“Sirens reverberated through downtown Montreal as fire trucks and police cars rushed towards the three-year-old Hall Building. Surrounded by riot police clashing with protestors, the ninth floor of the jewel of Sir George Williams University was on fire. Black smoke billowed from open windows and onlookers watched with horror and disbelief.” (Excerpt from an anniversary article by Justin Giovannetti in the student newspaper The Link, Feb. 10, 2009.)
It’s known in local lore as the “Sir George Williams computer riot.” In May 1968, a biology professor at Sir George Williams University was accused of racism against his Caribbean students. After months passed without action from the university administration, students occupied the ninth floor computer centre in February of 1969. Eventually, computers were trashed, windows were broken, and punch cards floated down onto the snowy street below. The riot squad moved in; someone started a fire. The damage was in the millions of dollars.
On Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 we Montrealers will have a rare opportunity involving time, memory and (physical space). In the ground floor in Room H-110 of the Henry F. Hall Building, of Concordia University, we can watch a documentary about the events that took place all those years ago, just a few storeys above. (Before the occupation, a committee to discuss the complaints against the teacher had taken place in H-110 itself.)
Among the people who attend tonight, some will have little to no knowledge of what happened, some will have watched footage on the nightly news back in the day, some might have been part of the occupation. Some might be second-generation Concordia students.
What will it feel like? I can’t imagine, but I intend to find out. I’m sure there will be many interesting questions and comments. Director Mina Shum and members of the Concordia Caribbean Student Union will be among the guests at the screening.
Ninth Floor was shown at the Toronto Internationl Film Festival (TIFF) and received positive reviews. Some U.S. writers expressed surprise and disappointment that Canada is not always the kinder, more gentle nation that we (and they) might like to think that we are.
For those who cannot go on Friday, Oct. 9, there will be another screening at noon on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in the J. W. McConnell Building across the street.
Ninth Floor is being presented by the Festival du nouveau cinéma and Cinema Politica of Concordia University. There is a Facebook page for the screening of Ninth Floor.
You can also read about Ninth Floor on the FNC web site. The 2015 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs until Oct. 18, 2015.