VANCOUVER -- Hundreds of people gathered at the intersection of Main Street and East Hastings Street on Sunday and heard stories from family members who have lost loved ones — before taking to the streets for the annual Downtown Eastside Women’s March.

“We’re here to speak in honour of my mother who was murdered,” Jana Rae Tom told the crowd, as her daughter Shelby Wong stood by her side. “She was raped, she was beaten, and when she was found she was unclothed.”

Tom’s mother’s body was found behind the Balmoral Hotel years ago, just metres from where she spoke Sunday.

Tom said she hadn’t learned about what had happened to her mother until she was a young adult. Now, as a parent herself, she has had to share the story of the tragic death with her own daughter.

“Hearing about it was really hard,” Wong told CTV News. “But now that I come to this every year and I can be with the other daughters, with the other families, and be able to be a part of it together, it’s made it a little bit easier to know that there is so much support out there for everyone.”

Many surviving family members credit events like the Downtown Eastside Women’s March, which began in 1992, for showing them they don't have to grieve alone.

“January 8th, 1973 my mother was murdered on the outskirts of Winnipeg,” said Gary Olver, who handed out purple and yellow ribbons to people arriving for the March.

Olver did not grow up with his biological family, and when he met them and learned what happened to his mother, he couldn’t understand why nobody was ever brought to justice for the crime.

Over time, he learned how common unsolved violence against Indigenous women is in Canada.

“This is not just happening in Vancouver. It’s happening all the way across our country. And it’s got to stop,” he said.

Gulkiitjaad, a Haida and Nuu-Chah-Nulth woman, helped organize the 30th annual march, the Valentine’s Day tradition she’s been attending since 1992.

She’s proud the event continues to bring survivors together — but also dismayed that each year more women are lost to violence.

“We’re here and we’re not going to go away anytime soon,” Gulkiitjaad said. “We’re going to keep marching until this justice system is changed and we have that accountability.”

As the fight for equitable justice continues, it gives strength to people dealing with unimaginable pain and trauma.

“I actually thought I was alone for a long time because I didn’t know,” said Tom.

Three decades after the first march, which was held to protest the murder of a Coast Salish woman on Powell Street, hundreds took to the streets singing and marching, even in a pandemic.

Myrna Cranmer, one of the event's co-organizers, says both violence and COVID-19 have had a profound affect on the health of women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood this past year.

She estimates 50 women from the neighbourhood have died under violent circumstances or from COVID-19 since last March.

Vancouver police couldn't confirm the number, saying it would not be possible to accurately search for cases by gender or trace where someone from the neighbourhood may have died, such as a hospital or a different part of the city.

Due to COVID-19, the event was livestreamed to allow people to stay home if they were sick or did not feel comfortable attending a large event.

With files from The Canadian Press