Victoria’s Ross Bay Cemetery opened in 1873 to serve the burial needs of the growing city of Victoria, BC, Canada. Overlooking Ross Bay, it is 11 hectares in size (27.5 acres) and has almost 30,000 interments. Not just a burial ground, it serves as a park and restful get-away for many people.
After Fort Victoria was founded in 1843, a small graveyard was opened at what is now the southwest corner of Douglas St. and Johnson St. In 1855, a new cemetery was opened, the Quadra Street Cemetery, now known as the Old Burying Ground (or Pioneer Square).
As the Quadra Street Cemetery was filling up, the city looked for a good location for a new, larger cemetery. The original site the city chose for Victoria’s new cemetery was 47 acres just outside the city near Ogden Point. The land was given to Victoria’s Cemetery Trustees in 1872 and was to have 12 acres cleared for use right away. Many people opposed this site, including Dr. J.S. Helmcken. They said it was too valuable to use for a cemetery, and it was a health risk because it was on the city’s windward side. Taking the protests of the citizens to heart, the city sold some of the land and bought 13 acres of cleared land at Ross Bay from Robert Burnaby (the man for whom the municipality of Burnaby would be named) for $300 per acre. By October 1872, the site was being laid out and drained, and by the following March, plots were being offered for sale. The cemetery was named Ross Bay Cemetery because it is beside Ross Bay. The bay was named after Isabella Ross who had purchased the land in the 1860’s
Ross Bay Cemetery Expansion
In 1893 the city bought the western portion of the cemetery but did not open it for burials until 1900. Then in 1906, the city bought property for $1.00 on the eastern side of the cemetery. This land was originally owned by Isabella Ross, as was all the land that made up the eastern two-thirds cemetery.
Ross Bay Then and Now
The pictures above show the grave of Fanny Palmer in Ross Bay Cemetery (F34E17). Fanny was a victim of the wreck of the Pacific in 1875. The pictures show the grave as it was in 1875 and as it is in 2019.
COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES UPGRADE
In 2006 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission replaced military markers in sections S and W near the Cross of Sacrifice. The City of Victoria Parks Department installed a new automated sprinkler system to ensure that the flower beds are watered regularly.
Ross Bay Cemetery trees
The trees found in old cemeteries may be some of the oldest and largest types of their kind in the area as they were to some degree protected from being cut down. Cemeteries are not only memorials to the dead; they also have secured a vital function as horticultural repositories.
As can be sene in the photos, the cemetery was quite bare in the 1880s. Most of the trees were planted in the 1930s, under the direction of the City of Victoria Parks Department. In fact, the Parks Department formerly used Ross Bay Cemetery as a kind of warehouse of tree species.
Whenever the city needed to plant some more trees along its boulevards, it would start with clippings from the trees at the cemetery. Today, many trees in the city have roots in Ross Bay Cemetery. There are many pines, ornamental cherries and plums as well as shrubs like holly, yew, laurel, boxwood and lilac, most planted after the cemetery opened.
Sisters of Saint Ann
Not everyone buried in Ross Bay Cemetery was originally buried there. The first transfers came when the Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square) was closed. Only a few of the approximately 1300 remains were moved from there to Ross Bay Cemetery in the 1870s and 1880s.
Later, others came from the Songhees Indian Reserve on Victoria’s Inner Harbour when it was sold for development in 1912. Some of these graves were moved to Esquimalt, west of the City, but the Roman Catholic graves were moved to Ross Bay Cemetery.
The last set of transfers came when St. Ann’s Academy was purchased by the provincial government in the 1970s. Up until 1908, the Sisters who died while at St. Ann’s Academy (a convent) were buried in consecrated ground there.
The Sisters who died after that was full were buried in a separate area in Section U of Ross Bay Cemetery. When the government bought St. Ann’s, the old graves were exhumed and moved to the Ross Bay plot to rest with the other Sisters.