By Cheryl Rhodes
When sales rep Hootie Johnston walked from his Strathcona home to the downtown section of Vancouver on June 15, 2011, he had no idea the events of that night would earn him the Certificate of Merit, the Vancouver Police Department’s highest civilian award for bravery.
It was the last night of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks, series tied 3-3. The City of Vancouver had closed off several streets surrounding Rogers Arena and set up two Jumbotron TV screens for fans to watch the hockey game. The large screen TVs had been set up for the previous playoff games and tens of thousands of fans came downtown to watch.
“I just went down to celebrate,” says Johnston, who was not anticipating any trouble with the crowds because there’d been no problems on the other nights. “There were more people down there during the Olympics and it was a fun party zone.” Vancouver has earned the nickname “no fun zone”, but during the 2010 Winter Olympics the city set up screens and the downtown area was turned into a big party with activities and singers keeping the tourists entertained. Johnston was hoping for the same fun atmosphere during the last game of the Stanley Cup finals. He hoped the evening would end with the Canucks winning and the fans holding a huge celebratory street party.
Johnston remembered the riot that took place in Vancouver on June 14, 1994 after the Canucks lost the last game in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He wrote it off to a certain group of people who felt they had to be idiots. It couldn’t happen again.
With each goal the Bruins scored, the mood in the crowd changed. When the Canucks were defeated and the Bruins claimed the Stanley Cup, the celebratory mood in the street turned sour. A group of rioters lit cars on fire and began throwing barricade fencing at the police. Johnston estimates about 20 to 30 rioters were in front of the CBC building with thousands more watching and taking pictures. He was outraged that the crowd stood around watching two dozen rioters attack the police with metal barricades and no one tried to stop them.
Johnston moved in alone and braced himself against the metal fencing, acting as a one-man barrier between the rioters and the police. However, outnumbered 20 to one, he was quickly overwhelmed and couldn’t hold back the fences any longer. The rioters broke through and he got into a scuffle when he tried to stop them from using the barricades as shields and weapons against the police. He was swarmed by the rioters and no one in the watching crowd stepped in to help. The police threw in a smoke grenade and pulled him out. Johnston was not hurt but he did get hit by the smoke grenade.
“I have a scar on my butt for life,” he says with a laugh.
Johnston did not require medical attention and returned home without giving his contact information to the police, who were too busy dispersing the crowd to take down names of Good Samaritans. Afterwards, the Vancouver Police Department set up a web page and posted photos of the rioters. Citizens were encouraged to take a look and report anyone they recognized who was involved in the riot. The police tracked Johnston down in the summer of 2012 after a video was posted on Facebook where he was confronting the rioters and someone recognized him. “That’s Hootie Johnston!”
With a name like that he was easy to track down. His website is www.hootie.ca. He has worked as a Realtor with Royal LePage Westside in Vancouver since 2005.
Chris Simmons, owner/manager of Royal LePage Westside, says it was a difficult evening and everyone in the office is proud of Johnston for what he did that night. “He’s a great guy who can always put a smile on your face,” says Simmons.
Everyone was smiling on Jan. 8 when Johnston was awarded the Vancouver Police Department’s Certificate of Merit for his bravery.