“We are all Canucks” until we riot, apparently. Then it’s the work of a “handful.”

BC Lottery Corp ad, Canucks monster

“Hockey’s over-the-top fandom (and the same could be said for the Olympics) seems a frantic expression of what the post-modern metropolis and its high-rise ghettos lack and even deliberately negate — a human-scale community in which individuals feel purposeful and acknowledged.”

“In the absence of any shared collective progressive principles, the BC elite longed for a new solidarity forged from of this “fighting collectivity” of Canucks fans. You could not find a politician that didn’t reinforce the jingoism, not the least with Premier Christy Clark speaking exclusively in hockey metaphors. But grounding social solidarity in competitive spectacle is a risky wager, as the solidarity can be wiped away by a 0-4 tally.”

Excerpts above are from “The Canucks’ Cup run, like war, has brought us together” by Lee Bacchus and “Spectacular Vancouver conquers itself” by Tristan Markle. Also see The Stanley Cup riot shames Vancouver by Matthew Good in The Guardian, Please Stop Saying You’re the ‘Real’ Vancouver by Professor Jon Beasley-Murray in The Tyee; The myths of Vancouver’s superiority do the city a disservice by Dave Bidini in the National Post; Busting myths of Vancouver’s destructive Stanley Cup riot and The sad, painful truth about the rioters’ true identities by Gary Mason in the Globe and Mail,  Dear Hooligans by Morgan Brayton,  On Riots & Anarchists: the Media’s Reactionary Propaganda at Politics Respun, and Vancouver Burns after the Stanley Cup by Skot Nelson. And on the other side, I disagree with most media reports all of which seem to share in the collective denial that this hockey fan behaviour is more widespread than “a handful” and has anything to do with hockey.

I live blocks from the brute architectural atrocity that is Rogers Arena, which sports an enormous corporate banner declaring that “We are all Canucks.” The thing is, we are not all “Canucks,” and I’m irritated every time I go past the stadium. For some of us, hockey is just a blood-sport corporate franchise that whips people into a frenzy without outlet and that does nothing real for community. Meanwhile it saps community energy from everything else, for months on end, including and especially all those things that don’t end in riots. (Like music, arts and culture, for starters. Just try to have produced anything non-hockey for an audience in Vancouver these past many months. And hockey will probably dominate the key months of next year, too, regardless of a spot in the playoffs. The season is far too long, and no one and nothing can compete with the corporate marketing and broadcast budgets involved.)

On the night of the Stanley Cup final, I went with two friends and a young child to the CBC fan zone. We arrived around 5:15, just minutes after the game had started. We mainly wanted to witness the phenomenon downtown. Even at the very beginning of the game the mood was tense and unpleasant, with lots of drinking and pushiness. We walked our bikes past a man covered in blood but sitting quietly next to a police officer as if this were normal. My usually unflappable friend took her child home after fifteen minutes, and I left thirty minutes later. There was no actual joy I could identify anywhere, very little real sense of fun or creativity in the crowd, and no sign of what I’d consider a happy carnival atmosphere. It felt sharp-edged and desperate. Everyone knows what happened three hours later.

Aquilini, the developer who owns the Canucks, should answer for some of this. So should the rest of the NHL ownership, with its aggressive advertising and increasing tolerance—or let’s face it, encouragement—of violence in the game. I’m really surprised that anyone can honestly believe that the game’s violence doesn’t set an answering tone amongst spectators.

Meanwhile, Vancouver (not to mention all of British Columbia) needs to look to itself. Whatever hockey fans may wish to believe, this riot was not the work of an isolated few people. I was there, having cycled back to the edge of downtown around 9 pm with a friend to make sure the crowd hadn’t smashed the windows of the gallery I work with, which is located half a block from the riot site at the Main Post Office. Even from a safe distance we could see thousands of young people—who were clearly fans—egging on the violence and cheering each explosion. Many hundreds if not thousands were involved in the smashing and looting, and everyone seemed fueled by a kind of fatal exhilaration.

It seems obvious that no matter how the police had responded, the night would have gone badly. There was simply nowhere else for the deliberately engineered fan frenzy to go. Aggressive energy has an ecology or economy that our uniformly pro-hockey politicians simply don’t seem to understand. And to those saying Night 7 was different than Nights 5 or 6, I’d say to you that it’s simply not true. Monday and the previous Friday felt exactly the same. Each night the fans mirrored the games themselves—scrappy, restless, and aggressive. On Night 5, drunk fans from the Blarney Stone bar crashed an opening at Artspeak Gallery across the street, drunkenly manhandling artworks and intimidating the guests, and this was not an isolated event.

All those wishing to say that last night’s riot signifies nothing about our city nor about hockey and its fans, but should just be written off as the work of a handful, need to get more realistic fast. The way hockey is managed is a serious problem, and so is the fact that this region produces so little else in the way of widely accessible culture, thanks to the government’s aggressive anti-cultural stance and its radical, unique-in-Canada slashing of cultural budgets. The riot just revealed in a more tangible way than usual a structural lack of cohesive community fabric. Manufactured hockey “solidarity” is not a real collective bond. It produces no solid identity nor pride in one’s own environment. There are cultural and socioeconomic problems at work here, and the hockey machine—with its ramped up fandom—is undeniably amplifying them.

