You could see the smoke billow up from behind the hotels in downtown Vancouver. Helicopters circled as crowds scattered and riot police moved in. I was watching the whole thing unfold from a comfy rooftop terrace high above all the chaos.
As the Bruins netted their third of four goals, the game was out of reach for the home Canucks. Along with fellow travel blogger Marc Passion, we bailed on the deflated bar midway through the third period to meet up with some local gals at a little Thai restaurant.
From the bar, we all went to an office building where one of the girls worked to checkout the Vancouver skyline and refuel after the tough loss.
While we welcomed the change in atmosphere and incredible views, we could see all the action on the streets starting to pick up and curiosity got the best of us. As the girls carried on out of sight we dipped through the back door and down onto the streets.
As soon as we reached ground level (where the video picks up), we were smacked in the face with some freshly thrown pepper spray from riot police infiltrating the area.
There were basically 3 types of people on the streets at that point. Those trying cause destruction, those trying to get away from it and those wanting to watch, photographing and video everything. It was a wild mix of people frantically searching for friends and joyfully celebrating chaos.
We doubled back and followed a crowd down a side street to the source of the smoke. It was at that moment, when we turned the corner into the giant mob, that I knew this wasn’t just a post-game pity party.
The crowd was dense and black smoke above everyone. Sounds of sirens were muffled under screams, cheers and shattering glass. People threw hockey sticks through store windows, started fires in tipped over trash cans and damaged any car within reach.
The saddest thing to watch was a girl trying to protect her beautiful BMW from a reckless mob. She swung punches at anyone who came close but was eventually overtaken by the crowd and she left for safety. When she left, someone set fire to the BMW (shown in the video) and the entire thing went up in smoke.
As the night progressed you could see a shift in the crowd from upset hockey fans to juvenile misfits and hardcore rioters. As the news described it, the people who were causing all the destruction were anti-government groups who used the game to mask their intentions.
Everything was escalating pretty quickly, so Marc and I decided to grab a Shawarma before heading back to the hostel. Turns out, while the whole city is being vandalized, the tiny Indian joint with the delicious wraps was open and operating in a very orderly fashion.
We leaned against a boarded up jewelry store just as a fight breaks out right in front of us. Two groups of guys started exchanging pushes and haymakers over the usual bull shit until one overmatched Asian kid started swinging a baseball bat at his opponent’s arms and back. Marc and I stood our ground, un-phased by the scuffle and eventually everybody scattered without terrible injury.
When we’d had enough of the destruction and violence we attempted to walk back to the hostel where we were met by a row of riot police who blocked off a large section of Granville Street. It just so happened that our hostel was smack dab in the middle of the barricade.
Marc immediately approached the line and after getting pushed back a bit he somehow convinced the guards to let us through. This turned out to be the worst decision of the night. As we walked down the deserted street it felt like my face was immediately sunburned and someone was dumping hot sauce all over it.
What the riot police didn’t tell us as we passed by was that they had thrown a ton of tear gas down Granville to divide another angry mob.
We started sprinting down the 6 blocks to get to our hostel and when we arrived we had to bang on the boarded up doors for what seemed like hours until someone finally took down a piece of plywood and let us in.
I raced to the bathroom to wash my eyes as everyone in the crowded hostel bar looked on in disbelief. They couldn’t believe we were just getting in then. The city was in complete disarray and had the opportunity to witness the tragedy in Vancouver first hand.