Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square) Project
The purpose of this BC150-Heritage Legacy Fund project was:
- to consolidate, inventory and add to the extensive existing historical information about the Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square), including written records, photographs and maps.
- to create a searchable database of the approximately 1,300 burial records from several sources.
- to prepare graphic materials, including a base map and composite illustrations, of Pioneer Square, suitable for presentation.
- to create and print a self-guided tour of Pioneer Square.
- to create a Pioneer Square section on this website
The Old Cemeteries Society Board appointed a steering committee to apply for the grant, and to guide the project if successful in receiving funding. John Adams prepared the application and we received the notice that our application had been approved on Jan. 2, 2009. Doug Miller took on the monumental task of preparing the searchable database of 1300 burials compiled from many sources. Don Reksten brought together available reports and images which Fred Hook scanned and prepared for putting on the website. Wilf Bruch took care of administration, and photographed the Old Burying Ground in its present (2009) state. John Adams wrote the “History of the Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square)” and Doug Miller researched and wrote “The Naval Corner”. Leona Taylor compiled information from newspaper and other print sources and provided obituaries for the database. The various web pages for this project were designed and developed by Web programmer Clifton Dildy. The map of the Old Burying Ground was designed by graphics designer Dale Hitchcox.
Among the historical icons buried at Pioneer Square and featured in this website and self-guided tour are prominent figures such as Dr. John S. Helmcken, James Murray Yale, John Work, Charles Ross, Chief Justice David Cameron. In addition, there are many less famous people whose stories collectively are important to the BC history. Among them are Paul Medana (an Italian merchant), Hannah Estes (formerly a black slave), Johanna Maguire (an Irish woman down on her luck) and Capt. Thomas Pritchard (a Welsh river boat captain). This searchable database provides detailed burial information with links to obituaries and photos for the approximately 1300 souls buried at the Old Burying Ground.
Walking Tour Brochure
The Walking Tour Brochure includes a map of the Old Burying Ground with accompanying descriptions of the persons whose monuments and markers still exist. Copies of the brochure will be widely available, and a printable version may be downloaded here. The website version allows one to click on a grave site location and access all the information contained in the burial database. The Walking Tour Brochure is a huge asset in promoting an interest in BC history and the preservation of heritage cemeteries.
Pioneer Square was the main burying ground for Fort Victoria and Victoria from 1855 to 1873. The approximately 1,300 people interred there represent a broad cross section of Hudson’s Bay Company families, plus people who arrived for the 1858 and later gold rushes and who created Victoria as the cultural, political and business centre for the Colony of Vancouver Island (1855-1866), the Colony of British Columbia (1866-1871) and the first few years of the Province of British Columbia (1871-1873). There are few places in the province which exemplify as much the formative years of British Columbia’s growth after 1858.
The sailors of Her Majesty’s Ships on the Pacific Station evidently felt very strongly that their shipmates left behind should receive a decent burial and be properly remembered. The southwest corner (corner of Quadra St. and Rockland Ave.) became known as the ‘Naval Corner’ and it was there, for the most part, that the remains of the deceased sailors were interred and/or memorialized.
The Photo Gallery contains over 250 images in various categories such as Grave Markers, Portraits, and General Views. Though many monuments were removed after 1908 when the cemetery was “cleared”, many are preserved in storage. Photos of these are included in the Photo Gallery. Image sources included reports, personal collections, City of Victoria Archives, RBC Museum/BC Archives, and Old Cemeteries Society files. We hope that this project will generate access to many other sources.
Here are some ideas for educational and interesting activities to do on your own, with your class or other group.
Since 1985 a number of investigations and projects have been carried out in the Old Burying Ground. The reports provide information about conservation, geophysical mapping, and a major monument restoration project.