On June 3, 1972, the Rolling Stones opened their North American tour in Vancouver at the Pacific Coliseum, a hockey rink and exhibition centre.
The concert was widely anticipated – the Stones were the biggest rock band in the world, and starting their tour in Vancouver was an unexpected surprise for a provincial port city. Thousands of people flocked to the Coliseum on that warm early summer night. But many of them couldn’t get in. There were more people than seats available, and some would-be concert goers had bought fake tickets from unscrupulous sellers and were turned away at the door.
The concert went on as planned, and the fans inside had the time of their lives, according to news accounts and people who were there. But those outside had a different experience.
About 2,000 people milled around the Coliseum, spilling out on to the concourse and nearby Renfrew Street. Vancouver Police, who had set up a command post nearby, patrolled the grounds. As darkness neared and frustration at being shut out of the concert grew, the mood of the crowd turned. Someone threw a smoke bomb and then a bottle at the Coliseum’s glass doors. Then rocks were thrown at police, followed by more bottles, crushed cans and eventually Molotov cocktails.
Inside the Stones kicked off their concert with “Brown Sugar.” Outside, the police summoned hidden reinforcements, marshalled their ranks, and waited as they were pelted with missiles. Then they charged and scattered the crowd. Twenty-two people were arrested by police, but the VPD suffered for the night: 31 officers were injured, including 13 taken to hospital.
We’re going to tell the story of that night. Our account is taken from Aaron Chapman’s recently published book The Last Gang in Town, which is about the 1970s war between The Clark Park Gang and the Vancouver Police.
We talked to three people from Chapman’s book who were at that riot in 1972. Grant Macdonald and Bill Harkema were police officers, the third – Danny Williamson – was a member of the Clark Park gang. We interviewed Macdonald and Harkema at the Pacific Coliseum, where the riot happened, and we talked to Williamson on the phone.