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Tuesday, June 21, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Innocence Lost: Vancouver Still Reeling

VANCOUVER is really just a suburb of New York; we get the news a day after they do. Most Vancouverites didn't know about last Tuesday night's Stanley Cup riot until sometime on Wednesday. Some missed it by bypassing the nightly news; others who watched the news didn't recognize Robson Street (it resembled Los Angeles) as our own and naturally assumed that the rioting was happening in New York.

No one in the pub that I was at recognized Robson Street; in fact, so certain were we that the riot was in New York, no one even turned up the sound on the TV (because we no longer cared about the predictable violence in Gotham once we'd lost the cup). And my sister and her boyfriend got into an argument while driving home from the same pub: He heard the radio announcer say they were rioting in Vancouver; she said he must have heard wrong and was out of his mind - "Don't be ridiculous. People in Vancouver don't riot." Famous last words, words that she never believed she'd have to eat.

When Vancouver woke up on game day Tuesday morning, we were a city with a small-town mentality and in big-time denial; by Wednesday night we were a BIG city in shock and confusion. Very few Vancouverites expected the riot though the odd (and that can be taken literally or figuratively) downtown merchants boarded up their windows (despite neighbors' protests that it really wasn't necessary). And my brother, who watched the game downtown at a friend's apartment, said the "vibes" on Robson Street were weird, hostile, and antagonistic long before Tuesday's game even started; packs of ornery kids were already congregating there, so the rioting later that night didn't surprise him.

And Vancouver street-kids and street-workers now say they'd heard, days prior to the final Stanley Cup game, that suburban and "rich" kids were planning to riot and loot downtown whether the Canucks won or lost. Apparently, Vancouver punks of all ages and varieties planned to take advantage of the crowd regardless of Canuck fans' moods after the game. But "the word on the street" trickled further and further down to the street, never trickling up to the ordinary people of Vancouver. A riot was planned, but no one was warned.

In keeping with our laid-back, West Coast mentality, Vancouverites gave our kids the benefit of the doubt. We were proud of them after watching them on TV, when they held a huge, enthusiastic, but peaceful party on Robson Street after the Canucks won game six. We naively expected more of the same for Tuesday.

But the punks did it their way; this was their last chance to dance, it would be a long time before they'd get a "choice" opportunity like this again - they wouldn't be young offenders if the Stanley Cup playoffs rolled in Vancouver again next year. So brazen were many of these little thugs that they actually took time enough to try on the trendy clothes that they ripped off from expensive downtown stores, leaving piles of their own clothes in the middle of the floor. Many more kids got away with it than the 200 or so who didn't. There were more kids than cops, and the kids' plans were more accurately executed. Apparently, some were look-outs, using cellular phones to warn others when the cops were approaching stores that the vandals had targeted.

What hurts most, I suppose, is that we really believed. We really believed in our luck; especially after the Canucks beat Toronto, we thought the Canucks would get the right bounces and would beat New York. And we really believed in our kids, especially after they made us so proud just three days before, after game six. And we really believed that Vancouver could grow in numbers and still keep that home-town, small-town, West Coast feeling alive here - if we collectively, actively willed it to be so. Consequently, when the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup and news of the riot broke out, our hopes, beliefs and dreams were shattered like the glass of so many of our downtown store windows.

On some level we've known that it could come to this in our city. We feared it and warned our politicians about it before Expo '86 came to town. But like good little citizens, we cooperated with the politicians who assured us that Expo would be good for the economy, good for Vancouver City, and good for Vancouver citizens.

After Expo came Hollywood and the movies, the Vancouver Molson Indy, the Vancouver Summit with Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin and CNN. Now Las Vegas is pleading for an opportunity to set up a huge gambling casino here. We've both enjoyed and been placidly skeptical of the changes, but we've always felt safe and at home here. Throughout all of the attention and growth, we've remained a cooperative and friendly city.

And when the Stanley Cup playoffs came to town, Vancouverites (who have spent the last eight years giving directions to lost tourists, housing or hiring foreign students, and playing West Coast host to our vacationing fellow Canadians) finally had a chance to show our collective pride in our beautiful, clean, safe city and in our beloved Canucks. We took the opportunity seriously, showing our very best side to the world in broadcasts to Japan, Germany, Sweden and several other countries. All of that pride went up in tear gas smoke and down in burning buildings' ashes when the riot broke out on Tuesday night.

The Canucks were classy contenders on and off the ice and the citizens of Vancouver, especially the loyal fans of the Canucks, felt sickened that the city would greet our hometown heroes at the airport with news of the riot. In Vancouver this past week, we didn't just lose the Stanley Cup game, we lost our innocence and our very hard-earned, well-deserved world reputation and name. Vancouver has graduated into its urban age. And it hurts. It really hurts.

Kimberly-Ann Daum writes a weekly freelance editorial column for The Province newspaper in Vancouver.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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