The Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square) is a City of Victoria park and visitors are encouraged to enjoy its history and tranquil setting. The information below is about the monuments that are still standing and some of the 1,300 people who are buried there. The numbers are given for ease of reference. There is no particular order in which to view the monuments or take the tour. Enjoy your visit!
- Pritchard Tomb. Thomas Pritchard was a steamboat captain on the Columbia River before retiring to Victoria. When his wife Elizabeth died in 1871 he had the monument erected with two underground burial chambers. He wanted the monument moved to Ross Bay Cemetery after the Old Burying Ground closed in 1873, but this never happened. Captain Pritchard was buried beside his wife when he died in 1883.
- Andrew Phillips Obelisk. Phillips was born in Scotland and died in 1870. In the 1860s he was owner and captain of the schooner Alpha which was wrecked near Barclay Sound. Masonic symbols, including the square and calipers, the all-seeing eye and the plumb bob, attest to his membership in the Freemasons.
- Thomas Carter Bench Tomb. The top of Carter’s sandstone bench tomb bears Masonic insignia. He was from County Armagh, Ireland and was employed on John Work’s Hillside Farm when he died in 1869 after catching cold at a funeral a few weeks before.
- Historical Marker. In 1958, the year of the Fraser River Gold Rush Centennial, a granite boulder was installed facing Quadra Street with the history of the Old Burying Ground carved onto it. The information is accurate except for one small detail: the Old Burying Ground opened in 1855, not 1858.
- James Murray Yale Grave. A small concrete tablet at the base of a massive Garry oak tree marks the resting place of this Hudson’s Bay Company chief trader who served at many fur-trading posts, notably Fort Langley. Yale on the Fraser River is named for him. He died at Stromness Farm, Victoria, in 1871.
- Royal Navy and Police Memorial. This area of the Old Burying Ground is known as “Naval Corner” because many monuments commemorating Royal Navy personnel once stood here. Only two of the old stones are still in place, but this one erected in 1993 by the Royal Canadian Naval Association honours fifty-five Royal Navy people and one Victoria policeman who died between 1846 and 1868.
- Sutlej Obelisk. HMS Sutlej was a Royal Navy ship stationed at Esquimalt from 1863 to 1867. This obelisk was erected when the ship returned to England. The names have now crumbled away, but included those of many men who were buried at sea while serving here, plus the name of Maggie Sutlej, a First Nations orphan girl who was cared for by the wife of Admiral Denman aboard this ship.
- Charles Rufus Robson Grave. Only the base of a much larger monument remains on Robson’s grave. While commander of the gunboat Forward in 1860 he rescued the crews of two ships off the west coast of Vancouver Island, but less than a year later he died after falling off his horse in Victoria. A carved broken mast, symbolizing a sailor’s life cut short, once stood above the pedestal.
- Cridge Children’s Grave. Edward Cridge came to Fort Victoria in 1855 as Hudson’s Bay Company chaplain. Later he was dean of Christ Church Cathedral, the precursor of the large stone edifice beside the Old Burying Ground. This headstone bears the names of four of his infant children who died of diphtheria in 1864 and 1865.
- Royal Canadian Air Force Cairn. This monument was erected in 2008 to remember Canadian air personnel who served and fell in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and many United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world. It is inscribed with the Air Force’s Latin motto: per ardua ad astra (through adversity to the stars).
- Lucy Sanders Bench. Lucy came to Canada from South Africa in 1911. Her daughter married Jim Carney and lived in Shanghai in the 1930s. The Carneys’ twin toddlers were evacuated just before the Japanese occupied the city in 1937. One of those children was Senator Pat Carney. Lucy died in 1947 and requested that a bench should be placed where people could stop and rest.
- Helmcken Bench Tomb. Under this tomb is a burial vault containing the ashes of Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken and the remains of his wife Cecilia and three of their infant children. Helmcken arrived at Fort Victoria from England in 1850. Cecilia’s father was James Douglas, chief factor of the fort and later governor of the colony. Cecilia died in 1865; her husband’s ashes were entombed in 1920, long after the burying ground had officially closed.
- Cameron Bench Tomb. Under this tomb rest David Cameron, chief justice of the Colony of Vancouver Island, and his wife Cecilia, sister of Governor James Douglas. In 1853 they moved to Fort Victoria from their British Guiana sugar plantation.
- Wallace Obelisk. Here lie Kate Wallace and three of her children. She was the daughter of Hudson’s Bay Company chief factor, John Work. Her marriage to Charles Wentworth Wallace was unhappy partly because he squandered their money. After they had to sell their home in 1869 Kate died of consumption.
- Charles Dodd Bench Tomb. Dodd was a Hudson’s Bay Company chief factor and ship captain along the coast of British Columbia and Alaska. His knowledge of native languages was a major asset. He retired in Victoria where he died in 1860. The top of his tomb is supported by intricately carved fish.
- John Work Bench Tomb. A sandstone bench tomb on top of a burial vault commemorates the Honourable John Work, a Hudson’s Bay Company chief factor who died in 1861. On one end of the tomb are shamrocks and a beaver, representing Work’s Irish birth and his arrival in Canada in 1814 to join the fur trade. He owned a large estate in Victoria called Hillside Farm.
- Canadian Scottish Regimental Cenotaph. The stone cenotaph replaces a wooden one on the same site. The Canadian Scottish (Princess Mary’s) Regiment is an old and respected one in Victoria and abroad. The monument honours the members of the regiment who served and died in many conflicts.
