­Wellington- sur-Mer draws the ire of bar owners and staff

By Michael Boriero – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Sherbrooke’s downtown urban oasis project, Wellington-sur-Mer, is starting to irritate restaurant and bar owners as they believe their establishments are losing essential foot traffic needed to survive, especially through uncertain times.
“At the moment people can consume alcohol in the street, but the alcohol can only be in a can or a bottle, for us we have beer on tap, so we’re at a disadvantage because we can’t sell to people going to the oasis,” said Charles Gagné, co-owner of Boquébière.
People frequenting the oasis can sit and drink alcohol at one of the many picnic tables as long as they are also consuming food. The problem is that both food and alcohol are not necessarily being purchased at restaurants or bars.
Boquébière is a microbrewery with beer on tap, which makes it impossible to sell to patrons heading to the oasis because they are restricted from drinking out of glasses, Gagné explained in a phone interview.
“We find it ridiculous that we can’t sell in a glass considering people can bring bottles and then pour it into their own glass there,” he said. “We don’t see the difference.”
Amélie Poulin, a cook at Boquébière, is also concerned about the health and safety measures at the oasis. A number of tables haven’t been fixed to the ground, so people are merging them together to accommodate larger groups.

“I live on Wellington [North], so I see people here at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning they’re still drinking, they’re still dancing, it’s free-for-all,” Poulin said, adding that there was no cop car in sight during that time.

The Quebec government recently prohibited dancing in bars and imposed a mandatory last-call at midnight to limit the spread of COVID-19. She believes the existence of the oasis proves there is a double standard emerging right now.

“We have to log every client that comes in, we need their phone number and name to be able to retrace them if ever there is an outbreak, and we have to make them pay after every single order,” said Poulin.

While it can be cumbersome, this is what the government deemed essential to preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, but the oasis doesn’t abide by the same rules. People will also soon be required to wear masks inside bars and restaurants.

Poulin said this would continue to deter people from entering bars like Boquébière. If they can just buy beer from a depanneur and drink without wearing a mask at the oasis, then what is the purpose of keeping bars open, she added.

Bianca de la Fontaine, a liaison officer for the city of Sherbrooke, explained that Wellington-sur-Mer is a public space, just like a park. Residents are responsible for bringing their own tablecloths, masks, and disinfectants.

“We don’t have someone there to control that,” said de la Fontaine. “It’s a public space like a park is public space, there aren’t any supervisors at the parks to make sure people are washing their hands.”

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