Vancouver Riots 2011

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.

Vancouver Riots 2011 - Post Vancouver Canucks Stanley Cup Loss
Broken Glass during the 2011 Vancouver Riots

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!


  1. Watching the riots on tv was a little surreal, knowing I was there two days before. I’m glad you were okay, and are sharing your account of what happened.

  2. wtf is wrong with people??? this nauseates me- seriously. but i’m glad you’ve shown it. although unfortunately, i doubt it’ll make anyone inclined to do this kind of stuff see the error of their ways. really love that a massive group of amazing vancouverites reclaimed things so quickly and glad you and none of our other peeps were hurt. 🙂

    1. Totally agree Lorna, it’s too bad that happened but I was so impressed at how fast they cleaned everything up.

  3. Holy shit. This is an incredible story… the sad thing is we were joking about this happening on Monday :-S
    Glad you made it out OK, and I feel really sorry for that poor girl who owns the car, as well as everyone else hurt during the events. I’m really glad my flight happened to be leaving town that morning. This isn’t something I would have liked to have witnessed first hand…

    1. I know Benny, even right before the game started we joked about rioting after… I never thought it would actually come to that!

  4. Wow, amazing video. It’s crazy how one group of people can cause so much destruction when there are so many by-standers who could have stopped it.
    Glad you are okay and the pepper spray didn’t do any damage.

  5. I still have a hard time believing it all deteriorated into this. It’s both sad and sickening. And the worst part is that, like you said, it ended up being a few groups of punks making the whole city look bad. Because it happened after the Canucks lost, of course all the coverage made it look like Vancouver is a city full of sore losers.

    Glad you escaped relatively unscathed, though! Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m actually pretty glad I got out of Vancouver before all this!

  6. Your eyes were so red when you came into the hostel. I didn’t get hit nearly as hard as you did and it sucked. Can’t imagine how intense it was for you.

    Glad we all made it back safe.

  7. That is so crazy! The group think phenomenon can be really dangerous in times like these when individual minds merge into a mass and no one assumes responsibility for their own actions. Glad you made it out okay 🙂

    1. Thanks Jasmine, it was a giant snowball effect. Once people started seeing other people go crazy, everyone joined in. Especially with all the cameras rolling!

  8. that video is crazy! I can’t believe you guys hung out in that crowd I would of run for my life! and that poor girl trying to protect her car! 🙁
    Glad you got out of their safe 🙂

  9. You got a great video of the car attempting to be flipped with some pretty clear shots of the people’s faces trying to do it. If you haven’t already you should send the video or youtube link directly to the VPD and they’ll add it to the evidence they’re collecting to identify the idiots who did this to our beautiful city. any evidence can be sent to

    Glad you made it out safe.

  10. Unbelievable video and I agree 100% with Aly’s comment above. You should submit this to the VPD ASAP, if you haven’t already. They need to round up as many people that were involved in this destruction as possible. Let’s face it, none of those scumbags should be on the streets in the first place.

  11. This video is fucked. All it takes for us to devolve into slavering brutes is a lost sports game? How fragile our society is. Good video and glad you made it outta there relatively unscathed. That poor woman with her car…at least she was knocking idiots the fuck out.

    1. Left and right Keith! She didn’t care who it was she was taking them down. It’s so messed up that it came to that though.

  12. Wow. So sad…and scary. I agree with Keith above. Humans can get pretty scary in groups (especially w/ alcohol added) sometimes…just following the other idiot next to them and not stopping to think for themselves. I’m glad I did not see this. I feel bad for anyone innocent who got hurt and glad you & Marc left when you did. Ridiculous. I think you should submit this video to the cops.
    PS–Nice jersey.

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