I’d heard it was a possibility but I didn’t think it would really happen. I watched the final game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs surrounded by formerly online, now real-life fellow travel blogger friends at the Railway Club in Vancouver, the first stop on my North American road trip. A smaller group of us, Jeannie, Dylan, Mark and I left before the game ended to get a bite to eat at one of Jeannie’s (a local) favorite places. I remember asking as we veered toward what appeared a quieter part of town if we were going away from where the action was likely to be. I wanted to be in the midst of it, naively thinking it would resemble the street party I’d experienced when I first landed in Vancouver after game 6. Of course the outcome then had been different, but at most I thought the vibe would be a bit more somber.

We finished a great dinner, walked back into the quiet street, and in what seemed like one turn of a corner everything changed. Black smoke in the sky led to smashed windows, two overturned cars, riot police, an anxious yet curious crowd, fire engines, tear gas, and relatively controlled (at that time) chaos.

I wasn’t scared. Blame it on the fact that I lived in Los Angeles during the riots, that until last Wednesday I spent much of the last decade living in Oakland during riots, and more recently in a neighborhood where I heard gun fire from my house occasionally…too occasionally. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m a filmmaker- it felt surreal, like I was watching a film.  Even as the first wave of tear gas caught in my throat and felt like someone took sandpaper to it, I just looked on with intense curiosity. I’m sure it would have been different had we been there just a few moments earlier.

My fellow travel blogging friends and I were in various states of concern and determination to get home. Jeannie and I learned that buses and cabs were no longer running, hitched a ride across the Burrard Bridge to the Chinook which was safely parked in the Kitsilano neighborhood, and I drove her home without a problem.

Every place has incidents. And my love for places- especially my beloved Oakland, where there are frequent incidents- has made me less likely to judge a place by them. I think about my perception of Vancouver before the riot started- how incredibly beautiful it is, its focus on local products and environmentally sound practices, its friendly people, how even the bus drivers are exceedingly nice- serving as ambassadors to their city. And I think about all of the times I’ve told someone I live in Oakland and had to defend my choice to live there by explaining how amazing a place it truly is in spite of the problems caused by a handful of residents.

Waking up the next day to find that a massive volunteer group had cleaned up the city and left messages of remorse over the rioting, including leaving notes of appreciation for their local police department on a police car, only confirmed my opinion of Vancouver- that it’s a fantastic place best seen through a prism like that, rather than judged by a riot.

For a beautifully written local’s perspective on the riot, please read Jeannie’s post here. Have you witnessed something like this while traveling? At home? How did it shape your opinion of the place?

81 Responses to “The Vancouver Riot- Thoughts and Photos”

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  1. Some great photos in here. Was such and odd and completely alien night for me there. Glad I stayed, frankly, just to see how crazy and moronic some people can get. It was sobering.

    • thanks michael! i was almost tempted NOT to include the riot photos, as it risks going against my point that vancouver is best remembered otherwise, but felt in the end that showing the destruction that can happen and then making that point might be best. yeah, it’s really too bad that folks looking for any opportunity for mayhem got a hold of vancouver briefly, but in the end, the good guys triumphed. :)

  2. Thanks for this post! Honestly, seeing the riots made me very disappointed. I was shocked at what I was seeing realizing this wasn’t the Vancouver I had experienced. Honestly, it made me angry at the city. I know it was only a few (hundred) people doing this but I never expected this from them. Thanks for the perspective that experiences like this don’t have to ruin your image of a city. Even better were the the number of folks who showed up to clean up the city the day after. I hope that is my lasting memory from these riots.

    • i hope so too jeremy! it really deserves to be. you experience vancouver on it’s normal days and liked it, a handful of people spoiled one day, but the rest of the city got a chance to show its true colors in the wake of it. keeping loving vancouver- any city is capable of this. :)

      • I read today that one of the infamous photos of a guy inserting the rag into the police car to ignite is a Canadian athlete who hopes to play on the Olympic team in water polo. His photo has been everywhere and now he is very remorseful. The kid is 17 years old and supposed to be on scholarship next year. What a horrible decision on his part!

