Tours at Ross Bay Cemetery are signified RBC and start at 2pm at the cemetery entrance on Fairfield Road, opposite the south end of Stannard Street. Others start where noted. No reservations needed. Charge: $5 for non-members; $2 for members.
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 visit our membership page to join the Old Cemeteries Society.
Feb. 19. RBC. Ross Bay Cemetery: A Heritage Treasure. Ross Bay Cemetery was founded 150 years ago. It is one of the most outstanding Victorian-era cemeteries in western Canada and is a designated heritage site. John Adams, author of the Historic Guide to Ross Bay Cemetery, will trace its history and why it was designed based on 19th-century principles of cemetery planning that originated with Napoleon. He will explain the significance of the winding carriageways lined with trees, the styles of monuments, their epitaphs and symbolism that evoke Victorian values, and how the cemetery’s layout reflected contemporary class and religious distinctions.
Feb. 26. RBC. 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. This year’s tour will also include some recently “rediscovered” Black pioneers whose stories have not been told on past tours.
March 5. RBC. Ross Bay Cemetery 150th Anniversary. On March 1, 1873, Ross Bay Cemetery officially opened for business. A century and a half later, the OCS will mark this momentous occasion with a special tour. From whom was the land acquired? Who made the decision to buy it? What did it look like in 1873? Who designed it? Who were the first ones buried? John Adams, author of Historic Guide to Ross Bay Cemetery, will provide the answers.
March 12. RBC. Irish Columbia. As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, 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 19. RBC. Fort Victoria’s 180th Anniversary. In March 1843, James Douglas decided on a site for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s new trading post, to be called Fort Victoria. This tour will visit the graves of Douglas and many of the other people who were involved in the early days of the fort. Songhees Chief Sciomax, the Ross family, the Finlayson family, and Hawaiian, French Canadian and Metis labourers will be included.
March 26. RBC. 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. The tour includes new stories as well as old favourites. A second, different Emily Carr tour is scheduled later this year.
April 2. RBC. Beloved One, Farewell. In addition to its 135 Commonwealth war graves, Ross Bay Cemetery contains close to 30 family markers commemorating soldiers killed in Belgium and France from 1916 to 1918. Though their final resting places are war graves far from Victoria, each of these men is memorialized on a local headstone inscribed in loving memory of a young Victoria soldier who went off to war and never returned. Alan McLeod will reveal some of the affecting family stories hidden behind gravestone facades.
April 9. RBC. Oh, for the touch of a vanished hand. What do epitaphs in a cemetery reveal about the people and the times in which they lived? In this new tour, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will visit graves marked by tombstones carrying epitaphs both ancient and modern and explain both their origins and the stories of the people buried there.
April 16. RBC. Chinese Exclusion Act 100th Anniversary. On July 1, 1923, the Parliament of Canada enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, which effectively barred Chinese immigration until 1947. John Adams will visit the graves of people such as Mayor Noah Shakespeare and other civic leaders who led the anti-Chinese movement in Victoria in the 1880s and members of the school board who voted to segregate Chinese students in the early 1900s. The tour will include some of the Chinese who resisted the campaign against them.
April 23. St. Luke’s Churchyard. St. Luke’s picturesque churchyard is the final resting place for many pioneer families in the Cedar Hill and Gordon Head areas. Through their stories, we’ll learn the history of these areas and their importance in the agriculture of Greater Victoria. The church will be open for viewing after the tour. Meet in the parking lot off Cedar Hill Cross Rd. at the corner of Cedar Hill Rd.
April 30. RBC. The Wreck of the SS Pacific. Recently a historic wreck was discovered in the deep waters off the coast. The sinking of the Pacific while en route to San Francisco in the fall of 1875 was a tragic event in the history of Victoria. Over 270 people died, making it one of the worst maritime tragedies on the west coast. To mark the discovery of the wreck, Tom Pound will take us to gravesites connected to people who were lost.
May 7. RBC. Royal Connections. In honour of the recent coronation of King Charles, this tour will visit the graves of those who had claims to royal blood and those who had encounters with royalty both here and abroad. We even have a descendant of the mistress of a king!
May 14. Chinese Cemetery Tour. To mark Asian Heritage Month, Charlayne Thornton-Joe will conduct 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. Meet at the Chinese Cemetery gates, corner of Crescent and Penzance Roads. Access off King George Terrace.
May 21. RBC. Asian Heritage at Ross Bay. This is the second in our series of tours for Asian Heritage Month. Before the Chinese Cemetery was opened in 1903, RBC was the site for most Chinese burials. But RBC was also the location for funerals of many people from Japan, India, and, more recently, Vietnam. On this new tour, John Adams will explain who they were and their burial customs.
May 28. RBC. For Queen and Empire. In the days when the sun never set on the British Empire, the British military defended the empire’s interests in battles far from home. In Victoria, old soldiers commemorated their experiences as members of the British Campaigners Association. On this Sunday after Victoria Day, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld visits the graves of veterans of the Boer War, the Crimean War and other distant struggles.
