If These Walls Could Talk

Good bones

Illustration of 209 University Avenue – a two storey, red brick building, with covered porch.

Illustration by Wendy Treverton

For the rest of his life, Sean Harvey (Com’15) will be able to brag to friends and colleagues, to his children and grandchildren, that he was once judged by a panel of his peers to be better than a beer-pong table.  

In the early fall of 2011, the beer-pong table had an inside track on taking over the seventh bedroom at 209 University Avenue. The six other first-year students who had signed a lease on the house for the following year reluctantly agreed to consider Mr. Harvey as an alternative. They peppered him with questions over dinner at Leonard Dining Hall.   

“He impressed us enough at dinner that we decided, ‘You’re worth more than a beer-pong table,’” says William Cartar (Sc’15, MSc’17).  

It was a good call. When the seven roommates moved into 209 University in the fall of 2012, Mr. Harvey brought along two new couches to anchor the home’s large living room. Over the three years of their tenancy, the couches became the perfect place to “chill on, sleep on, play video games on, study on,” says Andrew Parkes (Com’15).   

Mr. Harvey was a good provider as well as a lifelong friend, the roommates now admit. 

The house – so close to campus, with big bedrooms on all three floors and living and dining rooms big enough to entertain – was a bequest from Mr. Parkes’ sister, Kirsten Parkes (Artsci’12), who had lived there with five friends the previous three years. She was determined that her brother take over the lease, in part so he could continue the home’s noblest tradition: the “Cave Rave.” 

Actually, the Cave Rave’s first year was the last of Ms. Parkes’ residency, inspired by a flood that made it necessary to throw out the flotsam and jetsam of years of previous student tenants. The purge opened up an intriguing new space: the basement. Wouldn’t it be unique, Ms. Parkes and her roommates thought, to have a subterranean celebration to mark the end of their time at Queen’s? But it wouldn’t really be a tradition unless the new tenants agreed to end their final year the same way. 

Ms. Parkes’ brother and his roommates were all in. During the late winter of 2015, they undertook another cleanup, clearing the basement’s second room, which was full to the rafters with broken furniture, boxes of ancient textbooks, and vintage hockey equipment. They mounted their own crypt-like commencement exercises and then instructed the incoming tenants to replicate it in their final year. They like to think the Cave Rave lives on. 

The roommates, who also included Tommy Tsapralis (Sc’15), Christopher Lalonde (Com’15), Michael Verde (Sc’15), and Chris Gain, were all gone on the last night that Mr. Cartar slept at 209 University. 

“Every room was empty,” he recalls. “I remember going to bed and feeling this weird out-of-body experience of kind of watching your own death. This house that had always meant so much to us … was no longer, and yet I had one final night to be in this place that used to be home. I remember that particular night being very hard.” 

With sublets and summer students, a lot of people passed through 209 University over those three years. Mr. Verde remembers everyone who got a chance to live there “saying it was their favourite living experience … at Queen’s.” Maybe that was just because of the cleaner the boys hired once a month to swamp out the bathrooms. But Mr. Verde thinks of it as something more, something in the very bones of the house.  

“I miss every minute of it,” he says. 

Tell us about the University District house you lived in and the memories you made.

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