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Canucks viewing parties to start Sunday in Vancouver park, far from downtown

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

VANCOUVER — 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 located 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 alone in reflecting on Vancouver's troubled relationship with the playoffs, as the Canucks enter Round 2 with a game at Rogers Arena tonight.

At the Granville Sports Corner team merchandise store, manager Mick Jackson applauded the decision to keep viewing events out of downtown Vancouver.

"I think it's a good idea, it should work out well … the further we go in the playoffs, of course, it will intensify. It's exciting times," said Jackson, who has been working at the store on Granville Street for 17 years.

He added: "Of course the riots were terrible, we have to avoid that."

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 playoff 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."

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

Select community centres across the city will also show the games in their lobbies.

If the Canucks advance to the third round, Sim said the city is planning a licensed outdoor viewing experience at the Pacific National Exhibition. The venue would allow up to 6,000 fans to gather.

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."

Vancouver police spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin said Wednesday that the department "definitely" supported the neighbourhood viewing areas. 

"These smaller, community based family-focused gatherings are more conducive to maintaining public safety," she said. 

"It's more appropriate than having a larger one, like the one we've seen in years past downtown, which only created issues for us." 

She said police will work with the city to continue to avoid such large viewing areas. 

Rogers Arena has been hosting a crowd to watch the big screen while the games are being played in opposition cities. 

Tickets costing $20 for an arena seat go on sale on the Canucks website on Thursday, with proceeds benefiting the Canucks for Kids Fund.

Police have handed out 20 to 30 tickets for open alcohol, fighting and other infractions when fans have gathered around Rogers Arena during recent playoff game days. Visintin said they've made a few arrests. 

"We know these large, fan-based zones in the downtown core, it just wouldn't work. It hasn't worked in the past and it won't work this time."

Ian Tostenson, 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 TVs 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."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2024. 

Darryl Greer, Brenna Owen and Nono Shen, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said tickets to the Vancouver viewing party were $20.

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