The building on the right is the Queen Elizabeth Theater. I was lucky enough to work there for five weeks last summer. It didn’t have burning cars and rioters outside when I was there. Wicked the musical is playing there now. Here is an account of what it was like for a theater-goer when the riot was going on, from the Globe and Mail:
Heather Bourke was attending a performance of Wicked at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre with her husband, right next to where the riots began. Ms. Bourke, 32, is 5-1/2 months pregnant, and the mother of a two-year-old boy.
The play started a minute or two after the game ended. It was quite calm. No one was concerned. At intermission the curtain went down and someone came on the p.a. and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, due to a situation outside, please remain inside the building.’ Everyone just froze.
Then everyone went to the windows and stared out. It was unbelievable. Right in front of us: cars on fire, people being beaten up all around us, every direction you looked – smoke. When I went back to my seat, I noticed that I was trembling a little bit. I’ve never felt the baby kick so much in my life. I think the baby was in distress because of my hormones.
After the play was over, we were told to remain seated while Vancouver Police worked out a safe way for us to leave. Everyone was pulling out cells and getting updates. We had no idea what was happening. It’s kind of scary when you don’t know how bad it is. Before we left, we got specific directions: You must turn right, do not turn left. A man sitting beside us with an 11-year-old daughter asked how we were getting home. He drove us right to our door.
When we would leave the theater via stage door, which is on the far side of the building, we would turn right, which would take us directly into the rioters in that photo. We would take another right, which would put us onto the street with the burning car in that photo.
At that intersection, with the burning car, we would often take a left, and walk through the plaza of the CBC.
That’s the CBC on the left. We would walk by because I was always amazed that we worked right next door to it. I wanted nothing more, during our stay in Vancouver, than to get a tour of that building, especially the radio studios. It turns out, they don’t offer tours. There’s a coffee shack at the far end of the building (from our perspective) that poured a damn fine cup of coffee, always made to order. It was some of the freshest coffee I have ever had.
We would turn right on to Robson, walking past the library, and sometimes stop at the liquor store on the corner of Robson and Homer to puck up some beer, perhaps some Growers Peach, or my favorite Canadian beer, Thirsty Beaver from the Tree Brewing Company. Then down to Richards Street, sometimes diverting to the Red Card, a sports bar with some tasty pizza.
Or, even better, we would divert over to Granville for some five-pin bowling. Five-pin bowling is a very Canadian type of bowling, a mashup of Candlepin and Duckpin from New England, and the standard 10-pin that ESPN seems to be enamored with.
From our balcony at our apartment, we could see Granville Street. The occasional drunk fool would stop in the alley our balcony overlooked to relieve his bladder, and you could hear the noise on the streets from the party crowd. You could see the Comfort Inn and it’s attached bar, Doolins, from our balcony as well.
If you were to walk straight past that car, down the street two blocks, you would be at my apartment at the time, my temporary home. This guy is having a rough go of it right next to my building. And this ass wasn’t there when I was around. There wasn’t tear gas or fires. There was just a great city, with fun people, that I want to go back to.
You can imagine how the riots make me feel. Every picture I saw, I wondered if I had run into those people. I looked to see if I had been in any of the places that were being looted (Chapters, yep. Crepes, yep. Coffee shop, yep). I felt sad to see a beautiful city like Vancouver destroy itself, for people to turn against their own. The people who will suffer most from this are the business owners and workers who have to rebuild. And all from an attack from it’s own citizens. The pointlessness is deep. It makes no sense whatsoever. And the way I feel must pale in comparison to the way the people who live there feel.
Vancouver is at worst an expensive place to be. But so much about the city is charming and wonderful. Taking the mail run on a sea plane, or bicycling near the water. Getting on a ferry to see what is around, or standing next to the bridge you may have seen in the closing credits of the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada. Playing street hockey for charity, or even trying atrocious ketchup potato chips. Walking along Canada Place and watching the planes land in the water. There was so much to Vancouver, and so much more to see.
It’s a city that the locals are in love with. That love runs deep, and you know it when you talk the the people who live there. I wish Denver had that kind of love. I hope it’s getting there. I’d love to help get it there.
The riots can’t be simply explained away by talking about a few bad elements. If you look in the pictures, you see all kinds of people, instigators, onlookers, encouragers, and yes, hockey fans. They cheered, they cried, they tore apart their own city, and posed for pictures while doing it. There were all kinds of people, and they came together first for a hockey team, and then to rip their own homes apart. There is no explanation for it. There is no covering it up with a few excuses, or that only a bunch of anarchists and thugs are responsible. There were all kinds of people there. And yes, even some true fans caught up in the moment.
You get a sense of how the reasonable fans feel now, their embarrassment over the actions of the rioters pour out on the web. They keep apologizing, and trying to explain things. But they shouldn’t have to. We all know it wasn’t the majority of Vancouverites that turned downtown into a DMZ. We don’t hold them accountable. They feel the need explain it because they care.
In the end, it leaves a scar on the city. They will clean up the mess, and they will rebuild. A few stores will close down, burdened by the financial strain. People will move on. But they won’t forget. They will walk by the rebuilt areas and remember what happened. They will see the broken glass, smell the tear gas, and feel the heat from the fires. And just like me, they will want to remember Vancouver as it was.