Awash with disappointment over the Vancouver Canucks’ Game 7 loss that robbed them of the Stanley Cup, 15-year-old Ian Welch was gazing out an apartment window in the downtown core when he saw the crowd.
He and five friends headed down to the street to join the masses.
It was 1994, and Welch was about to become swept up in a Vancouver riot.
He remembers half the crowd was cheering that the Canucks made it that far into the playoffs.
At the same time, a growing section of the mob was becoming increasingly aggressive, shouting out conspiracies about the NHL fixing the game.
Young and impressionable, he began to believe the conspiracies, and got angry.
The crowd began kicking over garbage cans, pushing over mailboxes and throwing bottles.
After each act of violence, there were cheers for the perpetrators.
“Once somebody starts it, everybody gets on board with it,” the Cloverdale resident said in an interview with The Leader Friday.
“A huge cheer goes up, like a big roar, and you go, ‘yeah I wanna get one of those.’ So you break a window and you get a big cheer.”
He kept his aggression focused on inanimate objects, breaking windows, kicking over trash cans and vandalizing cars.
Down deep, he said, you know what you’re doing is wrong, but you don’t give it much thought.
“You know the difference between right and wrong, that’s ingrained,” Welch said, but added the adrenaline rush from just being there grabbed hold of him.
“Your head is pounding, and the only thing is trying to get that adrenaline out or that anger out, so you kick something.”
He began pushing over mail boxes and throwing the beer bottles that were strewn along the ground. He was cheered.
He broke windows and joined in with others to flip cars. More cheers.
The crowd he was with quickly grew from six to 25 people.
Welch stayed downtown for three hours, intoxicated by the energy of the crowd.
He had no regrets on the way home, the adrenaline still coursing through his veins. He just wanted to head back downtown for more.
The police didn’t come to visit afterward, however his friend appeared on Crime Stoppers ads for a while.
He was never caught.
Welch said he felt no remorse until three years later when his first child was born.
Now Welch is 32 and his son Cole is 14.
He now fully understands the mistakes made as a youth and wants to do whatever he can to keep his son from repeating them.
“I don’t think I ever truly understood what pride was until my kids were born. Sure, I have had a few accomplishments in my life that made me feel good about myself, but not that feeling of pure and true pride.”
Welch is taking the risk of going public because he thinks people should be aware of how fast mob mentality can kick in, and how easy it is to get swept up in violence.
“I don’t think in 1994 that anyone planned on rioting. It had a feeling of spontaneity to it, Welch said. “People were just sort of following the lead and it escalated.”
Fast forward to 2011.
Welch went downtown on Wednesday with his wife and her two friends to take in the Canucks’ Stanely Cup Game 7 against the Boston Bruins.
He warned the group ahead of time that if the celebration appeared to be going south at all, they were going to go home.
The first thing he noticed was the size of the crowd; way too many people for a space that size, he thought.
After the first Boston goal, the crowd became agitated and bottles started flying.
By the time Boston scored its third goal, Welch began hearing extremely disturbing comments from the crowd.
“This town is going to burn, let’s burn this city down, this is bulls–t, I can’t believe the Canucks are losing,” he remembers hearing. “People were getting upset.”
Welch heard threats of violence coming from boys, girls, men and women.
“I’ve been reading that it’s young men… there were girls in there just as much as young men were,” Welch said.
The group was on a SkyTrain by the third period and home in Surrey just after the game. The riot by then was in full swing, and they watched events unfold on TV.
Cole watched as well, and Welch had a message for him.
“This is where your own decision-making comes into play,” Welch told his son. “You know if you stay, even if you’re just watching, you can be dragged into it.”
If the Canucks are in the same position next year, and there is a celebration site available and Cole chooses to go there, Welch won’t stop him.
He’ll just ask him to remember what he’s learned.