I am probably one of a handful of Americans who have the distinction of being in Vancouver for both Game #7 riots in 1994 and 2011.
On June 14, 1994, the Vancouver Canucks lost a close and exciting Game #7 to the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup Championship. After the game, I was one of thousands on Robson Street when police used teargas to disburse the rowdy crowds. When the teargas hit my eyes, I confess I wanted my mommy. Mayhem ensued all around me. Six feet away a looter smashed a window. Two seconds later, a police officer made an NFL-like tackle on the guy which almost buried me into the sidewalk, too. I and other teargas victims huddled around the outdoor fountain in Robson Square, splashing water into our burning eyes. Nobody at that moment cared about water quality. In my 20s, I returned to Seattle and didn’t think too much of the riots except teargas sucks and I knew I would be a Canuck fan forever.
When the Canucks started their playoff run in April of this year, I thought this was the year they would finally win the Stanley Cup Championship. So when the Boston Bruins tied the series 3-3, there was only one place to be to watch Game #7 – just like 17 years earlier.
On June 15, my friends and I arrived in downtown Vancouver and got a seat in the CBC Plaza to watch the game on their outdoor big screen. There were tens of thousands of other fans watching on the streets. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the mood before the game was electric. It was my own nirvana.
The game started about 5:15 p.m., but this Game #7 would be nothing like 1994. My nirvana took the first train out of Vancouver about 15 minutes into the game. Frustration grew as fans watched the futility of the Canucks compete in the game. By 7:15, fans knew that the Canucks would suffer one of the worse Game #7 losses in Stanley Cup history. At 7:45, after the 4-0 defeat, the crowds were hurling bottles at the jumbo outdoor screens. Just hundreds of feet away from where we were sitting, idiots were setting fire to a car and portable toilets. We would find out later that the mayhem was just getting started.
The thought of teargas was enough for me to suggest to my friends to take a Skytrain to Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, to have dinner. Once there, we learned the walls of the Chinese restaurant were impenetrable to a Canucks Game #7 or to news of a riot. As we ate our hot pot dinner, the restaurant staff and us remained oblivious to the riots and the destruction taking place in downtown Vancouver.
Once on the Skytrain for our return trip, we were informed that no traffic was being allowed into downtown and that we must exit at the stop before downtown. Our only option was to walk back to our hotel. I will never forget that walk into the unknown.
We embarked on our 3-mile journey by walking across the Cambie Bridge into downtown. On a regular evening, the city landscape would have been a great backdrop. Instead, it was a surreal scene, hardly any vehicles on the road, but many were heading out of downtown. You could hear several helicopters hovering over downtown and sirens echoing from all directions. At Granville Street, we were met by a crowd being pushed out by police. My friends got their chance to be within a few feet of police who had shields and batons in hand. Five hours earlier, we were all sitting in the sunshine in CBC Plaza watching Game #7. Now we were trying to figure out how to get around riot police and avoid any further violence.
Eventually, we came upon the destruction caused by rioters: cars overturned and destroyed; the smell of burning bundles of cardboard, garbage and cars; strewn glass and debris; and shattered storefront windows. With no teargas in my eyes this time, I could see everything. I find humor in most situations; but I found no humor in what I was seeing. I passed a hair and beauty salon with the apparent owners/employees standing in the middle of their destroyed business with every window shattered and the place ransacked and looted. It was heartbreaking for me to see — I can’t even imagine how they felt.
I’m not an expert on Canadian culture, politics and mob dynamics — I’m just an American who is a Canuck fan and treats Vancouver like a second home. I’m glad Vancouver residents are identifying rioters online and it appears many will be brought to justice. Vancouver should be proud of their response in the wake of the riots. I love the city, but will stay away from Vancouver for the next Stanley Cup Game #7.