Then this happened. And suddenly the Cup meant nothing at all. I have since barely given it a second thought. Usually once the Canucks lose, Vancouver gets busy doling out blame for the loss and exhaustively talking through how our team must change in the future.
None of that is happening now. No one is talking about hockey.
Wednesday night’s riot felt like a betrayal. Perhaps that sounds strange, since Vancouver is a city of millions, but I feel a real sense of community here. Perhaps it’s because we’re a bit of an island to ourselves within Canada – both geographically* and culturally – with our West-coast laid back ideals, our deeply multicultural communities, and our taste for expensive coffee.
The community spirit has always been here, but it was brought to the forefront during the Olympics. I’m not big on touchy-feely crap (John fondly refers to me as Nordic ice princess due to my cold, cold heart) – but I was completely swept up in the spirit created by hundreds of thousands of people coming together in happiness during that time. It was the kind of feeling I imaged I might experience on my wedding day – the feeling of being enveloped in love and joy – except it turns out I’m too self-conscious to enjoy that when it’s being directed at me. But free floating in the city for all to grab? It was remarkable. I was utterly smitten.
When I watched the rioting, I thought this community spirit was being ripped from me. I felt stupid and naive for believing it could exist in the first place. That night, Vancouver seemed every bit like the large, faceless city that it in all reality is.
They came out in droves in the wee hours of Thursday morning in their suits and their dresses, ready to clean the streets. Which they did.
They spontaneously covered a police car in post-its of gratitude, hung colourful flags of encouragement across downtown awnings, and wrote messages of optimism by the thousands on wooden boards covering the smashed windows – boards that will now be placed in the Vancouver Museum (fun fact: that’s where John and I were married!).
I have gotten to see that there is indeed a community spirit here to fight for and I wasn’t alone in feeling it. The city felt it, it was real, and we’re not letting it go because of the actions of a few. In the span of a few short days I have gone from being proud of our Canucks to something far more meaningful – I’m proud of my city.
*No, Vancouver is not literally on an island (though we do have one of those), but we are geographically isolated from the power centers of the country and feel it.
Since the picture of the kiss captured attention here – as it has everywhere – I thought I’d share the little story that has since been revealed about it (figured you might not be tracking it all with quite the same dedication as I am).
It wasn’t set-up – they are simply a young couple in a moment caught perfectly by a photographer. Australian Scott Jones and his Canadian girlfriend Alex Thomas had been at the game and were caught in the violence as they tried to leave:
… Alex got knocked by a [police] shield and fell to the ground,” he told CBC News. “[Scott] was comforting her and gave her a kiss to say, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ and the photographer just took the shot at that moment.”
You can read the rest of the story here at CBC.ca.
Also, if you have another moment to spare, also go and read this about the overwhelming response of Vancouverites to make things right after the riot. It warms my heart. Here is an excerpt:
An estimated 15,000 people of all ages streamed into the heart of Vancouver as early as 5 a.m. [Thursday] to clean up the bloody footprints, scrub the offensive graffiti, to try to make amends for the damage cause by hooligans and looters after Wednesday night’s Stanley Cup loss.
They came to share their feelings of disgust and outrage, to heal the pristine image of a city that had sparkled not just in their own hearts, but in the eyes of the world after last year’s Olympics; but mostly they came because they cared.
If you’ve as much as peeked at this blog, you’ll know I’m a Canucks fan. Along with most every other Vancouverite, I’ve basically lived and breathed the play-offs for the last two months. John and I watched every game with glee and I believe I’ve never screamed more than when the Canucks scored.
Last night was the deciding game for the most prized trophy in hockey, the Stanley Cup. I spent the day in nervous excitement. Practically every second person I saw in the city was wearing a Canucks jersey, t-shirt, hat or maybe all of the above. We had really high hopes.
I’m not sure I can really communicate what the Cup means to a hockey city like ours, in a hockey country like ours. We don’t share a religion, a background, a political belief, or even a language. But we share hockey. Oh yes, we can all get behind hockey.
Well, we lost. Badly. And the loss was crushing.
But it paled in comparison to seeing my city tear itself apart as a result: cars on fire, stores looted, fights, tear-gas, the riot squad.
It’s like déjà vu. We’ve been exactly here before, in 1994, when the Canucks lost the very same game. It wasn’t huge as far as riots go, but it affected this city for more than a decade. Public events were severely limited, as the police couldn’t trust that people could behave. But I was too young then to understand, the city wasn’t a part of me then. It is now.
Gradually, as successful public events started to build up behind us, we gained confidence. The Olympics were our test and not only did we pass, but we excelled; we were the very picture of good sportsmanship and spirit. And the city showed off its new maturity throughout this play-off run, through glorious wins and crushing disappointments, all with dignity and grace. Only ten days ago I was in that crowd, feeling like I was part of something amazing. I thought we could handle any disappointment together, in dignity. I was wrong.
I’m ashamed. I’m so very disappointed.
Last night I sat in disbelief in our living room, looking across the inlet at downtown Vancouver. It looked so peaceful, with an amazing sunset reflecting off the buildings. If it wasn’t for the plumes of black smoke wafting above the glass and concrete, I could have been peaceful too. Helicopters buzzed above. Later, I lay in bed for a long time listening to them, unable to sleep, wondering what atrocities were happening across the water.
I got off the train one stop early on my way to work today, right at the heart of the destruction. When I stepped out onto the street, I cried. The city I know and love was battered and beaten. Broken glass, looted store-fronts, an acrid smell of burning in the air.
This is not the truth of our city. It is not the truth for the vast, vast majority of fans. It is the truth for a handful of drunk, testosterone-charged idiots who look for any excuse to blow off some steam. You don’t define us, in fact you will unite us in our contempt for you.
I am finding spots of light amongst the darkness. The hooligans apparently can’t be expected to grow up, but the city – the city that matters – has grown up. The police were calm and restrained in breaking up the crowds. Stories keep emerging of people trying to do good in the madness, trying to right the wrongs they saw. The full impact won’t be known for a while, but despite the physical damage, I am hopeful we’ll emerge just scratched, instead of beaten to our very core as we were in 1994.
All images from CBC.ca photo galleries