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In disgrace

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