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2017 Tours and Excursions of The Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria

SUNDAY TOURS START AT 2:00 PM UNLESS NOTED OTHERWISE.  Charge:  $5 for non-members;  $2 for members.  Tours at Ross Bay Cemetery are signified RBC and start in front of Oregano’s, Fairfield Plaza, 1516 Fairfield Rd. Others start where noted. No reservations needed.

Contact www.oldcem.bc.ca or 250.598.8870.


Feb. 12. RBC. Black History. After 1858 Victoria was a haven for blacks escaping racism in California and many are buried at RBC. Included on the tour will be Gov. James Douglas, who was part black, plus many notable black pioneers, and maybe a scoundrel or two. A joint tour by the OCS and the BC Black History Awareness Society for Black History Month.

Feb. 15 (Wednesday). 7:30 pm. OCS Annual General Meeting at Craigflower Schoolhouse. Speaker: Ken Johnson, president of the Hallmark Heritage Society, about the history of the school.

Feb. 19. RBC. City of the Dead. Ross Bay Cemetery was designed in 1872 according to the latest trends in cemetery design in Victorian England. John Adams, author of Historic Guide to Ross Bay Cemetery, will explain how the cemetery was developed and the philosophy behind some of its most distinctive features, including funerary architecture and plantings.

Feb. 26. RBC. Permanent Presbyterians. The original plan for Ross Bay Cemetery included separate sections for the city’s largest churches. Today’s tour in the Presbyterian section is led by Barbara Forsyth and Jim Kempling, members of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, who will talk about some famous and not-so-famous people of special interest.

March 5. RBC. Emily Carr Tour.
Emily Carr’s grave is one of the most visited at RBC. Every year a team of OCS guides creates a new route to include the graves of many people Emily knew. Emily herself (a.k.a. Molly Raher Newman) will delight us with readings about these people from Emily’s prolific writings.

March 12. RBC. Music in Early Victoria. Music was an important part of culture in nineteenth-century Victoria. In today’s tour, historian and performer Kate Humble will visit the graves of singers, musicians and music teachers to tell their stories and sing some of the tunes that were popular in their day. A unique, entertaining tour not to be missed.

March 19. Jewish Cemetery. The Jewish Cemetery is the oldest continuously operating cemetery in BC. It is not big in area, but huge in history and connections to pioneers from Victoria and other places. John Adams and Amber Woods will explain why the cemetery’s location is away from the synagogue and about its people, symbolism and monuments. Meet at main gates, Fernwood Rd. at corner of Cedar Hill Rd. Men please wear a hat.

March 26. RBC. Heritage Architects. Many of Victoria’s finest architects are buried at RBC or designed monuments there. Ken Johnson, president of the Hallmark Heritage Society, will visit the graves and explain how the architects helped create the city’s wealth of heritage buildings and neighbourhoods.

April 2. RBC. BC Women and the Vote. This year marks the 100th anniversary of women in BC being permitted to vote in provincial and federal elections. What we take for granted today was achieved only after considerable debate and much opposition. A team of OCS members will visit the graves of people involved in the campaign and discuss their contributions.

April 9. Vimy 100 at the Bay Street Armoury. Today OCS is participating in a special open house and commemoration between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm at the Bay Street Armoury. See the OCS display and those of 30 other heritage and military groups and view the facilities in this national historic site. Music and stories will commemorate the significance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. This is a free public event. Enter via 713 Bay Street (no stairs) or Field Street (with stairs).

April 16. RBC. Epitaphs and Symbolism. It’s Easter Sunday, but not all epitaphs are about rising again or heading straight to heaven. Join long-time OCS member Yvonne Van Ruskenveld as she explores the meaning behind a new set of some of RBC’s most interesting epitaphs and symbols and the stories they can reveal.

April 23. RBC. Oak Bay’s Settler Families.
The Tods, McNeills, Rosses and Pembertons, the first families to settle and/or farm in Oak Bay, came from vastly different backgrounds, but all had their share of tribulation and even tragedy. Join local historian Peter Grant in touring selected family gravesites and telling little-known stories of the families’ early years.   