        • WOW jeremy!!! thanks for sharing that! gosh- you have to wonder about his inability to have enough foresight to see how any thrill he got from that moment could destroy other things he’s worked so hard for. i actually feel bad for him. what a horrible decision.

  3. I honestly don’t know how I’d feel about a city I was only visiting if I witnessed riots. I think I could get past it and see what the city really is and not what a group of drunken idiots turned it into for a moment, especially after witnessing the strong answer from the majority of the community against the actions of their peers.

    • that’s really it stephanie! the majority had the opportunity to turn ugliness caused by fools into a beautiful message- and they did! :)

  4. I’m trying to understand the psychology of riots. Especially when the occasion calls for celebration as opposed to angry protest. Although what is unique about this one is that they left sorry notes! I thought that was a nice touch. Try getting that in LA.

    • thanks grace! i think in order to understand the psychology, we may have to be capable of participating in them…and clearly we aren’t :) you know, i lived in LA for 11 years, and while i didn’t see this in the aftermath of riots there, i’ve seen an awful lot of good there too! :)

  5. Oh that filled my heart with absolute joy to hear that there were people who had come out to help clean up the mess! Seriously, what is wrong with people!?!

    • i don’t know andi! misplaced aggression? looking for a way to be significant and completely missing the mark? group think? i don’t get it either, but i too was really moved by the rest of the community’s response. it’s such an awesome city! :)

    • I’m with you, Andi — what the hell is wrong with people?

      • thanks d.o.- i’ve been trying to avoid watching chaos in action stuff on top of what i saw because it just makes me feel the same. not generally a person to bury my head in the sand, but would much prefer to focus on the before and after of this one. it was so brief and so violent it’s unfathomable!

  6. Lorna,
    I was surprised to hear about riots too since my experience with Vancouverites was nothing but exceptional. If nothing else, your post is a cautionary tale about painting people with a broad brush. Just because a few residents or visitors…(who can really say?)…decided to go buck wild does not mean all of the residents or visitors are that way…..whether this happened in LA, Oakland or anywhere else. I just remind myself that one bad apple………. Great post!

    • thanks renee! yes indeed- one bad apple! (and then when there are a few together, well…) it’s an unfortunate event that was completely out of synch with everything i’ve experienced before or since here. :)

  7. Thanks for sharing this, it’s good to reflect on the fact that this was an isolated incident and that Vancouver is an amazing city. That people voluntarily cleaned up and left notes of kindness is beautiful.

    • thanks lisa! isn’t it? i thought that was really above and beyond. a true testiment to the love vancouverites have for their city. :)

  8. Oh wow, that is amazing that people came out to clean up and leave nice support notes after the riot. Thanks for sharing your experience and photos!

  9. Jeremy, I’m from here, so you can imagine my shame after all you guys said how much you loved Vancouver. Many cities/countries experience societal unrest. What bugs me is the reasoning for “our” riot.

    I think it was a bunch of small groups who planned to stir shit and then the crowds followed along. Some think it was an anarchist group called Black Bloc who also caused minor incidents during the Olympics. Then last night I saw a guy holding up a sign saying it wasn’t the Black Bloc or protestors, and he is so right.

    My theory is it’s a group of city-centric and suburbia kids doing it outta sheer boredom. To “make” things happen and why not? It’s cool, funny, hilarious.. whatever inane reason.

    I’m not going to say every place in the world that riots does so for social, political means (think England’s footie riots), but it’s pathetic when an environmentally focused, activist place like Vancouver riots for 1) a frickin hockey game 2) just for the hell of it.

    That shames me even more, but what definitely stung less was the community stepping up. That’s the Vancouver I know. :)

    • cheers to that jeannie! whoever it was, they were obviously completely out of synch with the rest of you lovely vancouverites :)

  10. And P.S. Lorna – thank you for reminding us that every place has it’s beauty and ugliness. We shouldn’t judge until we see for ourselves. Lovely post my dear. :)

  11. You know what scared me the most, photos of people who had covered their faces. It was that they hadn’t gotten caught up in the mob but were sober enough to know to hide their identities.

