Travel Blog

3 Nov

Brief History of Protests at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Robert Redford didn’t bat an eye shooting his new film, The Company You Keep, next to the Occupy Vancouver protest, which started Oct. 15, and continues to the surprise of many on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Santa, on the other hand, decided to reroute his annual parade. The Rogers Santa Claus Parade (Dec. 4) uses the VAG lawn for a Christmas Square, offering family fun and a drop-off spot for food bank donations.

Disruptions and protests at the VAG are nothing new. “They’ve been going on for over a century,” VAG director Kathleen Barthels told the Georgia Straight. “It’s a place where people gather and where democracy comes to life.”

I’ve started to list the top VAG protests in Vancouver history (from the Great Depression Relief Protest where the unemployed actually lived inside the VAG to modern-day, pro-cannabis rallies). Help me out by adding events I’ve missed.

The VAG, formerly the provincial courthouse, occupies the centre of Vancouver’s downtown core at Robson Square and has been used for protests through out Vancouver history. I’ve started brainstorming a few stand-out demonstrations below.

Protests and rallies at the Vancouver Art Gallery

  1. May/June, 1938, Great Depression Relief Demonstration: When Canada’s Depression Relief camps closed in 1937, thousands of hungry and unemployed single men landed in Vancouver. To publicize the need for relief and wages, they staged the Great Depression Relief Demonstration, occupying the VAG along with the old post office and the Hotel Georgia on May 20, 1938.  The VAG was occupied for one month until the police managed to evict the men using persuasion and tear gas.
  2. March, 2002, Anti job cuts rally: A rally to protest the provincial government’s sweeping job and service cuts attracted thousands to the lawn in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The rally, preceded by a march through downtown Vancouver, was organized by the Lower Mainland Coalition for Social Justice, made up of more than 200 grassroots community groups.
  3. June, 2009, Silent Scream for Iran: Silent Scream, a 10-day series of demonstrations, followed the allegedly rigged Iranian presidential election on June 12, that saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected in a landslide win.
  4. February, 2010, Olympic protest: Olympic Protesters and anti-anti-Olympic protesters — or Games supporters — used the Vancouver Art Gallery to rally for and against the symbolic Opening Ceremonies and the legacy of the Olympic Games.
  5. June, 2011, Stanley Cup riot: During the Stanley Cup riot June 15, rioters and police used the VAG stairs as a gathering place to start/stop mayhem.
  6. Annual protest, 420: 420—the annual celebration of cannabis culture—has taken place every April at the VAG for two decades. The demonstration size in 2009 stood out due to sheer numbers. An estimated 10,000 people gathered around the Vancouver Art Gallery to celebrate. The police did not attempt to make arrests.
  7. Monthly rally, Critical Mass Vancouver: Critical mass, a pro-cycling event typically held on the last Friday of every month, meets on the VAG stairs before cycling throughout the city.

Given Vancouver’s rich legacy of civic action, I’ll need your help completing the list. Tell me what I’ve missed.

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