2019 Tours and Excursions

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.

Feb. 13 (Wednesday). 7:30 pm. OCS Annual General Meeting at Craigflower Schoolhouse. Speakers: Yvonne Van Ruskenveld (former OCS president) and John Azar will present an illustrated talk about cemeteries they recently visited in Spain, Belgium (for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I) and England.

Feb. 17. 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. 24. 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.

March 3. RBC. Captains of Industry. Until the 1960s, Victoria was a city of factories and smokestacks. Today’s tour will focus on the men and women who owned and managed the sawmills, paint factories, foundries, shipyards, railways, bakeries, breweries and gasworks that made the city a noisy, smelly and smokey place.

March 10. RBC. An Angler’s Paradise. From the 1880s to 1914, Vancouver Island was known throughout the British Empire for its abundant trout and salmon rivers. Social historian Diana Pedersen will tell stories about sportfishing and its ties to settlement, transportation, tourism, and conservation.

March 17. RBC. Irish Columbia. To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Michael Halleran will visit the graves of many who came from the Emerald Isle to British Columbia. He will tell the stories of the great and good, famous and infamous, naughty and nice.

March 24. RBC. Emily Carr Tour. (First of two tours) 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. Another Emily Carr tour is scheduled on July 14.

March 31. RBC. Lieutenant Governors. One of the best views of Government House is from Ross Bay Cemetery and provides a fitting backdrop to today’s tour that will visit the graves of many of those who lived in the vice-regal mansion. RBC is the final resting place for the families of eight of them.

April 7. RBC. Burying the Dead. Victorian funerals often were elaborate public events featuring marching bands, hearses draped with black crepe and horses fitted out with black plumes and netting. Today’s tour includes the graves of the undertakers who made the arrangements, the clergy who conducted the services and the monument makers who carved the tombstones.

April 14. RBC. Murder Most Foul. (First of two tours) Michael Halleran will take us to graves of murderers and their victims and tell the grisly tales he has found in coroners’ files, old newspapers and through interviews with family members. On Oct. 13 Michael will conduct a second tour on the theme, with different stories.

April 21. RBC. Symbolism. Victorian-era cemeteries like RBC are filled with symbols that reflect the lives, beliefs, occupations and aspirations of those interred there. On this Easter Sunday tour, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will interpret traditional, interesting and unusual symbols and tell the stories of the people who lie beneath them.

April 28. RBC. Odd Fellows Anniversary. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in North America. The lodges in Victoria are the oldest in BC and today members of two of them, William Sanderson and John Adams, will lead the tour to graves of interesting and noteworthy Odd Fellows.

May 5. 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 12. RBC. Mother Dear. A tour to celebrate Mother’s Day. Although infant mortality was high, many families, large and small, thrived in early Victoria. Learn more about pioneer mothers and their families with Sylvia Van Kirk and Yvonne Van Ruskenveld. Join us for a late spring ramble with a special focus on Victoria’s family history.

May 19. RBC. Japanese at Ross Bay. Today’s tour will be conducted among the flowering trees 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 26. RBC. Point Ellice Bridge Disaster. On this day in 1896, an overloaded streetcar plunged through the rotten deck of the old Point Ellice Bridge, resulting in the deaths of 55 people. Joyce Mackie will visit the graves of many of the victims from this tragedy, the worst streetcar accident in the history of North America.

June 2. RBC. BC Coastal Communities. On this tour, Tom Pound, a frequent OCS tour guide, will examine the origins and what became of some of BC’s coastal communities as times and technologies changed. Featured will be Nanaimo, Part Hardy, Ocean Falls and Bella Coola.

June 9. RBC. A Day of Signs and Wonders. Today’s tour title is the name of award-winning author Kit Pearson’s 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 the author of many novels for young readers.

June 16. RBC. If These Stones Could Speak. Local historian and author, Peter Grant, will interpret the not-so-obvious messages contained in the tombstones and graves at RBC. Family crests, secret symbols, unusual designs, curious epitaphs and location will be the basis of this fascinating tour.

June 23. 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 30. RBC. Masonic History. The first Freemasons lodge in BC was started in Victoria 161 years ago and many of those involved are buried at RBC. Mark Anderson, a Past Master of Temple Lodge No. 33 in Duncan and historian of that lodge and one in Nanaimo, will lead today’s tour to many of the Masonic graves at RBC and talk about the history of the order here.

July 7. RBC. The 1919 Peace Parade. This July is the 100th anniversary of a giant parade in Victoria to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, marking the official end of the Great War. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld, Sylvia Van Kirk and Diana Pedersen will describe the festivities, which included Muggins, the dog, on a float, and the decoration of soldiers’ graves in RBC by the IODE.

July 14. RBC. Emily Carr Tour. This is the second of our tours about Emily Carr whose grave is one of the most visited at RBC. Join our team of OCS guides who will visit the graves of many people Emily knew and wrote about in The Book of Small and her other writings.

