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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know what it would be like to live it” : the extreme weather worlds of senior tenants in Vancouver, British Columbia Stern, Rachel Naomi


This thesis explores the ways in which recent extreme weather events in Vancouver, British Columbia (B.C.) are experienced, narrated and remembered in the context of already-existing inequalities, such as housing and economic injustice. The 2021 summer “heat dome” was the deadliest weather event in Canadian history and was responsible for the deaths of over 600 people, almost all of whom died indoors at home or in a hotel, according to the BC Coroners Service. Echoing studies of other heatwaves, social isolation and factors such as older age, underlying health conditions, and economic inequality have been identified as particular risk factors for the 2021 heat dome. In B.C.’s population centre, Metro Vancouver, the recently declared climate emergency by the City of Vancouver coincides with a housing emergency, with Metro Vancouver currently home to the highest average rents and the most evictions across Canada. Based on collaborative work with the UBC Centre for Climate Justice, this thesis examines senior tenants’ experiences, stories, and memories of extreme heat and home. Two focus groups and fourteen oral histories were conducted between February and April 2023, primarily in South Vancouver. Drawing on feminist political ecology, disaster studies, and memory and weather studies, I illuminate four key ways that participants experienced and remembered the 2021 heat dome: 1) disruption of everyday activities, 2) experiences of loss of control, often linked to their positions as tenants, 3) comparisons to other places and expected weather norms, especially as past memories informed experiences of present weather and 4) stories told through participants’ diaries of everyday life. Through these key pathways of experience and memory, I argue that understanding how participants experience extreme weather through an embodied, memory-rich, and political lens allows for better scholarly and policy understandings of how to support communities during events like the heat dome. I recommend that future work on heat policy, climate justice, and planning for extreme weather better incorporate narratives and embodied knowledges of senior tenants, and further consider the unjust power dynamics that can arise around relationships to housing and home.

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