    I love that you told the story about the next day because it shows the real story of a city that cares.

    But wow am I glad I left that morning.

    • thanks ayngelina! yeah, that IS ugly. hoping many will be caught thanks to facebook and other websites! :)

  12. Love that photo of the thank you notes to the police!

    • thanks cassie! i was so happy to stumble upon that. really said a whole lot about the masses of vancouverites’ reaction to the riots. the boards on the windows all have beautiful messages on them as well! :)

  13. I flew home from TBEX the night before the final, and the riots. It made me sad to see such destruction in Vancouver, I city I really love. I think it’s important not to judge a place by the action of these rioters. I heard on the news about “how could Vancouver and Canada fall so hard.” But the actions of this group isn’t how the majority of Vancouverites, Canuck fans, hockey fans or Canadians feel. And while we haven’t had a riot on that scale, my hometown of Edmonton has also seen riots over hockey, and other things that don’t really matter. So I can’t judge Vancouver for this – no place is perfect. I agree with Nomadic Chick, I think this was a bunch of bored kids trying to stir things up. I’ve studied a bit of group psychology and have seen how people will often follow the group mentality, even if that mentality is to cause destruction.

  14. I watched everything from home and was blown away by how crazy it got! Though, I wasn’t fully surprised because I was already told riots like this had happened before. I think it’s great to have that strong passion for a great game, but they took it too far with the extent of the riots. Glad your Chinook and everyone of you were alright!

    • thanks norbert! funny how while i’d heard there had been a riot years ago, i still felt like the energy in the city leading up to game 7 was so great that it wouldn’t go there. sad it did. everyone i know here is well albeit a little shaken. :)

  15. I have never been to Vancouver, but am I massive hockey fan (St. Louis Blues) and remember the riots of ’94 very well. I totally concur with the above stated opinion by that this was mostly just the work of bored, drunk, kids who wanted something “crazy” to update their FB statuses about or get profile pics next to. I don’t think any sane person would judge VAN for this, just like no sane person should judge any country after hearing one person got mugged.

    • thanks scott! i agree. i’d bet that many of those involved in the mayhem could give a rats ass about the game, but are just bored and looking for some “action.” glad we’re part of the “sane” contingent- means we dare to still travel :)

  16. I have to say, watching the whole thing go down on tv… it was really strange. Having just been in the city 48 hours before and it was so peaceful, so calm- to then go to complete chaos was strange. I’m glad to see the citizens take charge and help out in any way they could… I only wish the news media would have reported about this, instead of just the rioting.

    • thanks jade- me too! and believe me, it feels just the same now (and did since the morning after) as when you and i were enjoying it together! totally strange to think it even happened- which is a good thing! :)

  17. Nice report Lorna. It’s unfortunate that acts like this (conducted by just a handful of people) can really be remembered and form a bad reputation of a good place.

    Similar to Oakland, growing up in Nairobi, Kenya (a city that get’s a bad rep) is so beautiful and has so much good to offer.

    • thanks mark! ahhhh- you understand! i can’t wait to go to nairobi! you’ve done such a great job as being an ambassador for it- sounds like a great place to me :)

  18. Thanks for posting. I wrote a post about this that I was holding back on, but now I may go ahead and post it. I have a lot to say about the city, and unfortunately it’s not positive. I’m not willing to overlook or forgive these riots, because they’ve happened there before, so this is a pattern rather than an isolated incident. This city has a serious problem!

    • thanks scott! wow. will be interested to read your post. too bad a few bad apples have spoiled it for you! :( it’s pretty inconceivable for me that the riot even happened anymore. just so at odds with everything else i’m experiencing!

  19. This is a great post. I was shocked when I heard what happened. It is so unlike Vanouver. I know the city as an extremely friendly, welcoming place. Good that you mention the bus drivers, I can only confirm that – they’re so lovely and helpful. It was great to see that FB once more made something great feasible – a mass clean-up. And the stickers on the police car are wonderful. It just shows what the real Vancouver is like, and that a few rowdy hockey fans are in no way representative of this beautiful city.

