City on Edge captures a century of protest
tear gas, and sending 45 to hospital.
“The ’30s had big protests and a big May Day,” Bird adds. “That was really a tough period here.”
Indigenous protest is also a recurring theme. One light box shows the 1907 Gathering of the Salish Chiefs—18 Indigenous leaders in their regalia, Chief Joe Capilano at the centre, a ceremonial blanket over his arm. The chiefs had just returned from taking their concerns about rights and land to Ottawa and England, where they had met with the King. Fastforward to 1974, and you see people hitting the then Vancouver courthouse plaza holding signs saying “Support Native peoples’ struggles in defence of their hereditary rights.”
“You think of Indigenous activism happening now,” Gosselin says, “but pictures show those acts of defiance were there early on.”
The show reveals that Vancouver also has a predilection for street rioting—most notably the burning cars and looting during hockey playoffs in 2011. But hockey incidents in the past few decades were by no means the first examples of sports hooliganism in the city, Gosselin says: the pair also found images of Grey Cup riots in the 1950s.
The Gastown Riot of 1971 plays a central role in the show. One blownup image depicts the Battle of Maple Tree Square, with police on horseback trampling young protesters. Thanks to the crackdown, a peaceful pot smokein turned into full-blown chaos.
City on Edge works hard to animate all the archival shots, projecting them to capture the scale, and adding recordings of protest noise.
“We have a soundscape because you can’t talk about protest without hearing the sound—it’s raw emotion,” Gosselin says, raising her voice above the amplified fray.
Complementing the light boxes, projections, and other installations are archival objects—from a simple, black spray-painted peace sign from the 1970s to a Poverty Olympics placard, and from a hand-knitted Pussyhat to a Vote for Women’s Freedom blotter from 1917.
Together, the objects and images remind all of us how hard people here have fought for freedoms—like a woman’s right to vote—that we might now take for granted. “You have to have people invest their time and energy,” Gosselin says—and their passion, rage, and loudest voices, too.