My plane ticket to Vancouver came in during the Stanley Cup finals.
I was excited enough to see our west coast for the first time, but in Canucks central during Canada Day weekend too?
I thought it’d be like visiting our national identity in a nutshell.
I could already see myself passing locals in Canucks jerseys, proud of how far their team came whether they won or lost.
Then came the riot.
20-year-old Mason Powell saw the epicentre of the looting and violence the next day.
“Walking past the memorial boards placed over the broken windows was like walking through a cemetery. It was very quiet and you felt an obligation to pay your respects,” Powell said.
I arrived in the city two weeks later, unsure of how much Vancouver had recovered. Would there be more police? Clearance sales on Canucks gear? Remnants of debris? I took a bus tour to find out.
In place of ruins, I saw many diverse communities.
We passed through the gay village of Davie Street, draped in rainbow banners for the upcoming Pride parade. The red lampposts of Chinatown were as vibrant as the storefronts that featured crafts, fresh food and souvenirs reflecting China’s rich culture.
My favourite district, Gastown, still had cobblestone streets and 19th century architecture from its days as the hub of Vancouver’s timber and fishing industries and many European immigrants’ shops.
“Canadian identity is about being part of an intensely diverse and multicultural country . . . that promotes dialogue and understanding between cultures and celebration of other cultures,” said Heather Kitching, 38, a Vancouverite now living in Ottawa.
The mix of vintage stores, cafes and pubs lured me back to Gastown on Canada Day. Red and white regalia filled the street, and it wasn’t just locals — I caught some British accents and even German.
Toronto native Kieffer Moxness, 20, also remembers the scene.
“A decent mix of out-of-towners, foreign tourists and native Vancouverites. Everyone seemed friendly and happy.”
As I counted more Canadian flag capes than Team Canada shirts, my original vision of a hockey jersey fleet was lost.
“Hockey can certainly represent Canadian identity for some people, but be meaningless for others,” Powell said, adding that living in Vancouver made it easy to get into the Canucks’ Stanley Cup run, but that he isn’t a hockey fan.
“It was like a bunch of kids on Christmas morning and I wanted in on the fun . . . now that it’s over, I’ve regressed to my typical levels of enthusiasm.”
Moxness said hockey shouldn’t be a major part of being Canadian.
“Purely for fun, perhaps, but of all the things that Canadians are doing at home and abroad — environmental awareness, helping infrastructure in developing nations, peacekeeping operations — hockey really shouldn’t be registering.”
However, the Canucks stayed in the back of my head for most of my stay.
Maybe it was all the media coverage of smashed stores, or a month’s worth of Hockey Night in Canada promos, or the riot jokes circulating on talk shows.
Even when I traveled to Grouse Mountain for ziplining, I was greeted by a tall wooden carving of a goalie.
But in no time, I was sailing on a line that hovered above the ground at over 2000 feet. As I breezed across the peaks, I caught the most amazing view of Vancouver below.
The city was nestled in nature, with tall trees, mountains and seawater hugging its perimeter. Looking back on that moment, it was the purest view of Vancouver I’d ever seen.
Hockey was nowhere in sight.
— Photo courtesy of Margarete Hernandez