“You were there?” Yes, right next to the first car on fire.
And then, wandering the downtown core, calling into the station as another car got swarmed, the police moved in, hundreds streamed down an alley, looking for what might happen next.
I’ve been thinking a lot the Stanley Cup Riot this week, not just because the playoffs started again, prompting more discussions on policing and crowd control.
Last night was the RTDNA Awards, where our CBC team was honoured with several regional awards for our coverage. So were other outlets in the city, so the acceptance speeches were filled with memories of what we all saw and felt that night.
I was excited for the playoffs last year. But 10 months post-riot? Not one bit.
My city transformed, for better then worse
Now, people who love hockey will say that attitude means I’m not a “real fan.” Which I freely admit.
I wasa fan of what was happening on the streets, much more than the ice. It rekindled a bit of that spirit from the Olympics, the year before.
The city, downtown especially, felt like a special place to be. People came out of their normal niches and commutes to gather together. The pavement was transformed into public space.
During the Olympics, that was all capped off with the impromptu street party after the men’s gold medal hockey win.
That whet my appetite, and I’m sure many others, for another crazy but good-natured civic celebration.
As CBC’s Stephen Quinn recalled on the radio this week about the outdoor playoff parties: “It was fun, until it wasn’t.”
Smoke rising, bottles flying
And that turning point came around 8:02 p.m., June 15, 2011.
I was already outside the CBC with a television camera and other reporters, gathering comments from disappointed fans. Then, over the sea of people on Georgia Street, bottles started flying, aimed at the massive public viewing screen.
We saw smoke across the street, but didn’t see where it was coming from. We linked arms and pushed through the crowd, getting sworn at for our CBC logos. As we reached the other side, we saw that first overturned car, just smouldering.
I felt a wall of heat as it burst into flames.
That’s when I tweeted the picture at the top of this post. I didn’t know how to describe it. Do I name this, a #riot? Maybe, but this is just one car. Are these #Canucks fans? That debate continues today.
It was a little of all of those things, especially disappointing. But also surreal.
Witnessing downtown that night, it felt like either that memory of happy Olympic crowds was make-believe, or this was. But they were both real, and now we have to live with it.