July 21. RBC. The Key to Mythic Victoria is the title of today’s tour and of the book written by Linda Foubister, today’s tour leader. She will present intriguing facts and tales, including many about the cemetery’s trees, and will relate them to the larger tapestry of mythology from Asia, Celtic Europe, North America and other ancient cultures.

July 28. RBC. Community Leaders. On today’s tour, John Adams, local historian from Discover the Past Tours, will visit the graves and tell the stories of men and women from Greater Victoria who have contributed in a major way to civic life and politics around the Capital region.

Aug. 4. RBC. Home on the Range. Celebrate the BC Day long weekend by discovering a little-known aspect of BC history: the beginning of cattle ranching in Canada. During the Cariboo gold rush, hungry miners needed beef, and entrepreneurs (many buried in RBC) saw an opportunity to develop ranches such as the famous Gang Ranch and the Douglas Lake Cattle Company.

Aug. 11. 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 that takes the place of a tour today.

Aug. 18. RBC. Hawaiians in Victoria. Michael Halleran, a long-time member of the Hawaiian Historical Society and a founding OCS member, has discovered many interesting Hawaiian connections at RBC, including people who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, the minister of the Hawaiian chapel and the man who had links to the Hawaiian royal family and became the Hawaiian Consul in Victoria in the 1800s.

Aug. 25. RBC. Architects of Distinction. Heritage advocate and former city councillor Pamela Madoff will talk about the many architects who are buried at RBC (Tiedemann, Sorby, Teague, Mallandaine) or who designed monuments there (Maclure, Rattenbury), all of whom left buildings that form the basis of Victoria’s architectural legacy.

Sept. 1. RBC. Pioneer Farmers. Sylvia Van Kirk and Yvonne Van Ruskenveld bring to life the stories of the farmers and their families who were key in the development of early Victoria. This tour highlights the continuing importance of local agriculture.

Sept. 8. Jewish Cemetery. The Jewish Cemetery is the oldest continuously operating cemetery in BC and has connections to many pioneers from Victoria and other places. Amber Woods, author of the OCS’s recent publication Guide to Victoria’s Historic Jewish Cemetery, will explain why the cemetery’s location is away from the synagogue and talk about its people, symbolism and monuments. Meet at main gates, Fernwood Rd. at corner of Cedar Hill Rd. Men please wear a hat.

Sept. 15. Tales from the Old Burying Ground. John Azar will recount stories from this fascinating old cemetery in the heart of downtown Victoria, which contains the remains of our earliest settlers, gold seekers and naval personnel. Meet at the corner of Quadra St. and Rockland Ave.

Sept. 22. RBC. “The Most Remarkable Woman Citizen of the Province”. This was how the Daily Colonist described Agnes Deans Cameron when she died in 1912. Cathy Converse has recently written the biography of this amazing woman (educator, author, adventurer) titled Against the Current and will lead this new tour that connects Cameron to a range of family, friends and foes buried in Ross Bay Cemetery.

Sept. 29. RBC. Gossip in the Graveyard. Victorian-era society was not as prim and proper as it is typically portrayed. Today’s tour is about the scandal and gossip that surrounded some of those buried at RBC. The OCS has collected some of the choicest tidbits that kept tongues wagging in bygone days and are still a source of fascination and entertainment today.

Oct. 6. RBC. Women at Work. October is Women’s History Month and one of the highlights in the OCS’s annual schedule is Yvonne Van Ruskenveld’s tour to mark it. This year, she will focus on women who worked outside the home. You’ll discover the wide range of occupations in which women earned their livings.

Oct. 13. RBC. Murder Most Foul. (Second of two tours) 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 tour will include different stories from Michael’s tour on April 14.

Oct. 20. 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. 20-30. Ghost Bus-tours®. Our 25th annual bus excursion past some of Victoria’s most haunted sites. New route and many new stories. Reserve your seat early. Check the website http://www.discoverthepast.com for details and reservations.

Oct. 27. 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.

Nov. 3. RBC. Skeletons from Victoria’s Closets. A lively tour about scoundrels, characters and eccentrics buried in RBC. You won’t find them in the history books!

Nov. 10. Veterans’ Cemetery. Remembrance Day 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. 17. Visit to Sands Funeral Chapel. Today’s tour will be inside the distinctive California Mission style building that has served Sands since 1932. Learn about the history of the company and the building and find out about funeral practices past and present. Meet inside the front entrance at 1803 Quadra Street.

Nov. 24. Visit to Mortimer’s Monumental Works. Today’s tour will be inside the workshop of one of Victoria’s oldest operating monument companies, dating from 1877. Find out how modern tombstones are made and about some of the company’s current projects. Meet at the workshop at 709 Kings Rd., off Douglas St.

Dec. 1. 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. 8. 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 16, 2020, at Ross Bay Cemetery. OCS members will be sent a 2020 schedule.

OCS members get a discount on the weekly tours and receive six copies per year of the newsletter “Stone Cuttings” 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.

Please use the form below for membership and donations.


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. Your donation will assist our research, restoration and education work in local cemeteries.


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 1–8 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.

Groups and school tours a specialty any time.

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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