2021 Tours and Excursions

NOTE: Owing to Covid restrictions, our tours will continue to be available only on Zoom, not in person. The Zoom link for each tour will be sent to members only; members may share the links with friends. To become a member, please visit the Old Cemeteries Society (OCS) website (https://oldcem.bc.ca/about/support/) or call 250-598-8870 for information. In-person tours will resume only when Covid restrictions allow. For updates on the tours, please check the OCS website (oldcem.bc.ca) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/OldCemeteriesSociety/).

Tours are either about or at Ross Bay Cemetery (RBC) unless otherwise indicated.

Old Cemeteries Society 2021 Tour Schedule — February to June*

Feb. 21. On Zoom only. City of the Dead. Find out why RBC was founded in 1872 and how it was designed based on 19th century ideals of cemetery layout that originated with Napoleon. The winding carriageways lined with trees had symbolic significance; the styles of monuments and their epitaphs evoked Victorian values; the sloping site overlooking the ocean and the division by religious denomination reflected divisions in 19th century class and society.

Feb. 28. On Zoom only. Black History. Each year in February, the OCS joins with the BC Black History Awareness Society to mark Black History Month by touring some of the many graves of Victoria’s Black pioneers buried at RBC. Escaping increasing discrimination in California, about 600 came here at the invitation of Gov. James Douglas. Douglas is included on the tour because of Black ancestry on his mother’s side.

March 7. On Zoom only. Funeral Oddities. The Victorian ideal of a solemn cortege leading to the grave where the committal is reverently intoned was sometimes shattered by human and natural interference. John Adams has found some examples of funerals and burials that did not go according to plan, sometimes with humorous, bizarre, tragic or otherwise memorable results.

March 14. On Zoom only. This Job Is Killing Me! In the days before workplace safety mattered, jobs could be fatal. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will visit the graves of some of those who died from their dangerous work. You may be surprised by some of the industries that Victoria once supported.

March 21. On Zoom only. Murder Most Foul – Part 1. Always a popular topic in our annual tour program. Join Michael Halleran as he visits graves of the victims of murder and even a few of the convicted murderers themselves. For murder mystery aficionados who want more, the theme will continue on Oct. 17 with a selection of different stories.

March 28. On Zoom only. Stories Behind Our Street Names. Some streets in the Victoria area are obviously named after early residents but others have less obvious sources. An OCS team will reveal the origins of the names of streets, roads and avenues you may know and have wondered about.

April 4. On Zoom only. More than Angels and Obelisks. Join Yvonne Van Ruskenveld in celebrating this Easter Sunday with a new symbolism tour highlighting grave markers old and new. From the Victorian period to modern times, symbols provide intriguing links to the stories of the individuals buried in this historic cemetery.

April 11. On Zoom only. Victoria’s Militia Goes to War. In 1914, soldiers from Victoria’s artillery militia and newly formed infantry regiments joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) to fight in the First World War in Belgium and France. John Azar and guests will tell the stories of some who served and how they are commemorated in RBC and elsewhere.

April 18. On Zoom only. Emily Carr Tour – Part 1. Emily Carr’s grave is one of the most visited at RBC. Every year a team of OCS guides visits 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, different Emily Carr tour is scheduled on September 5.

April 25. On Zoom only. Pioneer Square Gold Rush Tales. The 1858 gold rush began in Victoria on Sunday, April 25, when the SS Commodore steamed into the harbour carrying hundreds of gold-hungry prospectors. Today’s tour will include some of the people who already lived here and many who came to seek their fortunes. Doctors, farmers, steamboat captains, fur traders, saloon keepers and other colourful characters will be included.

NOTE: Owing to Covid restrictions, our tours will continue to be available only on Zoom, not in person. The Zoom link for each tour will be sent to members only; members may share the links with friends. To become a member, please visit the Old Cemeteries Society (OCS) website (https://oldcem.bc.ca/about/support/) or call 250-598-8870 for information. In-person tours will resume only when Covid restrictions allow. For updates on the tours, please check the OCS website (oldcem.bc.ca) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/OldCemeteriesSociety/).

May 2. On Zoom only. Chinese Cemetery Tour. To mark Asian Heritage Month, Victoria Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe will present the OCS’s annual tour at the Chinese Cemetery, including a visit to her own grandfather’s grave. The cemetery, now a National Historic Site, began in 1903.

May 9. On Zoom only. Victoria’s Lusitania Riots. The Cunard liner Lusitania, carrying almost 2,000 passengers, including 14 Victorians, was sunk by a German submarine on May 7, 1915. The news triggered a weekend of anti-German riots and disrupted a half-century of Anglo-German harmony in Victoria. Historian Diana Pedersen will lead this tour on the 106th anniversary of the events.

May 16. On Zoom only. Chinese at Ross Bay. From 1873 to 1903, Victoria’s Chinese community buried its dead at RBC. They were relegated to an undesirable piece of ground near the beach where waves sometimes carried coffins out to sea. In keeping with Chinese tradition, many were exhumed and the bones shipped to China. After 1903, some were reburied at the Chinese Cemetery. John Adams, author of Chinese Victoria (soon to be released), will visit the former Chinese section of RBC and recount the stories of some who once were buried there and some who still are.

May 23. On Zoom only. Empire Connections. On this Victoria Day weekend, Michael Halleran will visit the graves of people from diverse and far-flung countries of the British Empire, who made their way to this distant outpost and contributed to Victoria’s civic life.

May 30. On Zoom only. Civil War Stories. From the Fraser River gold rush on, Victoria attracted thousands of Americans. On this U.S. Memorial Day weekend, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will tell the stories of some of those who were involved in the U.S. Civil War.

* Please check the OCS website (oldcem.bc.ca) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/OldCemeteriesSociety/) or call 250-598-8870 for information about attendance at the following tours. Depending on Covid restrictions, some or all may be available only on Zoom.

June 6. RBC. Our Happy Home. Today’s tour title is from a recent book about Ross Bay Villa, past, present and future. Built in 1865, even before RBC was established across the street, Ross Bay Villa still stands on Fairfield Road. By the early 1990s the house was neglected and hidden by undergrowth. Dedicated volunteers restored it and now the Ross Bay Villa Society owns and operates it. Society members will lead a tour at RBC to graves of people connected with the house; then at the Villa itself where refreshments will be served.

June 13. RBC. Victoria’s Multicultural Firsts. May Q. Wong is the author of the recent book City in Colour about Victoria’s multicultural past with a focus on people of colour. The author will highlight the many firsts among this diversity of people buried at RBC. Hear about Victoria’s Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, First Nations, Metis and others of colour who were pioneers, trailblazers and community leaders.

June 20. 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 27. RBC. Sophie Pemberton and Friends. Archivist, historian and biographer Kathryn Bridge is preparing for her next book, about Sophie Pemberton, a very accomplished artist from Victoria in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today’s tour will visit graves of some of Sophie’s contemporary artists and friends, and family connections of the prominent Pemberton family who influenced Sophie in her private life and artistic career.

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 or print a copy from this link. (https://oldcemhome.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/ocsv_membership_form.pdf)


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.

Submit this form for more information: