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THIS DAY IN VANCOUVER: May 8th

May 8, 2012 | by  |  This Day In Vancouver

1970:

Windows are smashed, property is damaged, and a number of arrests are made, as a peaceful “Sip-In”, staged in The Bay’s cafeteria by members of the Youth International Party, degenerates into a full-scale riot.

“The Vancouver Youth International Party demands an immediate end to all discrimination against hip people in the Hudson’s Bay cafeteria,” states a press release made by the group. “In support of this demand, Yippies will stage a peaceful sip-in (sit-in) in the Bay cafeteria this Friday, May 8, from 7 to 9pm. We will remain sipping our coffees in the cafeteria until the Bay management promises – in writing – to end all harassment against hip people. If they refuse to make such a promise, we will remain in the restaurant until the 9 o’clock closing time.”

The Sip-In, which begins peacefully enough, draws close to 200 people (including several plainclothes police officers). But, despite the Yippies’ call for a peaceful protest (the press release encourages attendees to “nurse your coffee along at the rate of an inch an hour”), the crowd quickly becomes so boisterous that employees close the cafeteria.

“The demonstration was loud,” Georgia Straight correspondent “Tony Tugwell” will explain, in the May 13 issue. ”People chanted, banged spoons on the tables and snake-danced around the room.”

Within an hour, word circulates that a large contingent of police have blocked all the exits, and panic begins to spread amongst the demonstrators.

“About 35 cops, many in riot helmets, lined up among coat racks outside one of the exits from the cafeteria,” “Tugwell” explains, “and word was brought down to the demonstrators that about 10 more cops were closing off the exit out of the Bay, which was the only other way to leave the cafeteria.”

Moments later, amidst fears of police brutality, the Yippies leave the building, however once on the street, the protest suddenly takes on a life of its own. The crowd quickly doubles in size, and protestors – many angered by the May 4th Kent State shootings – proceed down Georgia Street, smash windows in the American Consulate, and burn an American flag in the street.

“A dance in the intersection of Granville and Georgia liberated that zone,” an anonymous Yippie will write, in the pages of The Straight. “The pigs again set up around us and again we floated through their lines. Marching arm in arm up Granville shouting and laughing a head-strong undercover pig blew his cover and tried to bust a brother on the sidewalk. This being quickly discovered – us being psychically in tune with each other – he was immediately grabbed and overcome. Here we were, a pig caught under our boots and the memory of four brothers and sisters murdered on the kampus [sic] of Kent. Should we kill him?”

Protestors will continue to Granville Street, smashing the windows of a CIBC, pulling down trolley lines, and finally, marching on police headquarters to demand the release of five people arrested in connection with the demonstration.

“The guy who was inside trying to arrange bail agreed to talk to the crowd,” “Tugwell” reports. “He says it will take at least a half hour before they are out and the police want the crowd to disperse. The crowd doesn’t. Shortly afterwards people at the back of the crowd start to throw eggs at the police. And later a few soft drink bottles are thrown. This is stupid – giving the cops a good excuse to break the crowd.”

Three people are hurriedly released on bail, and the crowd is then broken up by police.

 

IMAGE: The Hudson’s Bay cafeteria, circa 1930s. Image courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library

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