Twenty-five years ago, a cop beat on me. Why? I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it’s all the Blue Jays’ fault, and the team’s home, SkyDome.
That year, 1993, I had just completed my second month living on my own, attending the University of Saskatchewan. For me, it was a magical time; a new city, university, making new friends, almost every experience was new. One I hadn’t counted on was ending up in the middle of a riot one block away from my apartment.
Back in those days, the Toronto Blue Jays were a big deal. A few years before, the Blue Jays had just moved into SkyDome. (I refuse to call it anything else.) The city and country were fascinated with the newfangled, open/close roofed stadium, and it was routinely selling out and setting attendance records. That must have helped the team’s finances, and I am guessing it showed in its ability to field a winner. The year before, Toronto had won the World Series. This year, a repeat performance.
I had an apartment just off of Eighth Street, Saskatoon’s main drag on the east side. I had also found out that the 7-Eleven on the opposite corner of the block I lived on happened to be ground zero of a riot the previous year, when the Blue Jays won for the first time.
I watched the final game, and we won. A million people were peaceful on the streets of Toronto. And Saskatoon rioted.
A friend of mine, Linette, and I decided to go for a walk down Eighth to see what was happening, and what would happen. I had a camera around my neck, with a big flash and bigger lens, to record this for posterity.
The 7-Eleven, which had been trashed the previous year, had a cordon of police around it, protecting it from its own repeat performance.
At first, the street was full of honking cars and people waving. Someone threw a beer bottle that just missed us. Around A&W, we turned back west, towards my apartment. Things started to unravel then.
The Saskatoon Police Service started assembling its riot squad in the Grosvenor Park shopping centre parking lot. Some fired tear gas at the people, now on foot, on Eighth Street to the east. We were behind the police members, and they seemed to be ignoring us, so all was good. I even talked to one officer briefly. But as we proceeded westbound through the parking lot, we saw some people try to get into their cars, only to see police pull them out and whale on them with batons.
We got close to the video store when all of a sudden, Linette and I were on the wrong side of the police’s riot shields. It was at this time I was looking down, fiddling with my camera. I had lost situational awareness. Linette recalled, “I’ll never be rid of the memory of those cops forming a circle around you as you were trying to change your flash.”
One of them hit me in the back of my right leg with a truncheon. I was screaming, “I’m press, I’m press,” as I had been working as a freelancer for over a year by that point. Linette grabbed my arm and dragged me out of there before any other blows landed. Damn, did it hurt.
We ran across Eighth Street to the back steps of my apartment building, where we found a couple people sitting, their eyes burning from pepper spray. We took them up to my apartment and they flushed their eyes for about 15 minutes. It was brutal. We did experience a bit of tear gas, but it was nothing like pepper spray. They were in misery.
There wasn’t too much damage from that riot. It appears the Saskatoon Police Service was prepared to deal with rowdies. I wasn’t there the year before, but I had heard stories the 1992 riot was just that.
Riots seem to have a life of their own. They have an energy and a pulse, a chaos most people thankfully never experience. I never expected to end up in the middle of one. While we were looking to see what would happen, we weren’t looking for trouble, nor did we cause any.
Will the Blue Jays ever inspire a Saskatchewan riot again? Some people seem to think that SkyDome, now Rogers Centre, now sucks, and to get the people to come out, we need to build a new stadium. I really hate that line of thinking, especially given the enormous cost of SkyDome. If it was good enough 25 years ago to bring out the fans, which bought the tickets, which paid for a winning team, it’s probably still good enough today.
Maybe even good enough to lead to a riot. In Saskatchewan.