Five years ago on June 15, 2011, this massive crowd on Georgia St. near Hamilton St. was the main proponent in what would become a perfect storm creating the devastating riot after the Stanley Cup final game.
The Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins were tied 3 to 3 going into the final game being played in Boston, MA. This left local fans in the streets of Vancouver viewing the game on massive screens at three venues – we see the back of the largest screen in front of the CBC logo. The screen is positioned on Georgia St. near Hamilton St. on the west side of the Queen Elizabeth Plaza. The man taking the picture in the left of the photo is on a balcony in the CBC building. There was another screen on Hamilton between Georgia St. and Robson St. in front of the CBC building and a third on Homer St. between Georgia St. and Robson St. This left an overcrowded fenced off area containing an estimated 100,000 fans, mostly standing and blocking easy access to exit areas. As well, emergency vehicles had limited access if any.
The previous six games viewed in this fashion caused few problems, and police felt the situation was under control. But this was the final game with an estimated 30,000 more fans attending than the 70,000 at each of the previous six games, and Vancouver lost 4-0. Many fans had been drinking heavily for hours. Bottles began to sail through the air at the screen, and cars parked in front of the post office on Georgia St. were overturned and set on fire. This escalated to police cars parked in the empty lot south of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (QET) being set aflame. People attending a performance at the QET were unable to leave. Soon fire trucks were being inhibited by the crowds from accessing the fires and the situation raged out of control. The crowd moved up to Georgia and Granville trashing businesses along the way. At Hudson’s Bay Dept. store, they broke windows and set the awning structure overhanging Georgia and Seymour Streets on fire. London Drugs was trashed and looted along with other businesses in the area. There were fights and around 140 people were injured including 9 police officers. The game had ended around 7:50 p.m. and the situation did not get under control till around midnight.
There was also a riot after the 1994 Stanley Cup final and recommendations were made, especially that cars not be parked in the downtown core. This was not followed in 2011; as well, major arteries to exit downtown were temporarily closed, further inhibiting the timely exit of fans. Police did not react quickly and many felt they were standing around directionless.
Furthermore, many of the rioters participating were not all violent, but were happy to participate with looting while taking selfies or being photographed by others for social media. This modern phenomenon is truly amazing. It appears as if people are oblivious to the fact that the world is watching, and that there will be consequences! How often has this occurred with the police themselves being caught in dubious situations? Well, there were consequences and many people were arrested and prosecuted with the help of social media.
Riots take on a mentality of their own, and it seems after a relatively short period of time, not much has been learned. Oh, people were quite sorry after the mayhem, and there were plenty of supportive messages of love and hope for the city on the plywood boards placed over the broken windows outside The Bay. These have been saved in the Vancouver Museum. There were even volunteer cleanup crews. All this is admirable, but where does that leave us for the future? We certainly don’t want a police state, but better planning is essential to avoid some of the now obvious pitfalls outlined above.