British Columbia·Photos

City on edge: 100 years of riots and activism in Vancouver

Exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver highlights decades of social unrest

Exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver highlights decades of social unrest

A man stands on a hazy Granville street strip during the 2011 Stanley Cup Riot. (Ian Lindsay/PNG)

From pipelines to hockey games, there are a lot things that get a Vancouverite's blood boiling.

For over a century, protests, riots, and demonstrations have shaped the city that Vancouver has come to be. Now, a new exhibit highlights the impact 100 years of social unrest has actually had.

City on Edge: A Rebellious Century of Vancouver Protests, Riots, and Strikes is a new exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver, and features over 600 historical images ranging from "The Great Trek" made by UBC students in 1922 to the notorious Stanley Cup Riots of 2011.

Tired of over-crowded conditions (full-time enrolment reaches 1200 for 1921-22), UBC students organized a province-wide publicity campaign to persuade the government to complete the Point Grey campus. (UBC Archives)

The photographs were selected by co-curator Kate Bird, who also penned a book based on the exhibition.

"We decided to show six different themes — labour protests, anti-government, social justice, Indigenous rights, and riots," Bird told CBC News.

On April 23, 1935, relief camp men occupied the Hudson’s Bay store before being driven out, with nine arrested. Afterwards, at Victory Square, Mayor Gerry McGeer ordered the protesters to disperse. When they didn’t, McGeer shouted, “Okay boys, you asked for it and here it is,” and read the Riot Act. (City of Vancouver Archives)

Bird says the collections range from a salmon strike in 1900 in Steveston in Richmond, B.C., all the way to the 2017 Women's march.

Activism or slacktivism?

While curating the images for the exhibition, Bird said she noticed an interesting trend.

August 7, 1971. The Gastown Riot occurred when 2,000 people went to Gastown to protest the illegality of marijuana. Police on horseback were called in to break it up, arresting 79 and charging 38. A later judicial inquiry headed by Justice Thomas Dohm criticized the action, characterizing it as a “police riot.” (Glenn Baglo/PNG)

"There was a period in the last 10 years or so where a lot of protest activism was just done online, through social media."

But over the last year, events such as the Reconciliation Walk, the Kinder Morgan march, and the far-right protest have drawn street crowds in the tens of thousands.

"I think it's more effective than just signing an online petition in the comfort of your home on a computer."

Demonstrators protested the war in Vietnam outside the Seaforth Armoury, where Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau attended a dinner on August 9, 1969. (Ralph Bower/Vancouver Sun)

The power of one

Museum director Viviane Gosselin says the display is a heartwarming showcase of empowered Vancouverites.

"It's an appreciation for the power of one, and the power of people who are not in the political realm making a difference," said Gosselin.

"I think people will ask themselves — where am I in this? Where do I fit in? Even if people haven't taken part in protests, it's perhaps time to think about the impact it's had in their daily lives."

"It's still shaping the city."

Protests for the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project have drawn thousands of demonstrators over the last year. (Arlen Redekop/PNG)

With files from Margaret Gallagher