April 30. RBC. Japanese at Ross Bay. Today’s tour will be conducted by Gordon and Ann-Lee Switzer, authors of Sakura in Stone (2015) and Gateway to Promise (2012), histories of Japanese in Victoria. RBC includes graves of about 150 Japanese and is the location of the impressive Kakehashi Monument dedicated to Japanese pioneers.

May 7. Chinese Cemetery. In honour of Asian Heritage Month, Victoria City Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe will lead a tour at the Chinese Cemetery, a national historic site that includes her grandfather’s grave. The picturesque cemetery operated from 1903 until the early 1950s. Meet at the cemetery, foot of Crescent Road, off King George Terrace.

May 14. RBC. Mothering and Mortality. A new tour to celebrate Mother's Day. Learn more about pioneer mothers and their families with Sylvia Van Kirk and Yvonne Van Ruskenveld. Although infant mortality was high, you will be surprised to learn how many
large families thrived in early Victoria.

May 21. RBC. British Empire Stories. Today we call it Victoria Day, but in the past many people called it Empire Day, a day to celebrate the Empire that spanned the globe. OCS board member Michael Halleran will visit graves of fascinating people from across the Empire, including the smallest colonies, who moved to Victoria and are buried at RBC.

May 28. RBC. A Day of Signs and Wonders. Today’s tour title is the name of award-winning author Kit Pearson’s newest novel about the fictitious meeting between Emily Carr and Kathleen O’Reilly on a beach one day in 1881, a day in which a comet appears. Kit is a frequent tour leader at RBC and is author of many novels for young readers.

June 4. RBC. Boat Day. This new tour by Tom Pound examines the romance and harsh realities in the age of coastal steamship service on Canada’s West Coast.

June 11. RBC. Aqua Vitae. This is the title of a new book by Glen Mofford that relates the colourful and extensive history of Victoria’s saloons, bars, pubs and other drinking establishments that were located in large numbers throughout the city until prohibition in BC closed them all in 1917. The author will visit the graves of many people he includes in the book.

June 18. RBC. Métis Connections. Métis are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry, and one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Today’s tour leader, Fern Perkins, who is Métis, will demystify confusion about the term. Fern will visit graves of many Métis buried at RBC and explain their historical importance to the city and the country.

June 25. RBC. Germans in Victoria. More people came to Victoria from Germany in the 1800s than from anywhere else except Britain. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will introduce you to this fascinating group, which contributed so much to both the culture and the commerce of the city.

July 2. RBC. Canada 150. In honour of Canada’s milestone birthday this year, a team of OCS members have prepared a special tour to focus on the men and women who contributed in a significant way to our country’s history. Some are famous and some obscure, but all have interesting stories and deserve recognition.After the tour participants are invited to Ross Bay Villa for tea to honour Francis Roscoe, one of Victoria’s first MPs.
July 9. RBC. Theatre Stories. Join Drew Waveryn, OCS board member and a frequent actor on the stage at Langham Court Theatre, for his second tour about the history of the theatre and actors in Victoria’s past. The tour will cover aspects of theatre from vaudeville to opera and even touch on Victoria's fledgling film industry.

July 16. RBC. Sisters of St. Ann. The first four Sisters arrived in Victoria in 1858 and from then until the present day the order has played a significant role in education, nursing and historical preservation. Carey Pallister, archivist for the vast collection of SSA records, and a long-time OCS supporter, leads today’s tour.

July 23. RBC. Marvellous Mauoleums. Mausoleums are above-ground structures for reposing the dead. RBC has thirteen of them, ranging from small and plain to large and impressive. Drew Waveryn will lead this first-time tour to these intriguing buildings and explain why they were built and who is in them.
July 30. RBC. Pioneer Farmers.
Sylvia Van Kirk discusses the role played by farmers and their families in the development of early Victoria. Some were brought out by the Hudson's Bay Company; some stayed after the gold rush. This tour highlights the continuing importance of local agriculture.

