Global BC News Hour co-host Chris Gailus was anchoring the show live from downtown Vancouver on the evening of June 15, 2011. In this blog post, he is reminiscing about how that eventful night unfolded.
I saw the first hint of trouble when I parked my car downtown, underground at Pacific Centre. Two seemingly underage kids with a 7-11 bag not even barely concealing the vodka bottle in it were having a hard time finding the exit door to get up to the street. Bad omen.
I showed them the way (I know, what was I thinking right?) and surfaced behind them to see the crowd starting to gather on a sunny warm afternoon along Georgia Street, heading to the fan zone. I passed through the security bag-check and down to our broadcast location outside the Budget car rental place at the Georgia-Homer intersection, and everyone seemed very well-behaved. The bright-orange vests of police officers were sparsely dotted throughout the throng. But then, there was a shift in the crowd the minute the game began on the big screen.
The Budget rental place had security fencing up around it to protect our microwave truck and all the equipment, and when the game started the crowd surged to get a better view. Many people who were standing against that fence felt an immediate shove, and it wasn’t long before they were getting crushed. Women, children, healthy-looking men all seemed to panic.
Our crew was inside the fence and we immediately starting helping, pulling people over the top of the fence into the budget parking lot, and eventually through a break in the fence, to relive the pressure.
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The surge settled down, the crowd settled in and the anticipation of a Canucks win was muted pretty quickly when Boston scored first.
Boston went on to score two more goals in the second period and I just remember sensing a shift in the collective mood of the crowd. It became disconnected from the hockey game.
A couple of guys climbed up on the traffic lights at Georgia and Homer and two police officers in the crowd went over the coax them down. It was the last time I remember seeing the bright orange vests… or any sign of crowd control… until the Emergency Response Team rolled in.
I’m not certain of the time, but shortly after Boston got their fourth goal, the Canucks had none, and it was clear the game was a lost cause…we spotted black smoke rising up from the street right in front of the Canada Post office. A couple of minutes after that, the muffled boom of a car tire exploding. It was the start of several hours of mayhem during which I witnessed the very worst of human behaviour, from the people you’d least expect it from.
Right across the street from us, the portable toilets began tipping over.
With each one, the crowd roared with delight, almost everyone with a smartphone held aloft to record the carnage.
The ERT established a line and started coaxing the crowd back, and encouraging them to disperse east and west along Georgia Street. In behind them on Homer Street, the mounted unit arrived on horseback. I was working with camera man Tony Clark who climbed up a ladder to get a better view of the several hundred people refusing to disperse. You could hear the bang and crash of giant plate-glass windows being smashed all along Georgia Street. Banks, restaurants, and the Budget office right next to us all suffered thousands of dollars in damage.
Through it all, I will never forget as long as I live the image of one young woman, in her bright sundress and sandals, laughing and giggling with her friends as she stepped around the barricade to get a selfie with the officers on horseback behind her as the city seemed to burn.