    • thanks christina! i was shocked and i’d only just met the place! :) amen to everything you’ve said! where else to bus drivers bid you good day and thank you for riding? awesome peeps here for sure. :)

  20. Vancouver drunks need a good boot in the arse. They rioted back in 2002 as well when Guns & Roses cancelled a concert (they should have thrown a parade!) — Nice to see so many folks come out for the clean-up though…

    • thanks raymond! lol! well i think SOME vancouver drunks certainly need a good boot in the arse, although i’m glad others…TBEX pals?!…aren’t getting one ;) i’m just learning the extent of the problems here, and it’s clear that measures could be put in place to minimize the chaos rioters are able to create. way to whip the city back in shape though for the volunteers, no? :)

  21. Truly shocking scenes, but really special that people came out and cleaned up afterwards puts the faith back in people. I was in germany when they lost the World Cup to Brazil there were impromptu parties in the streets, one huge celebration that they had made it no bitterness at losing. Thanks for sharing.

    • thanks iain! yeah, i kind of expected what you describe for brazil here- that there would be tons of people in the streets as with the other games, but perhaps just a little less celebratory. bummer that it wasn’t that way, but think the city had a chance to show what it’s really made of in the aftermath- and it was great to see. :)

  22. Wow.. that’s intense. How great it is that a group of volunteers cleaned up and left notes apologizing. It goes to show that even if there are a few bad apples, for the most part people are good. Glad you made it out without a scratch!

    • thanks christy! i did! definitely a issue of a few bad apples! fortunately, they didn’t spoil it for long. :)

  23. Some people are stupid, right? Crazy night!

    • ain’t that the truth alexandra! some people are stupid! thankfully, the great people seem to out-number the dummies here :)

  24. Lorna, thank you SO much for this post. I was so disheartened after spending the weekend in beautiful Vancouver for TBEX, only to see this idiocy the following night. Thank you for posting the photo of people cleaning up and thanking the police officers.

    • thanks lauren! yeah- me too! i couldn’t believe it after how great people had been. you’ll be happy to know that now things feel back to the way they were (of course sadly not so for those who suffered during the riot) and it’s been as great as ever since the day after. :)

  25. Really great story about experiencing the moment. And the notes on the police car – had no idea.

    • thanks ben! i’m so glad we stumbled upon the great part of the story if the first part had to happen. was so comforting to see so soon after :)

  26. That’s a great post and restores your faith in human nature. there are idiots all over the world but for every idiot, there are a lot more people who care about their environment and I think by showing the bad and the good in this post, you’ve shown that more clearly. Good on the volunteers in Vancouver for standing up to the rioters in this way.
    Julia

  27. I love your take on this, Lorna. For us, these extreme events (riots, or really any kind of upheaval) allow us to witness the human condition. We’re all people. Just people. Sometimes we make smart decisions and other times not so much. In the end, awesome behavior seems to win (at least most of the time). You can’t ask for much more than that.

    A year ago, we were in Hawaii when they thought a huge tsunami was going to severely impact our island. The most serious warning in years and years. We went into town to get the recommended necessities (water, etc.). Frankly, we were expecting a lot of fear and a lot of mayhem. What we found was an almost odd sense of calm and kindness. It was remarkable. You just never know.

    • thanks guys! awesome! here, it’s an opportunity to observe how people choose to respond to behavior they disapprove of- rather than emulate it by lashing back, they rose to the occasion by showing more compassion for their city and those who tried to defend it. gotta love it! humans rule- most of the time :)

  28. It’s unfortunate that things turned for the worse. As a Vancouverite, I am both embarrassed and angered by these hooligans. I’m glad you were able to see the city’s reaction the following morning. THAT is the true Vancouver. Most of these idiots don’t even live in Vancouver, they just came to cause trouble and repeat the 94 riots. Its such a shame.

