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Canuck fans to get public viewing parties — but far from Vancouver’s downtown

Memories of the riots of 2011 and 1994 too close for organizers to risk repeat
Vancouver Canucks fans watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, on June 15, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe

The City of Vancouver will host viewing parties for the Canucks’ Round 2 playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers starting with Game 3 on Sunday.

Mayor Ken Sim and others have previously expressed concern about large-scale events for the playoffs, given Vancouver’s history of Stanley Cup riots.

But Sim now says a lot of thought and planning has gone into events set to take place at a park far from the downtown core, where hordes of drunken fans rioted after the Canucks’ Game 7 Stanley Cup loss to the Boston Bruins in 2011. There were also riots in 1994 after a Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers.

“A lot of the individuals who were working on this year’s, you know, festivities, they were there in 2011 and so they had a lot of lived experiences, and from that came a plan that was put together with a lot of thought,” Sim told a news conference on Wednesday.

Those organizers are not the only ones reflecting on Vancouver’s troubled relationship with the playoffs, as the Canucks enter Round 2 with a game at Rogers Arena tonight.

Simon Coutts said he remembered being “heckled” by passersby as he boarded up his bike shop on Vancouver’s Robson Street before the 2011 loss.

Simon’s Bike Shop had been in business since 1986, and Coutts said the 1994 riot made him take precautions when the Canucks made the final again.

“In 2011, I was out on the street every day. I was watching the parties, watching the people,” Coutts said on Tuesday. “There were just too many people out of control downtown and there’s drinking and all sorts of stuff … and then I guess you could say all hell broke loose.”

Sim had previously acknowledged the riots at a news conference last month, saying the city had “a history” and it would need to make sure any playoffs viewing event would be very safe.

At the time, he said the city was “not just gonna say ‘hey let’s throw a party, this time’s gonna be different, What we learned in the past was, that’s what they thought in 2011.”

On Wednesday, Sim said this year’s plan takes pressure off the downtown core.

Sunday’s viewing party is at Oak Meadows Park, which can hold about 2,000 people, in the South Cambie neighbourhood, the mayor said.

Going deeper into the playoffs, Sim said community centres would also be open.

If the Canucks advanced to the third round, the city would look at the Pacific National Exhibition as a venue to allow up to 6,000 fans to gather, he said.

Sim said the whole city wanted to celebrate the team’s success this year, and their planning aimed to ensure fans could enjoy the playoffs “responsibly.”

“This is an opportunity that doesn’t come up often, and we have an amazing team,” he said.

“It’s also a time to show off the fact that Vancouver fans can celebrate in a family friendly, fun and safe way.”

Ian Tostenson, the CEO of the BC Restaurant & Food Services Association, said in an interview on Tuesday that he supported a “cautious approach” to Stanley Cup celebrations given the city’s “track record.”

The viewing parties for away games, he said, offered a more “controlled” environment than inviting thousands of people downtown as happened in 2011.

“Big events like FIFA and big concerts and stuff, we’re able to do that really well,” he said. “I just worry that if we just kind of recklessly sort of go, throw some TV’s up and invite, you know, 20,000 people on Georgia Street again, I just predict there’s going to be trouble somewhere.”

He said holding another large public viewing party downtown carried risks because if “something goes terribly wrong, it’s just going to set us back years and I think we’ve made some progress here.”

For Coutts — a Canucks season ticket holder — lingering memories of the 2011 riot make him think a “big party” isn’t a good idea, but family-friendly gatherings at Rogers Arena for away games have been both controlled and successful.

“Right now, my feeling is a good feeling, so I don’t have the same feeling I had last time,” he said. “No one wants a repeat.”

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