An Australian Backpacker Caught In The Vancouver Riots

As everyone knows by now, chaos engulfed the downtown streets of Vancouver after the Game 7 loss between the Canucks and the Bruins. The story has been killed 8 shades of dead by now. We all know windows were smashed, people were injured, cars were lit up, and stores were looted. What many people don’t realize is that there were everyday backpackers and tourists caught in the middle of the tear gas, the pounding riot shields, and the insanity, with nowhere to go.

While I was staying at the Kelowna Samesun Hostel, I ended up having several drinks with this young Australian guy. He was 23 years old, staying at one of the local hostels in downtown Vancouver. Right in the heart of all the mess. We got talking and he gave me his entire story on how he saw things go down. He wants to remain anonymous, but he agreed to let me share his story.

The following will be written from his point of view.

We Just Wanted A Photo

I was watching the game with a few friends I’d just met that day, and after the loss we were hearing from people that riots had broke out. Word got out that things were getting crazy around Georgia Street, and that a car had already been lit on fire. Looking back, the next decision I made probably wasn’t that smart, but beer & curiosity will make you do crazy things. We left the hostel in hopes of getting a quick photo of the riots, something to say “we saw what happened the day the Canucks lost”.

Photo Credit: Andy Liang

A Run In with Riot Police

We made it up to Georgia Street, and saw what was left of one car. Burnt metal, smoke, and a cluster of crazy people screaming around it. We snapped our picture and stayed a few minutes, watching. We figured things might get crazy quick, which made us think we should probably get back to the hostel quick. As we were making our way back, we were met by a line of riot police in full gear. Tear gas was shot out at the crowd. We ran down a small street to try and avoid the chaos and get out of the line of fire.

The next street over we see another band of crazies. Some guy was hammering away at a Hummer. I said to someone nearby “All this over a trophy?”, and was given a reply by one of the rioters. “The Canucks lost! Vancouver has to burn!”. His eyes screamed that he sincerely believed this. Through the kicks to cars, we saw someone trying to light the Hummer on fire. They had rags hanging out of the gas tank in hopes that they could light the petrol up. It didn’t work, which only pissed them off more. Eventually someone showed up with some flaming pieces of wood. They threw a bunch of fire underneath the hummer. We took a couple pictures, then figured we should go. Quick. Things were progressively getting more insane. More rioters joined, even less crazy ones who just wanted to smash something.

Intimidation with Shields & Batons

As we run from the Hummer fire scene we heard an explosive boom. We heard through the herd of people that the Hummer had exploded. At this point we were barely able to move. People were everywhere. Up the road more riot police held their ground. People were kicking their shields, throwing rocks, and screaming at the Riot police. The Riot Police faught back with intimidation, smashing their batons against their shields. More tear gas came out, this time in heavy doses. It was getting hard to see and breathe.

We found a small alleyway and ran down it and lucked out. We ended up near the back entrance of our Hostel. I walked out onto Granville with my hands up, and my hostel key out in hopes that people will know I’m not a rioter and just a tourist in the whole event. A police in riot gear told me to get out of here, it’ll be another three hours at least before things settle down. At this point I was thinking I’m screwed.

We went back to the alleyway and began hollering up at hostel windows. We finally caught the attention of someone in their room and told them we had dorm rooms there. We showed our keys, and they told us to just go around front. We told them that everything was boarded up, police aren’t letting anyone through, and we have nowhere to go. The people in the window said to wait there. They’d look for help.

Tear Gas Begins to Thin Out

We waited for 10 or 15 minutes before one of the higher-ups at the hostel let us through the back door after we showed him our keys and confirmed we were who we said we were. I made it back, washed up, and watched the rest of the scene unfold over the TV and looking out the window. Tear gas thinned out, the fires went out, people cleared the streets, and the city looked like it had seen the end of days.

I kept thinking how crazy things got so quick. Just a couple days ago I was high-fiving the entire city of Vancouver. Then this happened. My entire faith in this city I had been visiting for the past week had been totally lost. I was already planning on leaving the city soon; however, this confirmed that I needed to do so quicker.

Then I Awoke

Then something mind-blowingly surreal happened. I awoke the next morning and found the city clean. The glass, the debris, the remnants of the fires, all completely clean. It was as if the whole ordeal never happened. I asked at the front desk how this happened and was told that thousands of volunteers came out after things died out and helped clean up.

Boarded with Love

Shattered windows were boarded up and had already begun to be drawn on. Messages of hope. Messages of anger. Messages of love. “This is OUR city, thx to every1 who helped clean up!” – “I love Van” – “Solidarity Forever” – “Vancouver people are beautiful”. Within days those boards had filled up, there was hardly any room left to write on. Supporters sold white pieces of fabric for people to paint on with proceeds going to the cleanup of Vancouver.

A Heart Warming Sight

Seeing the city come together after an event like that is incredibly heart warming. The people behind the riots weren’t true Vancouverites. Sure, people got caught up in the mess, but from what I saw, these people were planning on rioting win or lose. Whatever the case may be, thats how I saw things. It was crazy. I’m just happy I made it out alive.

There’s a Peace Rally planned for Saturday June 25th to honour the Paramedics and Police who helped keep Vancouver Safe. See the Vancouver Spirit Rally Facebook Page.

Big thanks to my anonymous Australian pal for sharing the details of this with me. Were you in Vancouver for the riots? Please share your story.

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