The DTES Women’s Market: It’s More Than Just a Market

Aug 16, 2018

We’re proud to introduce the first in a new blog series of personal reflections, exploring stories and shedding light on the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre community. This piece on the Downtown Eastside Women’s Market was written by Christina, former Development and Communications Assistant at DEWC.

Market sign
Market kids
This summer boasts the third annual Downtown Eastside Women’s Market every Saturday until September 1st, on Columbia Street between Hastings Street and Pender Street.

The market is an opportunity for the women of the Downtown Eastside to showcase their creativity, resiliency, strength and tenacity in an environment that has been less than kind to women who are facing systemic barriers to the quality of life that so many of us take for granted.

The women at the heart of this event have faced unspeakable traumas, both inside and outside of the Downtown Eastside in the form of poverty, violence, abuses of every kind, drug addiction and alcoholism, mental illness, injustice and perhaps worst of all, judgement and indifference. For many, this is due to the effects of generational trauma from residential school and from the devastating effects of genocide. Around 70% of the women that utilize the DEWC are Indigenous, and the effects of colonization are apparent simply by taking a stroll through the neighbourhood. As well, the process of gentrification that is occurring in the Downtown Eastside is an extension of this same violence, once again displacing women and leaving them without the security of safe housing or basic needs.

Sage workshop
Preparing sage in a workshop, led by an Elder in Duncan, BC (Cowichan Tribes territory)

One such woman is A. (full name withheld for privacy). She is from the Carrier Nation in Morristown and she faces the same difficulties that are so prevalent to the citizens of the Downtown Eastside. She also faces many of the challenges that come from having been a victim of the Lee Jack Residential School and a Sixties Scoop survivor. A. was recently the victim of violence in her place of residence, which resulted in a brain injury that has affected her ability to work in construction as she has relied upon in the past. She is dealing with serious depression and anxiety from this incident, as her attacker continues to reside within the building despite the police and building staff having been notified of the attack and witness statements provided. After a hospital stay, she continues to follow-up with medical appointments and has been using the resources available to her through the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, such as one-to-one counselling.

Despite all that she is facing, physically, mentally and emotionally, she continues to rise each morning and to fight for her healing. One of the ways she does this is by setting up a small table at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Market. 

Burning sage at a healing tent
Sage burning at the healing tent

As I strolled around the market on a Saturday, A. and I got to talking. She shared with me the difficulties that have arisen because of this last recent incident and I could visibly see the physical effects of this trauma. She was very shaky, even having trouble picking up objects because she could not stabilize her hands. She informed me that the shaking had started as a result of being attacked. She wasn’t sure if it was due to neurological damage from the head injury or from a trauma response, but it has made the most mundane tasks more difficult for her. When I asked if she feels afraid to go home, she said that she doesn’t even do her laundry anymore for fear that she might be confronted by her attacker. She feels unsafe in her own place of residence, so her moments of peace and security are few, if ever. 

However, when speaking about DEWC and the Women’s Market, she expressed her gratitude at having a safe place to go on the days that are more difficult than others. “I just feel rest and relief at the market.”

Market booth
A. at her market booth

What she appreciates the most is feeling safe to talk about what happened to her. She is able to talk to other women, staff and volunteers about her struggle, about her fears and about her trauma, and that this is helping her to process it. She said that she feels better when she feels like someone is listening to her. The market also gives her the chance to make extra money as work isn’t an option for her right now.

A.’s determination to heal her body and her mind, and to continue to use the resources available through DEWC, is a testament to her resiliency and strength despite having been dealt a difficult hand in this life. It is a testament to all the women that utilize the Women’s Market in order to learn new skills, to engage with the community that surrounds them and to shine a light into a world largely misunderstood and stigmatized.

Market vendor with kids and baked goods.
A market vendor selling freshly baked goods, with some energetic helpers

If you have not yet had the opportunity to join us at the market, please do. Perhaps you’ll find a treasure, hear some funky music, see someone dancing in the sun, smell some sage, eat a cookie, have a conversation, share a laugh and walk away learning something about yourself that maybe you hadn’t known before. So far, the women I have met, women like A., have shown me how valuable we are, how important it is to look out for one another, to love one another and to lift each other up. But perhaps most importantly, they have taught me to never, ever give up.


Christina is Coast Salish from Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Cree from the Red River area and Danish. She is currently completing her master’s degree in the School of Communication from Simon Fraser University. For her graduate project, she is working with her Grandmother, Marjorie Mackie. Her Grandmother developed a Medicine Wheel workshop that she facilitated for over 30 years at Round Lake Treatment Centre to teach clients how to work with the Wheel on their journey of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. Christina’s love of writing, culture and learning is what brought her to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, where she worked as Development and Communications Assistant.

The Downtown Eastside Women’s Market runs every Saturday until Sept 1, on Columbia St between Pender and Hastings.