About the Old Cemeteries Society

Our members are involved in many volunteer activities, mainly at Ross Bay Cemetery. Our main activities are cataloguing, cleaning and restoring monuments, computerizing burial records, conducting historical research, combating vandalism and giving walking history tours. Membership fees, donations and proceeds from historical queries, books, t-shirts, field trips and walking tours assist the costs of this important work.

OCS Officers 2019

President:Gerry Buydens
Vice President:Vacant
Past President:Wilf Bruch
Secretary:Michael Halleran
Treasurer:Gudrun Leys
Directors at Large:Linda Richards
Sharon Welsh
Steve Thomson
Patrick Lydon
Paul Taylor
Bente Svendsen

The Old Cemeteries Society (OCS) started informally in 1983. It brought together people from the Victoria Genealogical Society, several local monument makers and many private citizens who were interested in the preservation of Victoria’s beautiful and historic cemeteries. There are about 20 of these cemeteries including burial parks, columbaria and churchyards.  Many of these are listed on the Cemeteries page with a description and photos where available.

By 1984, these groups had formed the Old Cemeteries Committee under the sponsorship of the Victoria Historical Society. They wanted to present a united front to the Victoria City Council so they could request more action on such things as vandalism. From the first, the committee wanted to raise the awareness of neighbours of the cemeteries and of the local police to try and encourage a crackdown on vandals. The committee also formed volunteer patrols of the cemeteries at high-vandalism times such as Halloween.

In 1985, the committee decided that raising the public (and City Council) awareness of all the issues facing old cemeteries was essential to protecting the cemeteries. Later that year, the committee held a symposium that brought together researchers and conservation experts from all over the province and Alberta. This went so well that more symposiums were held, in 1987, 1995 and 1997.

In 1988 and 1989, vandalism was at an all time high in Ross Bay Cemetery. Because of increased public awareness, a huge public outcry resulted in large media coverage. The city imposed a curfew, set up paid security patrols and for the first time, funded the repair of damaged gravestones.

In 1990, the Old Cemeteries Committee formed its own society called the Old Cemeteries Society. This new society decided that regular walking history tours was a good way to raise awareness of the cemeteries. In September 1987, volunteers of the society began giving walking tours.

The Old Cemeteries Society continues the Walking History Tour Program, with tours attracting up to 90 people on any given Sunday. A small fee is charged for the tours to raise money for ongoing conservation and restoration work in Victoria’s heritage cemeteries.

History Tours have expanded to include a School Program, Ghost Bus-tours of the city’s haunted sites at Halloween and out-of-town bus excursions to more distant cemeteries and historical sites.

Ongoing projects include:

  • Cleaning and restoring of markers;
  • Recording and documentation of all the grave sites and markers in Ross Bay Cemetery;
  • Computerizing the 28,000 plus entries in the Ross Bay Cemetery Burial Registers.

Major projects and events have included:

  • 1988
    • Workshops in monument conservation; cleaning and restoration of monuments at Ross Bay Cemetery commenced;
  • 1991
    • Restoration of cast-iron grave fence around the grave of Charles Moss;
  • 1992
    • Moving some gravestones from the Old Burying Ground to safe storage and repairing markers and curbing that had been knocked over or damaged;
  • 1993
    • Restoration of cast-iron grave fences around the Douglas family plot;
  • 1997
    • Restoration and conservation of the Pritchard Tomb in the Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square);
  • 2000
    • Ross Bay restoration Millennium Project – complete restoration and conservation work on 160 monuments;
  • 2002
    • Vandalism at Ross Bay Cemetery damaged 50 monuments;
  • 2005
    • Restoration of hand-worked wrought iron fence around the grave of Charles and Hannah (Parker) Ball;
  • 2006
    • Old Cemetery Society received the Heritage Society of BC Outstanding Achievement Award for Heritage Advocacy;
  • 2007
    • Old Cemeteries Society and the Victoria Historical Society co-hosted the British Columbia Historical Federation Conference, May 10-13 in Victoria, BC;
    • Old Cemeteries Society Website won the BC Historical Federation Website Contest
  • 2008
    • Historical Fair – hosted participants and chaperones who attended tours, cleaning sessions and recording instruction at Ross Bay Cemetery;
  • 2009
    • A grant from the BC 150 Legacy Fund resulted in a burial database and self-guided tour guide for The Old Quadra Street Burying Ground;
    • Two bouts of vandalism at Ross Bay Cemetery – the first in August claimed about 13 stones and the second in December damaged another 50. The City of Victoria Parks staff authorized Mortimers Monumental Works to repair all the damage.
  • 2010
    • Ross Bay Cemetery Row Marker Project established a system for locating grave plots;
  • 2011
    • Office relocated to Ross Bay Villa;
    • Restoration of ironwork at Ross Bay Cemetery – after preparing a detailed inventory of iron fencing, gate features and curbing, 55 examples were cleaned, scraped and repainted. This ambitious project will add many years of life to these irreplaceable iron features.
  • 2012
    • Phase 3 of our Row Marker Project was completed thanks to the support of the Thrifty Foods Smile Card Fundraiser Program.
    • We also undertook the restoration and stabilization of the Houston Mausoleum. The damaged walls were stabilized and the iron gate was cleaned and painted. (P90/91WR)
  • 2013
    • Our restoration efforts in 2013 were concentrated on our Ross/Grimm project.
    • The project comprised of refurbishing the Isabella Ross marker, replicating the Alexander Ross marker and restoring the Grimm Family iron fence. This project was successfully completed in October at a cost of $3864.00. See “current issues“ for pictures. Thank You to Thrifty Food for their support.
    • Other restoration efforts included, repairing 28 markers through out Ross Bay Cemetery, creating 8 new bases for broken tablet markers and installing them, re-tiling the Huston family plot and close to 100 hours of power washing curbing and bases at Ross Bay Cemetery.
  • 2014
    • To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Leechtown in 1864 by Peter Leech, a special tour was prepared by Dr Patirck Lydon. In attendance were the Lt. Governor, representatives of the Royal Corp of Engineers and descendants of Peter Leech. A new monument was also unveiled.
  • 2015
    • This summer saw the restoration of a number on very old monuments that had been vandalized many years ago and left to deteriorate.
  • 2016
    • Our priority for this year was to expand the “Row Marker Project” at Ross Bay Cemetery. Markers to direct people to Nellie Cashman, Billy Barker and Emily Carr were among the 25 new row markers placed.
  • 2017/2018
    • This period saw the addition of 7 new row markers. But our main efforts were to complete the photographing of all the grave markers in Ross Bay Cemetery. This project is in preparation of the addition a a burial database to our website.