The Gateway is a bar that sits inside the Campus Centre, a building that houses the Trojans, SAIT’s premier athletics team, and all kinds of student facilities.
There is the new e-Sports lounge, the Wellness Centre, Odyssey Café, a Jugo Juice, the ice rink, and lastly, the Gateway.
With that said, SAIT students premier drinking and partying location has closed their doors indefinitely, leaving students without a space of any kind.
I never had a chance to relax at the Gateway, I spent most of my time indoors huddled away from COVID-19.
Both of my years at SAIT were held in my room, where black squares stared back at me on Microsoft Teams or Zoom, save for a couple people — and the professors, of course.
When I finally walked into the Gateway, with the previous executive team of the Emery Weal, we learned about the fate of the bar from Red Sheil, a supervisor that worked there for six years. I was shocked, to say the least.
“I’m not going to answer any questions. You’ll have to talk to someone else,” said Sheil, after we asked her for more details.
I then realized this was a story we needed to cover.
Fast forward to the Campus Centre closure, to seeing the quiet and empty space that is the Gateway.
The bar has certainly had a history, especially since the stage has had countless bands and performers dance on the misshapen and beaten-up wooden platform. It brings to mind a well-used baseball glove.
Related Post: SAIT’s Campus Centre to get knocked down after 41 years
The announcement for the Campus Centre closure was made last month, with SAIT following up with a page dedicated to keeping students up to date with any developments.
SAIT has begun their plans for redeveloping Campus Centre, which will have a partial closure set for Aug. 1. They say that 65 per cent of the building value is how much it costs for repairs. However, no SAIT official has spoken on the matter, nor has the President and CEO David Ross.
In addition to moving forward with the closure, SAIT confirmed over an email that Chandos Construction and Owen Construction Ltd. are currently working on Campus Centre. Owen Construction is known for their asbestos abatement.
Regardless, the Gateway’s fate is sealed; an unknown future for reopening in a new space remains.
What is the Gateway?
The Gateway has held residence inside the Campus Centre back when it was Spartacus Lounge in the 1981.
The Spartacus Lounge was known as “Sparty’s,” and according to SAITSA’s website, they were open “only on Friday evenings because SAIT Administration worried students would drink instead of going to class.”
Spartacus Lounge was rebranded as the Gateway in 2001. The current manager – Saitsa’s senior food and beverage manager – is Kiera Savoie, who took over in 2016.
Savoie and I spoke for under an hour; however, that ballooned into nearly two between photos and conversation. This happened after their official closing party, attended by many former staff members and Saitsa executives.
She took over when the Gateway was attracting numerous bands, like July Talk in 2015, and Wintersleep in 2016.
Savoie also has an extended history with the Gateway as she worked there in 2008, along with meeting her spouse there.
“He was in the house band at the time, and I was waitressing,” said Savoie. “We hit it off.”
According to Savoie, the Gateway is a bar where students can meet other people, develop relationships, and wind down after a tough exam.
“There’s a lot of deep ties in this place. And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come back to run it, because I knew that it had so much potential, and it was such a staple.”
The Gateway, before Savoie’s intervention, wasn’t what it is now, being more of a simple bar, like the Local bars throughout downtown, or National, the very bar Savoie came from.
“It was a loud pub with lots of really bright neon lights and a lot of support from beer companies, which weren’t giving students the type of support they needed,” said Savoie.
“We tried to turn it into a welcoming and friendly space where everyone was welcome, not just a particular group of students.”
Events at the Gateway
The Gateway was a place for many people to hang out and liven up, but also for students to get to know one another, according to Savoie. The two-year turnover for students “can be a blessing and a curse.”
“You spend years building rapport with the other students and then they all leave,” said Savoie.
Still, the time to get to know the students is something that the staff care deeply about, said Red Sheil, the very server that wouldn’t speak to us when we learned about the Campus Centre.
“It’s all regulars. That’s my favorite part about it,” said Sheil.
“You get to experience the journey of each student as you work with them.”
Sheil would know over 200 students at any given time, and when a former student would come back after a few years, the names would come flooding back.
“We create this community where they have a spot to come and destress and feel comfortable and welcomed,” said Sheil.
“I’ve actually met a lot of my personal friends through serving them here.”
The Gateway closure wasn’t expected since it had such a large impact on the student body. The location is iconic; serious bands like the Arkells, Mother Mother, Simple Plan, Yellowcard, and Protest the Hero have all headlined the venue.
“The acts were always quite a variety,” said Savoie.
“We had anything from the Trailer Park Boys coming through doing a comedy show, all the way to like having Aesop Rock play.”
Charlotte Cardin was the Gateway’s final show on the beaten-up stage.
“It’s no secret that some of our stuff is a little old. This space has been around a long-time and the place hasn’t been renovated in a while. So, we were due for some change,” said Savoie.
“It’s just having it be this significant, and it roll out at a timeframe that is so quick, was a little bit shocking.”
Different environment, inclusion the key
Sheil explains that the Gateway has always been an advocate for inclusion, with the staff having to go through diversity training, suicide watch training, Naloxone training, and more.
“They were really training us not to just bring these people food, but to be there for them if they needed us,” said Sheil.
“A lot of people struggle with school and being alone through school.”
While out having lunch with her fellow managers, Sheil learned the fate of the Gateway, a fate that would crush the spirits of many.
“My heart dropped into my stomach,” said Sheil.
“I definitely cried when I got home. It’s sad to see it come to an end, for sure.”
Savoie holds a stern look on her face, yet the sadness comes through. The feelings of her staff when they announcement was made was unanimous.
“A lot of tears,” said Savoie, letting out a laugh without much joy in it.
“I’d catch some of the staff in the backend wiping some tears away.”
Savoie says that many customers advocated for them, because they really loved the Gateway, but also because they didn’t have a place of inclusivity like the Gateway.
Uncertain future filled with hope
Sheil and some other staff members received help from Savoie in finding work. Other staff, mostly management, are continuing with Gateway Events and the Gateway Food Truck, with the food truck starting in September.
The Gateway crew set up a garage sale on July 20, and is ongoing until July 29, selling all their kitchen ware, old guitars, and anything that they won’t be taking to the food truck.
I walked in and saw a couple guitars for $10 each. It’s a sweet deal, but at what cost?
“I understand why they couldn’t find us a space, but a lot of people are still pretty disappointed that there isn’t going to be a place for us,” said Savoie.
“Who knows if that can’t change down the road. That’s not our call, that’s up to [SAIT].”
The SAIT board of governors wouldn’t allow the food truck to operate on SAIT property, according to Savoie, and the truck will have to park elsewhere for business.
Their goal is to keep the brand alive, and as Savoie and I talked, she struck me as confident and filled with optimism, despite the restaurant closing.
“I’m hoping that we can prove that we can operate and still provide everything to the students,” said Savoie.
A no now doesn’t mean we can’t try for it later.
Savoie and Sheil display what the Gateway was: a home for students when they needed it, and a place for familiarity and friendship.