Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in downtown Vancouver on Friday to protest the opening of the 2010 Winter Games, making a concerted effort to avoid violent conflict and to shed the kill-joy label branded on them by Olympic supporters.

Robert Ages of the ironically named 2010 Welcoming Committee told that the rally in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery was not organized to depress the masses.

"People want a party, well it's going to be a party," Ages said. "Our message is: Enjoy the games – hey, we're paying for them – but don't get suckered by the corporate branding. Coca Cola is not our friend."

While the festivities may have paled in comparison with the glossy, high-budget celebrations held on Friday by Olympic organizers, the rally was not without its share of merriment.

Bands, musicians and dancers were ever-present – even drowning out a short speech by David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association – and slogan-chanting was kept to a bare minimum.

As for conflict, picketers said the bulk of it came from proud, nationalistic Olympic supporters.

At the outskirts of the rally, a few angry debates could be overheard – as could the odd yelling match. UBC student Rose Keurdian said most of the anger directed at protesters seemed to stem from a misunderstanding of homeless issues.

"I'd like to believe that Canadians are compassionate people," Keurdian said.

"A lot of these people seem to think homelessness is all about drugs, but it's not. If you don't have a family, if you get cancer, or are injured at work, you could also land in the Downtown Eastside."

But housing concerns were muddied by a dizzying array of issues raised by participants, including the Alberta tar sands, Aboriginal land rights, the war in Afghanistan, the use of torture, globalization, arts funding, immigration, proroguing parliament and the environment.

At 4 p.m., protesters took to the streets, marching toward B.C. Place Stadium, site of the Opening Ceremony on Friday night.

Ages said he hoped for a diplomatic end to a day of peaceful demonstrations.

"We don't have armored cars, we can't fly and there are fences and a lot of people with guns," he said. "We're not stupid. We just want to get our message across."