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So much better than a Facebook wall

Until about 8:30pm on Wednesday evening, I would have told you that the Canucks winning the Stanley Cup was my greatest hope for our city. And in fact I did, repeatedly (sorry about that).

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.

But in the days following, I have observed a remarkable thing: the citizens of this city determinedly coming together to claim that spirit back.

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.


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 photo galleries

Joy loves a crowd

Walking around downtown on Saturday screaming and high-fiving approximately 137 strangers is a great way to 1. take in the joy of an entire city over the shared dream of the Stanley Cup and 2. catch a cold. I believe I have successfully done both. And since last night’s game was a soul crushing disaster, I will not mention it further and will instead re-live previous joys (FYI – it was Game 3 of a best of 7 series, we’re still leading).

Saturday night in Vancouver (excuse the crappy cell-phone pictures).

This city is gripped with the most serious case of Canucks-fever since 1994 – the last time that we were in the Stanley Cup Final. I was a fan then too, though unfortunately… well that didn’t end well. After we lost, the city rioted and caused an end to all public gatherings for the next 16 years. During this time the cops would ask you to move along already if more than two people were within twenty feet of each other. And you better be ready with a good explanation if you laughed out loud.

Not surprisingly, we soon got tagged as the No Fun City.

The drought finally ended with the 2010 Olympics, which frankly I think surprised everyone. For the years leading up to it, you would have thought the Olympics were an international competition for elite kitten torturers by the way this city a few loud voices spoke about them: expensive, elitist, corporate, disrespectful to the First Nations, pointless, ‘stealing from our children’ and on and on.

The negative voices dominated the discourse for so long that I think everyone was caught by surprise when the Olympics finally arrived and all you could hear anywhere were the exuberant crowds. This normally cool, calm and collected city showed a side of itself that honestly no one knew it had. From morning until night, the streets were filled with flags, wide smiles, and infectious joy.

It was a two-week long street party of such honest-to-goodness happiness that my skeptical self wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it myself. Each day we would rush home from work, put on our comfiest walking shoes, and just wander the streets all evening to take it in. Eventually, even the complainers couldn’t complain with much conviction anymore; they could see the spirit in the city had become overwhelming and undeniable.

Canada on their way to gold (though this was not the gold medal game, unfortunately I didn’t have an extra couple of grand lying around.)

And when we won the gold medal in hockey? Yeah we pretty much collectively lost our shit. It was indescribable.

Right after we won gold.

I want that again. I want it bad. We have been waiting patiently practically begging for our Stanley Cup for too long now. It’s our time. And I just really want to scream in pure joy with a few hundred thousand people again. Something really powerful about that.