Grounds crew busy preparing downtown campus for Convocation
By Jim Hynes
They clear the ice and snow in the winter and cut the grass in the summer, and look after just about everything else on the University’s grounds in between, but if you ask the members of the downtown campus Grounds crew what their job is really all about, most will reply with one word – Convocation.
“It’s the most important aspect of our work,” said Eric Champagne, Horticulture Supervisor, Grounds and Vehicle Services, Facilities Operations and Management, of the University’s spring Convocation ceremonies, which this year run from May 30 to June 3 on the downtown campus (Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Convocation takes place on Macdonald Campus Friday, May 27). “Our goal is to make sure that when students graduate from McGill they’ll have great memories of their Convocation, that the grounds were spic and span and that the flowers were beautiful.”
Angelo Tambasco, Supervisor, Grounds and Vehicle Services, Facilities Operations and Management, is on the same wavelength as his green-thumbed counterpart.
“A lot of us are parents, so we know what a special time Convocation is for families,” Tambasco said. “People send their kids here for three or four years, the least we can do for them is make the place look beautiful so they can take their photos and remember the special day.”
There’s still much to do before the first strains of “Hail Alma Mater” (the University song) ring out at the Faculty of Science ceremony on the morning of May 30. The 17 members of Grounds crew are busy pruning hedges and shrubs, re-sodding sections of lawn damaged by winter’s cold and stray machinery, repairing roadways and sidewalks, and generally giving the place a good post-winter scrubbing.
“This time of year is very hectic, that’s for sure,” Tambasco said.
Champagne, meanwhile, is getting antsy, as the cold, wet start to spring has left him and his crew a little further behind in their preparations than they’d like to be. He and his team are responsible for all horticulture and landscaping on the main campus and surrounding McGill properties. And in springtime, that means flowers. The team plants the thousands of annuals and perennials, some of which are grown in space rented in a greenhouse in the south block of Stewart Biology, in the campus’ numerous flowerbeds and special gardens. They also prepare and hang the hanging baskets of flowers that adorn the campus’ main road and pathways. And in a few days, they’ll be removing the tulips currently blooming inside the crest garden in front of the Arts Building and replacing them with the flowering University crest.
During Convocation week itself, any grass cutting that needs to be done is tackled in the early morning hours. The Grounds team also provides trade and maintenance support during Convocation, moving in to clean up any spills and remove garbage from overflowing cans in between ceremonies.
“Our window between ceremonies is very small,” Tambasco said. “We just work quickly and try to keep a low profile. And as soon as we hear the bagpipes, we move out.”
For more information on this year’s Convocation ceremonies, please visit www.mcgill.ca/students/graduation/convocation