An Important Message About the Annual Women’s Memorial March

On February 14, hopelessness and anger turn to solidarity and courage in the DTES.

February 13, 2018

By Alyssa Hirose / Photo: Evelyne Youngchief

Since 1992, the annual February 14th Women’s Memorial March has been inviting friends, family and supporters to gather and honour the women who have been murdered or declared missing in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside—and to speak out about the systemic issues of racism, sexism and colonialism that are still present in our communities. Myrna Cranmer, an organizer of the event, describes it as a day for unity, peace and resilience. “It is a day where traffic is stopped in many directions in the Downtown Eastside, for many hours,” she says. “All routines are halted, buses are at a standstill, taxis stopped. The streets are crowded with families, women with signs, women with family banners, marchers of difference, together for this day.”

Cranmer has lived in and around the DTES for almost 50 years, and has been involved in the February 14th Women’s Memorial March since it began; she started as a marcher, and as years passed, assumed a leadership role. Today, she’s responsible for writing and revising the list of missing and murdered women—a task she takes on with both honour and heartache.

“I write the names of the women who have died in the last year, and add them to the growing list of women from past years, murdered or still missing,” says Cranmer. While many on the list have had violent deaths, she says others were simply neglected: “ignored to death” as a consequence of poverty, addiction, mental health issues and a myriad of other systemic problems. The list is as comprehensive as possible; she accepts names only from family and friends of the murdered and missing women.

The 2016 Women’s Memorial March. (Photo: Evelyne Youngchief.)

The march will begin at 11 a.m. in the Carnegie Community Centre theatre with a private family remembrance. During this time, no press or members of the public are permitted; organizers ask that the broader public joins them at noon, when an Indigenous elder will begin to lead supporters to locations where specific women have been murdered or last seen. “The number of places where we stop has grown throughout the years, and women continue to be killed or go missing,” says Cranmer. Traditional ceremonies are performed at each site, and no recording is permitted out of respect for the women and their community.

The march is an act of courage and commitment to the missing and murdered women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a group that is disproportionately indigenous. “This is the only day of the year where we get to remember their names and that they were and are still loved,” says Cranmer. “This is the day when the living women remember their sisters, their mothers and their children who are gone.” Last year’s march was joined by thousands of supporters and the number is expected to grow this year. “We take over the streets in a memorial march that is peaceful and respectful,” Cranmer says. “It is disruptive to make a point. Our women are being killed, being hunted and go missing daily.”

According to the march website, “despite a national inquiry being launched on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the reality on the ground in the Downtown Eastside has not changed.” Indigenous women have been and continue to be victims of violence, and the Memorial March committee states that there has been “minimal to no action to address these tragedies or the systemic nature of gendered violence, poverty, racism or colonialism.”

To bystanders, supporters and those in power within the community, Cranmer has a simple message: “Our women are dying. Pay attention, please.”


February 14th Women’s Memorial March

Wednesday, February 14 (12 p.m.)
Carnegie Community Centre Theatre
401 Main Street, Vancouver

For more details, visit the Women’s Memorial March website or Facebook page.

Get the Newsletter

Own your city with Vancouver’s thrice-weekly scoop on the latest restaurant news, must-shop hotspots and can’t miss events. Rest assured your email is safe with us.