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Grey Cup Fans Ravaged Vancouver Long Before Stanley Cup Riots

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GREY CUP 2011
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon addresses the media at the annual state of the league address at the CFL Grey Cup in Vancouver, British Columbia. on Friday, Nov. 25, 2011. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette) | AP/CP

VANCOUVER - Decades before hockey hooligans ravaged downtown Vancouver in a fit of Stanley Cup rage, football fans rampaged through the city in wild riots that broke out during the sport's Canadian championships.

Grey Cup festivities erupted into violent mobs twice during the 1960s, with revellers pelting police officers with bottles, uprooting street signs and smashing windows as they tore through the city's core.

Both the 1963 and 1966 riots led to hundreds of arrests, mostly for public drunkenness and assault, said Michael Barnholden, the author of "Reading the Riot Act: A Brief History of Riots in Vancouver."

"The Grey Cup riot of 1963 was the largest riot in Vancouver history up to that point, the 1966 riot not far behind," he said in an interview Saturday.

While authorities largely brushed off the first outburst as "part of the celebrations," the second round shook them enough that some suggested the city stop hosting the championship, Barnholden said.

The proposal clearly didn't stick _ the Canadian Football League's marquee event has returned to Vancouver several times over since then, and hordes of football fans have flocked to the city for the 99th edition this weekend.

It's hard to predict whether today's game will set off another wave of unrest, Barnholden said, noting much depends on how police manage the crowd.

Vancouver police came under fire this spring for their handling of the Stanley Cup finals, which triggered widespread destruction and left the city's downtown a mess of broken glass and burnt-out cars.

Several reviews of police operations were ordered following the June 15 riot, in part to determine whether lessons from a similar riot in 1994 were put into practice.

Vancouver city officials say there are more restrictions on where alcohol is served this weekend and security staff will be doing liquor inspections are various sites, including the family fun zone outside BC Place

Police monitoring Grey Cup festivities in the 1960s didn't seem to learn from their mistakes, Barnholden said.

In 1963, which saw the B.C. Lions face off against the Hamilton Tiger Cats, "the real action started Saturday after the game," while fans caroused in downtown bars, he said.

Someone threw a bottle, smacking a woman in the head. The incident caught the attention of police officers on patrol, but their efforts to arrest the culprit only riled up the crowd, he said.

Soon people hurtled bottles, rocks, eggs and tomatoes at the officers, who called in reinforcements, and the area near Granville and Georgia streets turned into a "battlefront," he said.

Between 3 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday, 319 people were arrested, including 249 charged with public drunkenness, he said.

Most were between the ages of 18 and 24, he said, at a time when the legal drinking age was 21.

"Police, of course, promised to be better prepared next time," but maintained they had never lost control of the situation, he said.

When the Grey Cup returned three years later, 200 people were arrested before the game even started.

The Grey Cup parade, the traditional kickoff to the festivities, took place on a Friday night and trouble began almost immediately after it wrapped up, Barnholden said.

Vandals toppled street signs, tore down flags and decorations and shattered windows, leaving the streets "ankle-deep in broken glass," he said.

At one point, police called for all units to converge in the area of Georgia, Hornby and Seymour streets, he said.

In the end, about 300 were arrested and 37 had to be taken to hospital emergency rooms, though none were seriously injured, he said.

--Paola Loriggio in Toronto

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