Canucks fans

Canucks car with anti-Boston sentiments

Rogers Arena - Canucks

Rogers Arena - Canucks

Canucks fan. Wearing AXE body spray.

Two addendums on the topic of urban and social planning:

Canucks owner and slum landlord/property speculator The Aquilini Group has built perhaps the ugliest stadium in North America smack in the middle of Vancouver’s downtown. (2 stadiums side by side near a beautiful waterfront—a travesty of urban planning.) Now we hear that Aquilini is involved in the development of more cookie-cutter condo highrises. How many more concessions will we give to these people? Aquilini Sr. made his money as a slum landlord. Why are his aesthetics now to be ours? On top of which his hockey franchise has teamed up with the government’s BC Lottery Corp to market online Canucks sports betting to a young male market, which happens to be the fastest growing gambling demographic of gambling addicts in Canada, a statistic highly correlated with teen substance abuse and suicide. Look at the remarkably aggro ad at top, and take a stab at which target audience it wants to attract. Should we not aggregate all of these things and ask ourselves who we really want to build our community with, and how?

From Ian Reid’s article Not your mother’s brand of anarchist in the Vancouver Observer:

“If you think about it, since 2001 – and under the direction of the BC Liberal government – Vancouver’s spent a lot of its money and most of its energies building a city that’s dependent upon short lived spectacles and mass gatherings.”

We have largely failed to produce the sort of long-lived, stable cultural life that makes cities successful. The current City Council has actually been doing a decent job of trying to build stable cultural life here, but given the BC government’s unreasonable cultural cuts, the City must swim against a strong current. And add this to rampant property speculation, insanely high housing costs, bully boy developers, and a city demolishing its history and identity as fast as it can to build a condo-ridden mediocrity in the image of pure capital—it’s a hard city to love right now. The harshness of hockey exactly mirrors the harshness of the current political economy.

What would I like? A hiatus from hockey. A property speculation tax and no more spot-rezonings and other concessions to developers. Vancouverites to spend as much on arts and culture as they do on hockey. A summer of love, except for slum landlords who own hockey teams.


I got to spend several hours chatting to Gordie Howe at a party in Vancouver last August (this is the sort of thing that seems to happens mainly to hockey haters). He complained about pain in his elbows. I told him it was his own fault. He laughed good-naturedly and agreed.

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4 Responses to ““We are all Canucks” until we riot, apparently. Then it’s the work of a “handful.””

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

  2. Morgan Brayton Says:

    Great piece. The last paragraph especially had me nodding in agreement. Absolutely! Thanks for this.

  3. Dave Says:

    Though I agree with some of your points – specifically about Roger’s arena, I have a hard time agreeing with this statement:

    “So should the rest of the NHL ownership, with its aggressive advertising and increasing tolerance—or let’s face it, encouragement—of violence in the game. I’m really surprised that anyone can honestly believe that the game’s violence doesn’t set an answering tone amongst spectators.”

    Firstly: I shudder to think of what hockey would come to if fighting and hitting were not allowed as part of the game. It’s always been a part of the game. It has to BE a part of the game. It’s the only game where there is a weapon in every player’s hand and if there was no fighting allowed, eventually somebody’s going to get seriously hurt with a stick. The fighting is a way to have 2 people come to odds evenly without somebody getting a massive chunk of lumber across the back of the head. (Not to say that never happens, but sometimes tempers flare up larger than people are able to control)

    Secondly: I am a little offended that you think the act of those people in Vancouver after game 7 seems to be par for the course. Since 2004, there have been 4 Canadian teams to reach the finals, with an additional 1 making the Conference Championships. Of those 4 finalists, 1 city rioted, 1 city burned things but it’s Edmonton and let’s be serious, they can’t do anything right. The other 2 cities (Calgary and Ottawa) didn’t really create a lot of news. While there may have been some larger bar damage than usual on the Red Mile, there were no riots, there were no fires. Just a peaceful celebration of a team that went the distance and came up empty handed in the end (and that was after a missed game-winning goal in game 6). Ultimately, the devastated fans just wanted to drown their sorrows and spend time with 50 000 of their closest friends. They did it peacefully, despite having watched a “violent” game. (Those are just Canadian examples – how many other times do you hear of riots inciting after a team’s city has lost a championship? Not many)

    Also, it seems apparent to me that you are clearly not the biggest hockey fan and I’m sorry to tell you, you’re in a minority in Canada. If you feel it’s unfair that hockey overshadows things like music and the arts, you’re 100% right, however those don’t bring in the revenue that a sporting event brings. That’s the curse of living in North America. Sports will always win. (Though even in ancient times, often sporting events were the #1 attraction – The gladiatorial games…) I am a theatre artist in Calgary and I have felt the pinch of sports but cannot complain, as I’m also a hockey fan. After a while, you either have to embrace it or forget about it. Unless you can find a way to get 15 000 people to come see a play on one night, sports (and not just hockey, but all sports) are always going to take a front seat.

  4. LB Says:

    Well, we all know how Rome ended. At least Rome produced some culture to be remembered by, whereas we’re on a fast track to being remembered as ‘that failed outpost of hooligans who left nothing of value behind.’

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