The dying minutes of the 2011 Stanley Cup final were still ticking by when Alexandra Thomas noticed, through the window of a friend’s apartment, a column of smoke rising from between Vancouver’s glass condo towers. Another ominous sign: a stuffed teddy bear—an apparent stand-in for the visiting Boston Bruins—swung menacingly from a neighbour’s balcony, a noose around its neck. Still, Alexandra didn’t expect the picturesque city to erupt into violence after the Vancouver Canucks lost Game 7 4-0 at Rogers Arena, let alone that her life would become forever intertwined with the event.
After the Bruins finished their on-ice celebration, Alexandra and her boyfriend of six months, Scott Jones, an Australian, left their friend’s downtown apartment and headed for home on Vancouver’s east side. “As we got closer to the SkyTrain station, there were more and more people, but it was almost too quiet,” recalls Alexandra, who grew up in nearby Coquitlam, B.C., and, like most of her fellow Vancouverites that year, was infected with playoff fever. The eerie silence was soon broken by the sound of flash bombs and exploding tear-gas canisters. They had inadvertently walked into the middle of the now-infamous post-game riot, which saw hundreds of angry hockey fans and thrill-seekers smash windows, loot stores and set fire to cars—all while thousands of grinning onlookers snapped selfies and egged them on.
Suddenly, a line of baton-wielding riot police charged. “Everybody started running; it was super crowded,” says Alexandra. “I think I tripped over someone’s foot.” Scott doubled back to help, arriving just as the police did. “They stood over us, screaming, and tried to hit us with their batons,” Alexandra says. “Scott put up his hands, trying to get them to stop.” Finally the cops moved on, leaving Alexandra shaken and lying on the ground. Scott attempted to calm and comfort her. At some point, he planted a kiss.
A camera clicked.
Photographer Richard Lam’s picture of the “kissing couple” ran in several newspapers and on websites around the world. The shot artfully, if unintentionally and somewhat strangely, juxtaposed the pair’s tender moment with Vancouver’s uncharacteristic mayhem. Richard, who was shooting for Getty Images, later said he didn’t realize Alexandra and Scott were kissing when he snapped the frame. He won a National Newspaper Award.
All this was initially unbeknownst to Alexandra. After her run-in with the local riot squad, she gathered herself and went home with Scott. The next morning, her phone rang. Her friend asked, “Is that you and Scott on the news?” It wasn’t long before reporters began calling Scott’s family in Australia and sending messages to the couple via Facebook. Everyone wanted to know the story behind the photo. In the absence of information, speculation emerged. Was the photo elaborately staged? Or did Scott—who, by all accounts, is as chivalrous as they come—take advantage of a complete stranger? The two decided to grant a pair of TV interviews, in Canada and Australia, to set the record straight. “It didn’t seem like it was going away anytime soon,” says Alexandra. “It seemed like [the media] was going to keep making stuff up until they got the real story.”
Aside from the initial shock, Alexandra and Scott took their notoriety in stride. But they never sought to capitalize on it. They turned down requests to fly to New York and do the morning-television circuit, opting instead to take their planned vacation to California (although they did reluctantly do a satellite interview with Today). The photo itself, owned by Getty, has subsequently appeared in store advertisements in Europe.
Five years later, Alexandra and Scott are still together, but are now living in Perth, Australia. Alexandra started a new job last year as a water engineer, but not before her boss googled her name and asked: “Are you the girl in that kissing photo?” For the most part, though, the night of June 15, 2011, is a distant memory, albeit one Alexandra and Scott can relive every time they glance at a framed print that hangs in their bedroom—a gift from Richard, the photographer. “To have part of your life ingrained in the history of the country—of hockey in Canada—is pretty cool,” says Alexandra when asked to reflect on what, if anything, it all meant. “You never expect it, and it’s not something you can predict or plan, but it’s definitely a moment we won’t forget.” — Chris Sorensen
(Portrait by Aaron Bunch)