Wednesday night was a hockey fan’s dream: Game 7 with the greatest trophy in professional sport on the line. For locals who packed downtown bars and pubs it was a night of great expectations.
In the end it was the sparse number of Bruins fans (above at Mike’s Place at the Hume) who celebrated while Canucks fans (below at Finley’s) cried in their beer. And in Vancouver, all hell broke loose.
Nelson police chief was at centre of ’94 Vancouver riot
On June 14, 1994, Wayne Holland was the first member of the Vancouver Police Department called in as backup when things started getting out of hand after the Canucks lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
The present Nelson police chief, then working in internal investigations, watched the game at home and was getting ready to go to bed when the phone rang.
Caught ill-prepared, the department didn’t have a formalized call-out list in those days, but Holland’s brother was on duty as a 911 dispatcher.
“He thought to himself ‘The one cop’s number I know is my brother.’ So I got the call.”
Since he mostly did plainclothes work, Holland scrambled to find a uniform and headed for the eye of the storm on Granville Street. Working with 15 other officers, they decided to shut down the bars before midnight.
“To our surprise and delight, the owners and their bouncers were absolutely ready and willing,” he says. “They wanted to get out themselves. It was pretty scary that night. We walked up and down Granville for six or seven hours. Arrested those that needed to be arrested and tried to help innocent people — janitors, restaurant staff — get home. They were scared to death.”
Holland was up all night and the following day.
Fast forward 17 years.
Holland was at a police chiefs conference in Prince George on Wednesday, watching Game 7 with his counterparts.
“We were disappointed in the game, but I admit not even in my darkest moments did I suspect that what occurred in Vancouver [in 1994] would reoccur,” he says.
Returning to his hotel room, he turned on the TV and saw the mayhem.
“I felt sick to my stomach and immediately concerned for my family who are still in Vancouver, and for the safety of people at the tender mercies of several dozen hoodlums.”
Based on what he viewed, Holland figures some people came to cause trouble no matter the outcome of the game. They wore scarves and other clothing to hide their identities and avoid the effects of pepper spray.
However, he believes Vancouver police “did a pretty darn good job” of crowd control. Officers followed their training in containing certain areas, and only moved in when it was absolutely safe.
“From what I saw, they were pretty confident they could handle the situation when they were ready,” he says.
“A lot of people might wonder why looters were allowed to do what they did for so long. You have to remember our oath of office: protect lives first, property second.”
Holland says the strategy is not to give up any ground that is stable before you have enough people to deal with the situation, and then to lock it down for several hours.
“You want to contain, observe, and when possible, avoid a spread of — there are no other words for it — rioting and looting.”
Holland says lessons were learned from 1994 that were put in practice Wednesday.
Soon after the riots that year, the Vancouver police board created crowd control units, and since then has trained extensively in dealing with such volatile situations.
“I think it could have been a lot worse if they weren’t ready,” he says.
He doesn’t think there is anything else they could have done to prepare, nor would additional reinforcements necessarily have made that much difference.
“The police will always be outnumbered. At the best of times you have one officer for every 550 citizens. Short of having one officer for every citizen, which is impossible, all you can do is train to be as expert and patient [as possible].”
By contrast, he notes things were quiet in Nelson. When he checked in with dispatch around 11 p.m., no problems had been reported.
Mungall finds ‘island’ of peace amidst violence
Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall was among those caught up in the riot in Vancouver on Wednesday, although at one point she found an oasis in the chaos.
Mungall watched portions of Game 7 from the downtown live site, but left before things turned ugly. Even before the game ended, trouble appeared to be brewing.
“When we were down 2-0, the energy really shifted from a cheering crowd to very tense,” she says. “Some people were saying ‘I think there’s going to be a riot.’ Lots were expressing concerns and families started to head out.”
When she returned to her hotel room at the corner of Georgia and Howe, she could see smoke billowing from burning cars and trashcans.
She stayed inside until about 10:30, when things had calmed down a bit.
In contrast to the violence, outside the Vancouver Art Gallery she encountered a group of young people who pulled out speakers and started a dance party to celebrate the Canucks.
“To me, that was exactly what real fans do. It was a little island of class and respect and celebration in what was otherwise a very angry mob,” Mungall says.
She returned to her hotel moments after three men were stabbed, just as paramedics arrived. Several men were arrested.
She adds the police handled things well, successfully dispersing the crowd without antagonizing it.
“You can’t blame anyone other than the hooligans that started it,” she says. “The city was well prepared in case something happened. At the same time, you don’t know what people are going to do.”
Mungall joined a downtown clean-up crew Thursday morning organized on Facebook.