Saturday, 18 June 2011

Tears of Disappointment, Shame, and Pride

A week and a half ago I took a train into downtown Vancouver. I went shopping at a downtown mall and picked up omiyage gifts for U's family at the iconic Hudson's Bay store. It was a bright warm sunny day, although the mountains were hidden behind clouds, so I decided to walk along the waterfront to the Olympic fountain - which I heard had been re-lit to celebrate the Canucks and their run for the Stanley Cup.

Then I walked back to downtown, stopping at the big London Drugs to pick up snacks, and met a high school friend to watch game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals. She had camp chairs and we set them up right in front of her office building, in the huge crowd gathering in the middle of the street in front of one of the huge screens. As we got closer to game time more and more fans streamed into the area, and it was an AMAZING atmosphere. Everybody was in Canucks blue and green. We regularly got wiffs that proved BC weed was being consumed but there were no displays of public drunkenness or violence. There were families with young children, high school students, older couples, I could hear conversations around me in nearly half a dozen languages. It really seemed like the entire city had turned out to celebrate together. Just like I did during the olympics, I felt so lucky to be able to be in Vancouver to witness it.

While I enjoyed the atmosphere and the moment in general I didn't enjoy the game so much. Our boys lost, and lost badly. But the fans were good natured. A group of guys behind us started good-naturedly heckling those who were leaving early - ribbing them for being fair weather fans - but everybody was laughing and smiling. We had lost two games badly but in a few days the team would be back on home ice and we had confidence that our team could do it.

A week later and it was the final game of the series, winner takes all. An even bigger crowd is in the downtown area, near the arena where the game is underway. Tens of thousands of miles away a nagging fever has kept me home from work for much of the week and so I'm able to watch the game on a much smaller screen, all by myself.

Unfortunately, the hometown team disappoints once again. A record-breaking season ends in disappointment and the hopes of a city, of an entire country, dashed. It has been 17 years since my team has gotten this far, and I (along with much of the city of the Vancouver) was sure that this was our year.

But my tears of disappointment quickly turned to those of shame and shock as the TV coverage moved from that of the Boston Bruins celebrating on the ice to car fires and throngs of thugs rampaging through the streets. The live coverage was raw and shocking and I couldn't believe it was actually happening, not in the city that I love so much. But there it was.

Rioters smashing the big show windows of the Bay and making off with expensive bags and jewelry. Police cars being flipped and set on fire. Clouds of pepper spray filling the air and plumes of smoke rising to the sky. The tv announcer says in shock "Vancouver is burning!" The rioters move down the street and the windows of the London Drugs are smashed in as the rioters make off with armfuls of potato chips and electronics. I was sickened but I couldn't stop watching, disparing as a city I love was ransacked. (

I almost couldn't watch my regular Canadian news the next day - ashamed at what the Toronto-based program would have to say about Vancouver. But that was when my tears turned to those of pride as I learned about hundreds of volunteers - regular people from all walks of life and all ages - who turned out with brooms and dustpans, garbage bags and plastic gloves. They began to clean up the city and in doing so attempting to reclaim it as their own, not willing to let it be claimed by the thugs who had rioted the night before.

This outpouring has continued and grown. The windows of the Bay were boarded up and then the boards were covered - in handwritten messages. Messages expressing shame, shock, support for the team, and support for the city. Police cars parked nearby and throughout the downtown area were covered too - in post-it note messages of support and thanks.

That is the city I love. That is Vancouver. And I'm still crying.


  1. I'd read about the rioting, but I hadn't read about the heartwarming postscript to that story. Thank you, Sarah. You had me in tears, too. Beautifully written.

  2. I'm ashamed and proud on your behalf too. Thank you for telling us about the aftermath.

  3. Shocking isn't it! I read the news on the train home the other night and instantly felt embarrassed. It disgusts me the damage these people have caused "in the name of sports" when there are disasters going on around the world that people have no control over. I love Van but there are some really messed up things that go down there (hockey riots aside).

  4. It is a pity that the media concentrates all it's time on telling the bad side of the story, they could of had an even more interesting story reporting on the aftermarth.

    Your account of events shows that true Canucks fans are of a different breed and that people are proud of their team and Vancouver.

    Sorry they didn't end up winning, here's to next year.

  5. A great post. Thanks for the great links, especially to the sticky-note covered police car - very sweet! If only it were true that the police did the best they could (the police postgame planners really didn't - I think they forgot about the report that was written after the 1994 violence). And while I wish that the true Vancouver is made up only of all the volunteers who cleaned up the mess they didn't make, in my mind, the true Vancouver also includes the vandals who made the mess. In the two groups, we see the best and the worst of the city, and I'm confident that the best and better groups overwhelm the worst elements. I'm so glad you got to enjoy the city at its best. Great photos!
    love and hugs, Cath

  6. Clare Maree - I was crying writing it, so I can't really apologize for making you cry reading it! ;)

    Vicky - I thought the clean-up and other things might not have gotten the same coverage as did the riots, and wanted to share them!

    GEG - I've always known that Vancouver has many sides, and some of those are less than pleasant. But seeing coverage of the riots go around the world representing Vancouver has really upset me!

    Achan - Exactly! The heartwarming tales don't tend to be as popular though, sigh! And thanks for your support for next year's team! Another thing that has upset me about the riots is that it has taken the spotlight away from what (disappointing ending aside) has been an exceptional year for the hockey team!

    Cath - I know that Vancouver has this dark side, especially given the 94 riots. But these were different and even more upsetting given all the good gatherings that had been happening. All reports I have heard have said that the crowds that gathered for the 7th game were significantly different from those at all the other games. Less families, more young men, for starters. The police apparently took down some of the baricades and stopped checking people's bags - so there was lots of drinking going on, lots of underage drinking. Many people had gone down in the morning to one of the bars, gotten drunk early and then gone outside to watch the game. And, as the game was ending there were other young men coming into the downtown area... apparently dressed mostly in black and without Canucks clothing.

    I would agree that the police planners completely messed up. The police on the ground did an EXCELLENT job from the coverage I watched. BUT all the announcers kept repeating that the police were hugely outnumbered and that there were areas without any police presence. So while the officers on the ground did a good job of a messy situation, their higher ups goofed by not sending in many many many more officers. (CBC reported that, ONCE THE RIOTING HAD STARTED Port Coquitlam and other areas were going to send in their riot squads as back up... Just a liiiiiitle late there, don't ya think?!)

  7. Agreed! I feel sorry for the overwhelmed police on the front lines. But now I am also feeling less retributivist about some of the vandals. Poor judgment at age 17 that ultimately didn't injure anyone (only property) shouldn't screw up one's life chances too much...
    love and hugs, Cath