Remaining in Death: A Critical Ethnography of Death, Remains, and Community in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside
Communities dwelling in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have long been the target of dispossessive strategies. In the earliest days of the city’s development, the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples were violently removed in the name of ‘civilization’ and for the advancement of the Canadian settler colonial state. In 1942, the Japanese Canadian community who had been living in Paueru-gai (Powell Street) were forcibly uprooted in the name of national security. In the 1960s, the Black community living in Hogan’s Alley were displaced in the name of urban renewal. In 1986, working-class and other tenants who had been living in the Downtown Eastside’s Single Room Occupancy hotels and rooming houses were suddenly evicted for the World Exposition. In recent decades, the Chinatown and low-income communities currently dwelling in the Downtown Eastside have fought an onslaught of gentrification threatening to develop condominiums for white, middle-class, potential-home-buyers at the expense of current residents. In 2014, through a research project titled “Revitalizing Japantown?”, which questioned the toponym “Japantown” as a term deployed by the municipal government for gentrifying the Downtown Eastside in the name of ‘revitalization,’ community members, activists, and scholars articulated the right to remain as an activist counter-brand. Since then, the right to remain has fuelled housing activism in the Downtown Eastside, particularly with the Downtown Eastside (DTES) Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Collaborative, an organization dedicated to improving conditions in the neighbourhood’s SRO hotels as a political matter and practical means of ensuring that the low-income community remains in the neighbourhood. While the right to remain has informed much anti-gentrification activism, this thesis recasts the right to remain in light of the continuous death endured by the community dwelling in the Downtown Eastside. Drawing on eight months of ethnographic embeddedness in the neighbourhood (May 2018 – January 2019), 12 unstructured interviews, as well as theories of haunting and urban geography, I argue that those who remain in the Downtown Eastside include not only the living, but also, and importantly, the dead. I reveal how the dead complicate the right to remain and the Downtown Eastside in ways that strengthen activism and imagine beyond justice.