Aug. 6. RBC. Brickmakers and Masons. Did you know that Victoria once had a thriving brickmaking industry? Ken Johnson, president of the Hallmark Heritage Society, today will talk about this almost forgotten chapter in our history on the graves of the Humbers, Porters and Elfords who made the bricks and will include some of the people who used them to build our city.

Aug. 13. RBC. Annual Obon Ceremony. This is the Japanese Buddhist Day of the Dead when graves are cleaned, incense is lit and prayers are said. The ceremony will be at 2:30 pm at the Kakehashi Monument in the southwest corner of RBC, near the corner of Memorial Cres. and Dallas Rd. The public are invited to the ceremony and to join the reception that follows at nearby Ross Bay Villa at 3:30 pm. The Obon ceremony takes the place of a tour today.

Aug. 20. RBC. Loyalty and Libel. A new tour about political verse in nineteenth century Victoria, presented by Robert Ratcliffe Taylor, professor emeritus in history from Brock University, who is well known for his books about Victoria, including two about poetry: Imperial Eden and The Ones Who Have to Pay: The Soldier-Poets of Victoria BC in the Great War 1914-18.

Aug. 27. RBC. Builders in Brick and Stone. Nick Russell is past president of the Hallmark Society and author of numerous books, including Glorious Victorian Homes: 150 Years of Architectural History in British Columbia’s Capital. His tour will feature builders such as Turner, Donovan, Heatherbell, Fish, Humber and Baker who left a legacy of buildings in brick and stone in Greater Victoria.

Sept. 3. RBC. Police History. Meet some of those who worked to keep Victoria and BC safe as we grew from frontier communities to established cities and towns. This tour will include stories about both the city police and our own provincial police force.

Sept. 10. RBC. Odds and Ends. Sherri Robinson, Esquimalt historian and descendant of many pioneer Esquimalt and  Victoria families, has searched her extensive notes to prepare a fascinating tour about diverse people, events and connections in the capital city.

Sept. 17. RBC. Firefighter History. Retired firefighter Mark Perkins always has a wealth of interesting stories about the people who served in the Victoria Fire Department and its volunteer predecessors with colourful names: Deluge, Tiger Engine and Union Hook and Ladder Company.

Sept. 24. RBC. Cariboo Gold Rush. With Billy Barker’s gold strike in 1862, adventurers from many nations ”rushed” to Cariboo and gave Barkerville the nickname “Valley of Flags.”  Former Barkerville Curator Jennifer Iredale will highlight this history with tales of miners, merchants and magistrates and will share fascinating stories about the BX stage line, Kwong Lee Company, Confederation, hurdy gurdy girls, law and laundry in Barkerville.

Oct. 1. RBC. Notable Historians. Patrick Dunae, historian, author, professor and president of the Friends of the BC Archives, will lead this tour to graves of past historians, archivists and museologists who lie buried at RBC. Fannin, Nesbitt, Scholefield and Newcombe are some of the names he will include and explain their important role in preserving and writing BC history.

Oct. 8. RBC. Murder Most Foul. Back again by popular demand, Michael Halleran takes us to graves of murderers and their victims and tells the grisly tales he has found in coroners’ files, old newspapers and through interviews with family members. This is an annual tour, but is different each year.

Oct. 15. RBC. Women on the Home Front. October is Women’s History Month, and this year our annual tour will focus on women’s activities on the home front during World War I. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld, Sylvia Van Kirk and Diana Pedersen will reveal how the women of Victoria supported the troops overseas and the families they left behind.

Oct. 22. RBC. Psychic Tour. Clairvoyant medium Dawn Kirkham and members of her paranormal investigating team Beyond Belief Paranormal Events will lead a walk through the cemetery and share information they receive from the location or the spirits they encounter. They will also explain what clairvoyance is and demonstrate some basic techniques they use.

Oct. 21-29. Ghost Bus-tours®. Our 23rd annual bus excursion past some of Victoria’s most haunted sites. New route and many new stories. Reserve your seat early. Check the website www.discoverthepast.com for details.