- Charles Ross Plaque. A polished stone plaque erected in 1943 marks the second resting place of Charles Ross who was in charge of building Fort Victoria in 1843. The next year he died of acute appendicitis and was buried at the Fort Victoria Graveyard, but was moved here after the Old Burying Ground opened in 1855.
- Paul Medana Obelisk. Medana, a real estate owner and investor, was from Italy. Medana’s Grove, his land in James Bay, was a favourite picnic spot in the 1800s and was considered as a site to replace the Old Burying Ground, but Ross Bay Cemetery was chosen instead.
- Carroll Monument. When erected in the 1860s this monument was one of the most impressive in the colony, but its carvings crumbled to dust years ago. John Carroll who died in 1861was the owner of the Brown Jug Saloon. Also buried here are his first wife and three of his infant children.
- Tombstone Group. In 1908 the City of Victoria cleared the Old Burying Ground. A few stones were left in place, many were discarded, buried or destroyed, but about 150 were relocated to the eastern edge of the new park. Erosion, vandalism and falling trees have taken their toll on most of them. Beginning in the 1980s about 100 stones, either intact or damaged, were put in safe storage. One still standing is for Hannah Estes, a black woman born into slavery in Missouri, who died in Victoria in 1868.
- Chinese Section. When the Old Burying Ground opened in 1855 no Chinese lived at Fort Victoria, but in 1858 many began to arrive for the Fraser River Gold Rush. A section of the cemetery was set aside for their use, but this is one area where the bodies are no longer present. The Chinese custom was to inter the bodies for seven years, then exhume the bones and send them to China. The last Chinese exhumations in the Old Burying Ground took place in the 1880s.
Fort Victoria was founded in 1843 as a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading post. In 1849 when the Colony of Vancouver Island was created it became the capital. At that time burials of company employees and their families took place in the Fort Victoria Graveyard, a site now occupied by a building at the corner of Douglas and Johnson streets. In 1855 the old graveyard was closed and the Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square) was established to replace it. At the time it was surrounded by forests and fields. One block away the first church in the colony was built (where the Law Courts are at the corner of Blanshard Street and Burdett Avenue). It was the precursor to Christ Church Cathedral, the massive stone edifice built in the 1920s right next door to the Old Burying Ground. In spite of their physical proximity, however, the church and cemetery were always separate entities. The Old Burying Ground originally was divided into areas for the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Royal Navy.
In 1858 the first of many gold rushes brought tens of thousands of people to the region. A new colony, British Columbia, was created and Victoria grew quickly to serve as its supply centre. People arrived from every part of the world and soon the Old Burying Ground had houses and homesteads all around it. Provision was made for Chinese to be buried in one section and Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists and others to be accommodated as well. Victoria’s large Jewish population established its own cemetery and First Nations living on reserves usually buried their dead on the reserves. Between 1855 and 1873 the Old Burying Ground received approximately 1,300 interments and became very crowded.
In 1873 the Old Burying Ground officially closed and a new civic cemetery opened at Ross Bay. A handful of burials were moved to the new cemetery, but almost all were left in the old one. Maintenance at the Old Burying Ground became a problem. Gradually the fences rotted, grass and brambles grew thickly, vandals desecrated headstones and fires burned many wooden headboards and fences. In 1908, after years of receiving complaints, the City of Victoria took the drastic step of removing most of the tombstones and grading and grassing the old cemetery to turn it into a park to be called Pioneer Square. It is one of the few green spaces in downtown Victoria and is a favourite place for residents and office workers to relax in. Sadly, however, vandalism and natural weathering have taken their toll on the monuments. Only a small fraction of the ones that survived the 1908 clearance are still in place.
Who Looks after the Old Burying Ground
The Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square) is owned, maintained and managed by the City of Victoria. City staff mow the lawns, trim the trees and pick up the litter.
The Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria
The Old Cemeteries Society (OCS) is a registered non-profit society and charitable organization that can receive donations and issue receipts for income tax purposes. Our goals are to encourage the research, preservation and appreciation of Victoria’s 20 heritage cemeteries. Since the mid-1980s at the Old Burying Ground we have catalogued the monuments, created a searchable on-line database of all its known burials, commissioned reports about stone conservation, salvaged monuments that had been discarded or lost, placed many into safe and secure storage to prevent further vandalism, conducted historical and archaeological research, given guided tours and completed a major conservation project on the Pritchard Tomb.
Visit the Old Burying Ground
Picturesquely nestled beside Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria’s Old Burying Ground is an oasis of greenery and history in the heart of the city. Most tombstones have been removed, but the ones that remain are unique on the west coast, representing rarely seen examples of bench tombs, obelisks and elaborate Victorian monuments. On Tuesday evening and Sunday morning the bells at Christ Church Cathedral are rung.
How to Get to the Old Burying Ground
The Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square) is on the edge of downtown Victoria, just a 10-minute walk from the Empress Hotel and the Inner Harbour. It is located on Quadra Street between Rockland Avenue and Meares Street, one block south of Fort Street. The massive twin stone towers of Christ Church Cathedral are right next door and are a landmark to guide you there. Parking is available on the streets surrounding the Old Burying Ground, but there is no vehicle access to the park itself. Pedestrian pathways are clearly visible and are wheelchair accessible. The Old Burying Ground is open to the public 24 hours a day, every day.