Vancouver Riot: Hicks with Sticks

Young men and women cheer and gather as a car in a downtown Vancouver parking garage is swallowed in flames.

So much for world-class sophistication: the Vancouver riot reminds us that the city has barely evolved from its lumberjack beginnings.

Last night’s riot reminds the world that at its core Vancouver is still the city of drunken lumberjacks it was more than 100 years ago when its original town centre was named after a saloon keeper known for his flatulence.

What did the city expect when it invited 100,000 hicks from the sticks to congregate downtown for no reason other than to be part of a crowd? Pre-game references to the happy days of the Olympics, and how Vancouver has matured since the ’94 riot, were utterly naïve. The Olympics were a celebration, with all kinds of things to do downtown. Last night there was absolutely no reason to be downtown, except to be part of a mindless throng. Yes, there were a few giant TV screens, but don’t they have TV screens in Whalley and Abbotsford, too?

Let’s get one thing straight: despite the ubiquitous headlines about “disappointed fans,” these were not hockey fans. The throngs that started streaming downtown from the burbs around mid-day couldn’t care less about the Canucks – despite the face paint and jerseys. They were a bunch of rednecks intent on getting all liquored up in the big city.

And let’s sort out another misconception: we can’t blame this on a handful of hooligans. All those idiots standing around posing for souvenir photos while cars burned behind them were not innocent bystanders. No more innocent than the drunken louts striking poses for them atop the cars they had just overturned.

Above all, let’s not blame this on hockey. Despite a hard-fought, physical series and questionable refereeing, the dignity of the Canuck players themselves as they shook hands and congratulated their opponents after a heartbreaking loss reminds us of the true meaning of sportsmanship. And the fans – the real ones, the ones who actually went downtown to attend a sporting event – made us all proud by giving a standing ovation to the opposing team, and to the goalie who confounded us at every turn.

The riot was more than embarrassment; it was a disgrace. But it wasn’t an anomaly; it’ll happen again anytime we invite the unwashed hordes to congregate downtown. Let’s remember those images of a throng of thousands revelling in the mayhem next time we’re tempted to brag about our world-class sophistication.