Oct. 29. RBC. Annual Ghost Tour. One of the OCS’s most popular annual tours is based on ghost stories linked to people buried at RBC. On some of the graves the occupants might even seem to come to life and tell their tales. Extra guides will be on hand for large numbers. Part of the Ghosts of Victoria Festival.

Nov. 5. Veterans’ Cemetery. Remembrance Tour. At this annual tour at the Esquimalt Veterans’ Cemetery (God's Acre), John Azar and guests will share stories of the contributions and sacrifices made by people in the service of our country. Lest we forget. Access off Colville Road near the Base Hospital.

Nov. 12. St. Sophia Russian Orthodox Church. Today’s tour takes us inside a beautiful church only a few blocks away from RBC. Find out about the church, its history and funerary customs. Be amazed by the beautiful mosaics. Meet at the church, 195 Joseph St. at the corner of May St.

Nov. 19. RBC. Douglas Day. Historian John Adams wrote the biography of Sir James Douglas and will explain why November 19 is officially called “Douglas Day” in BC. This tour will focus on Douglas himself and the people he worked with during his days as fur trader and colonial governor.

Nov. 26. RBC. Halifax Explosion. The 100th anniversary of one of the world’s largest non-nuclear explosions will be on December 6.  Munitions ship SS Mont Blanc collided with a freighter. Almost 2000 people died and many more were wounded. Ron Armstrong will recount the history of the tragedy and its connections to people buried at RBC.

Dec. 3. Old Burying Ground Christmas Tour. Christmas and holiday stories from Victoria of old will delight and amaze you. New Christmas tales and old favourites, combined with the history of one of Victoria’s oldest cemeteries. Meet at the corner of Quadra St. and Rockland Ave.

Dec. 10. RBC. Ross Bay Christmas Tour. John Adams continues the yuletide theme with more warm-hearted and humorous stories, including many about Emily Carr. A holly wreath will be placed on Emily Carr’s family plot, an annual tradition of the OCS. (Emily’s birthday is December 13.)

The tour schedule will resume on Sunday, February 18, 2018, at Ross Bay Cemetery. OCS members will be sent a 2018 schedule.

OCS members get a discount on the weekly tours and receive six copies per year of the newsletter “Stone Cuttings” and two copies of the journal “Stories in Stone” plus advance notification of tours and other activities. Part of each membership and all donations assist many worthwhile projects undertaken by the OCS at RBC and other Greater Victoria heritage cemeteries each year.

OCS Membership.
Adult $30, student $20, household $45

Donation. Your donations to the OCS are tax deductible and will assist our research, restoration and education work in local cemeteries.

Use the form below for membership and donations.

Check applicable categories:

□ OCS Membership (adult $30; student $20; household $45)
□ Donation (any amount appreciated). OCS is a registered charitable organization and will issue an income tax receipt for donations.


Mailing Address:



Amount enclosed:

Make cheques payable to OCS.
Mail to Old Cemeteries Society,
Box 50004, RPO Fairfield Plaza,
Victoria, BC  V8S 5L8



Cemeteries provide exciting educational opportunities for all grade levels and for many subjects. Consider a visit to Ross Bay Cemetery or the Veterans’ Cemetery this year. Note some tours are available at set dates, while others may be booked at any time. Cost $45 per class.

October 1–31 Ghost tours at RBC
November 1–10 Tours on the topic of Remembrance Day at RBC or the Veterans’ Cemetery.

Other topics to choose from at any time:

BC History
Gold Rush
Women’s History
Emily Carr
General Tour
Burial Traditions

Call 250.598.8870 to inquire about custom tours or to book.


Tel: 250.598.8870
Email: oldcem@pacificcoast.net
Mail: OCS, Box 50004, RPO Fairfield Plaza, Victoria, BC  V8S 5L8
Visit our website: www.oldcem.bc.ca

Groups and school tours a specialty any time.
Call 250.598.8870 to discuss and/or book a tour.

Ross Bay Cemetery and the Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square) are open daily year-round during daylight hours. Stop by for a stroll on your own and chat with the OCS volunteers who are often at RBC. Self-guiding maps of both cemeteries are available from the OCS.


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