Vancouver Feature: Pot Demonstration Turns Ugly

Members of Vancouver’s “counterculture” were out in force the evening of Saturday August 7, 1971 to show their support for the legalization of marijuana. It was advertised as a “Smoke-in and Street Jamboree” in Gastown but the police had other ideas. They moved in on foot and horseback, busting heads and arresting the “long hairs”. The press called it a “police riot”.

Gastown Riot

This photo mural by Vancouver artist Stan Douglas, mounted in the Woodward’s Building, recreates a scene from the Gastown riot that occurred right outside the doors of the building at the corner of Abbott and Cordova streets. Douglas staged his photograph on a parking lot at the PNE.

Gastown riot, August 7, 1971

Glenn Baglo / Vancouver Sun.

Chill Winston, the restaurant where Water Street joins Alexander

Gastown is Vancouver’s historic centre, the area along Water Street where the city’s history began in 1867 with the arrival of the tavern keeper Gassy Jack Deighton. As the community grew, Gastown became a warehouse district, then fell on hard times. By 1971, however, when the riot occurred, the neighbourhood was enjoying a revival as a heritage district. Subsequently Gastown became something of a tourist ghetto, full of t-shirt shops and souvenir vendors, but recently it has had another revival, part of which is the Woodward’s development on the site of the old department store.

Charles Woodward opened his store on this Hastings Street site in 1903. Eventually it became the flagship of a large regional chain of department and discount stores. After ninety years in business the main store was sold, then demolished and reborn as this complex of apartments, a school of contemporary arts, civic and arts offices and retail space. The store’s famous neon W sign was remounted on the roof.