said the two universities should be given one more chance.

CUSA president Bruce Haydon said Tuesday that the Panda game is “salvageable” and is proposing strict measures for next year’s weekend celebration.

Haydon says more policing of the gate of the stadium is necessary to keep alcohol out, “even if it means slowing the crowds down.”

People who are found to be carrying alcohol and those who manage to get onto the playing field should be removed from the stadium, he said.

Haydon also suggested selling soft drinks and food at the game and, if alcohol must be served, it should be beer, not hard liquor.

He said the combination of food and beer is safer than hard liquor and an empty stomach. 

At a meeting, also on Tuesday, the executive of the SFUO decided to draft a proposal for a safe Panda. Proposed measure would include more non-alcoholic events, including a debate that would relieve some of the cross-town rivalry between the two universities.

VP social activities Janet Battigelli said dry events can be popular and pointed to the 3,000 student turnout for a non-alcoholic rock concert during September’s welcome week. 

SFUO president Gilles Marchildon said it’s important that people at city hall know they’re doing something to prevent a recurrence of this year’s mishap.

Both Marchildon and Haydon say they’re confident city councillors will allow Panda to return in some form next year. They say Quinn, who is against Panda, is in a minority on council.

Haydon said that at the meeting they will “appeal to the more levelheaded councillors, not those campaigning for re-election.”

University of Ottawa rector Antoine D’Iorio pointed out that whether or not it’s called Panda game, the second football game the two universities play against each other will still occur because they’re in the same league. 

David Hill, chair of the Board of Police Commissioners, agrees and says the mindset of students who participate must change. To this end, he endorses the efforts of students to curtail drunkenness during the weekend. 

Abla Khalil, whose daughter Sue was one of the students in the stands hurt in the recoil of students after the rail broke said she at first was “furious” and thought Panda should be cancelled.

However, the day after the accident, Khalil said she preferred better safety precautions to an outright ban on Panda, which she sees as an outlet for students, 

“Let them live life,” she said. 

Facts about this article 

  • Despite a female student spending 20 days in a coma and having a broken neck, nobody died in the tragedy.
  • The 1988 Panda Game took place the next year. 
  • Author Mark MacCarvil is now the Managing Director of Mind Meeting Group which provides powerful strategy development technology for CEOs and executive teams who are facing complex challenges / opportunities and need a solution – fast
  • Gilles Marchildon was appointed this summer to be the director of College Boreal’s Toronto campus
  • Bruce Haydon works as the VP/director of asset, liability and capital management at Global Financial Services.
  • Jim Durrell was Mayor of Ottawa from 1985 to 1991. He was also the first team president in Ottawa Senators history.