    • thanks cam! that’s what i thought honestly. it’s happened in oakland too- where outsiders have come in to wreak havoc when an opportunity presents (not that outsiders are to blame for all of oakland’s problems). i really love vancouver, and have experienced extraordinary friendliness and helpfulness at every turn…with the exception of that one. i’ll chose to form my opinion on the majority! so great to meet you both at tbex!!! :)

  29. What a story. I’m glad you all seem to have stayed safe. This could keep psychologists busy for a lifetime – that in a world so full of injustice people would riot over a sporting event.

  30. i had caught a bit of the riot on the news here, including an aussie making out with his girlfriend on the road in the midst of it all, but hadnt heard about the clean-up that went on. thats a pretty awesome thing to happen. like you said, its sad that such a minority can make a whole city look bad. more should have been made about all that helped in the clean-up! its still on my list as a city i must get to!

    • thanks jamie! yeah, i’m hearing a lot that the cleanup effort wasn’t reported enough. it’s too bad! it’s definitely a way for the city to show it’s better side in the wake of what for some hurts its reputation. glad it’s still on your list- it’s such a great city! :)

  31. How scary to be there when it was happening, but great photos. I also think Vancouver is a wonderful place and if I ever live in Canada again, would want to live in Vancouver. It’s terrible about the riots, but this is not representative of most Vancouverites – as the clean up efforts helped demonstrate.

  32. I was shocked to see that there were riots in Vancouver…. being from Southern California I only expected that to happen here. Canadians are the nicest people in the world so it’s not surprising that many people cleaned up the mess and left messages of remorse though. :)

    • thanks michael! (and my canadian family thanks you too ;) ) although, think we have to remember not to generalize for any group, as the rioters were likely canadian as well :( but i hear you, more good ones than bad it would seem!

  33. Wow, I hadn’t heard about the volunteer group that cleaned up and left positive messages! What a wonderful thing. :)

    • thanks christy! yeah, isn’t it great? reminds me of that margaret mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” :)

  34. its really sad when sports fans take things too far

  35. I watched the riots unfold via Twitter and was just heartbroken to think that was happening in the city I had just fallen in love with! However, my feelings were restored when I was back in Vancouver 2 days later and saw the cleanup effort. Yes, Canadians take hockey seriously, but the riots were examples of a few dozen bad apples fueled by alcohol and a mob mentality! Thanks for sharing your experience and glad to hear you made it out okay!

    • thanks aaron! so glad you were there to witness the beautiful aftermath too, and definitely appreciate the account you gave on your site- adds to the positive news coming out of the madness! great to meet you in vancouver too! :)

  36. It’s hard to believe that people could get so worked up just about sports…it’s just insane! I’m going to Vancouver for the first time in August, so that freaked me out a bit, though I’m sure that is far from a regular occurrence :) It’s just sad when people like that give a city a bad name and use valuable city resources for something so silly.

    • thanks emily! so agree…especially about the waste of resources! i’m really glad that it hasn’t scared you off from your trip. every single other day of my 2 weeks there were delightful- even the very next day. it’s a hard place to leave! so incredibly beautiful, with friendly folks and great food. hope you have a fantastic time! :)

  37. I think it is so beautiful that the citizens helped clean up and thanked the police.

    • me too rease! it really was this massive effort to clean up the city, and for those of us who didn’t even know it was happening, we just got to wake up and wonder at it all! truly remarkable :)

  38. Hmm, there’s two sides to every story. Let’s re-examine the facts shall we? You were out with Jeannie, Dylan and some guy with a frozen toe after TBEX, widely reported as something of a shambles as far as these bloggy events go, so bound to inflame some frustration and you just happen to have these pics of the destruction. So who were the masked menaces I wonder, hmm? ;)

    • BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I sit in the chinook, parked on a residential street in somewhere, usa giggling like a fool for anyone to hear who happens to stroll by jools! “some guy with a frozen toe” LOL! the thought of my post-TBEX pent up frustration (see- mama NEEDS to blog honestly!) creating superhuman powers that enable me to flip cars will surely have me breaking into fits for a lonnnnng time. maybe i should have hogga draw me as a masked menace in action- lol! thanks jools! :D

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