June 4. RBC. Residents of Rockland. In this new tour, Ken Sudhues, long-time heritage advocate, will visit the family graves of politicians, merchants, judges, a well-known builder, and someone who, throughout his life, worked to save Craigdarroch Castle and wrote about “the old days” of Victoria.
June 11. RBC. United Empire Loyalist (UEL) Descendants. The first Loyalist migration was northward after being on the losing side of the American Revolution. A second migration was Loyalist descendants moving westward as Canada grew. Mike Woodcock of the Victoria UEL Branch has found that about 1% of those buried in Ross Bay Cemetery are UEL descendants. Mike will provide insights into some of the UEL descendants who crossed the continent to become early Victorians.
June 18. RBC. Métis Connections. Métis are First Nations people who have had a European fur trader marry into their Indigenous family. They are one of the three recognized First Peoples in Canada. Today’s tour will demystify confusion about the term and visit graves of many Métis buried at RBC and explain their historical importance to the city and the country.
June 25. RBC. City Fathers Since 1862. Ross Bay Cemetery is the resting place of many of Victoria’s early mayors. Mayor Marianne Alto will lead this tour to the graves of some of our earliest mayors, who helped to shape the city we live in today. Their stories reflect the very different times through which our city grew.
July 2. RBC. Saddle Up! Celebrate the Canada Day long weekend by discovering a little-known aspect of our history: the beginning of cattle ranching in Canada — it began in BC, not Alberta. 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.
July 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.
July 16. RBC. Victoria Unbuttoned is the title of Linda Eversole’s most recent book. In this new tour, she reveals the histories of some of the women who made a living — and sometimes a fortune — from what some consider to be the world’s oldest profession.
July 23. RBC. Author! Author! British Columbia has a rich tradition of authorship, and many of our early writers are buried in RBC. Join us in visiting the graves of those who described our history and geography, revealed their own stories and waxed poetic from colonial days on.
July 30. RBC. Coal — Vancouver Island’s Black Diamond. Coal brought wealth and industry to Vancouver Island but it also brought labour turmoil. Discover the rich history of island coal through the people it touched, from millionaire coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and other industrialists to the miners who went down the pits and the soldiers brought in to quell the strikes. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld has been digging up stories for this tour.
Aug. 6. RBC. Frank Calder Tribute. 2023 is the 50th anniversary of Calder et al. v. Attorney General of BC—the landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision establishing Aboriginal title in modern Canadian law and laying the basis for the Nisga’a Treaty. Diana Pedersen will explain why this trailblazing BC politician and “Chief of Chiefs” of the Nisga’a Nation chose to be buried at Ross Bay Cemetery in the company of many early architects and administrators of BC land policies and the reserve system.
Aug. 13. RBC. Japanese Pioneers Remembered. Over 150 Japanese were buried at RBC prior to 1942. Their graves were neglected until the 1990s when the Kakehashi Group began to document the graves and mark the ones that had never had a tombstone. Mike Abe, a member of the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society, will conduct today’s tour and discuss some of the prominent Japanese buried at RBC. This tour coincides with Obon, the Japanese Buddhist festival for remembering the dead. The tour will end at 3:00 pm at the Kakehashi Monument, dedicated to Japanese pioneers, where an Obon ceremony to commemorate and remember deceased relatives will take place. All are welcome to participate.
Aug. 20. RBC. Odd Fellows. A few months after RBC opened in 1873, Holden’s Hotel opened next door, on a site that is now part of the cemetery. It was owned by a member of the Odd Fellows who invited his brethren to a picnic at his hotel in August 1873. This tour will visit the hotel site and the graves of many of those who attended. Find out what Odd Fellows are and who some of the prominent members were 150 years ago.
Aug. 27. RBC. Ho for the Klondike! The most famous gold rush in Canadian history provides a wealth of fascinating stories. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld has struck it rich in her search for interesting characters and events connected to the last of the great gold rushes.
Sept. 3. RBC. This Job Is Killing Me. In the days before workplace safety mattered, jobs could be fatal. On this Labour Day weekend, we 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.
Sept. 10. RBC. Emily Carr Tour – Part 2. 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 and Emily herself (a.k.a. Molly Raher Newman) who will visit the graves of many people Emily knew and wrote about in The Book of Small and her other writings. Today’s tour is different from the one earlier this year.
Sept. 17. RBC. The O’Reilly Social Network. Point Ellice House, once home to the prominent O’Reilly family, is a National Historic Site. On this tour, historian Kelly Black, a former manager of the site, examines stories of members of the O’Reilly family, their neighbours, friends and business associates. Peter O’Reilly is often portrayed as a pillar of the community in Victorian society, but there is also a controversial side to his career that will be discussed today.
Sept. 24. RBC. Industrial Victoria. In spite of its fame as a city of gardens, until the 1960s, Victoria was a gritty, smoky, noisy place, filled with industries. Numerous sawmills, foundries, shipyards, paint factories, brickyards and even cigar factories lined the harbour and surrounding areas. John Adams will highlight these industries by visiting the graves of people who owned these businesses or worked in them.
Oct. 1. RBC. Is Anyone Here Named Smith? Joyce Mackie has found lots of Smiths (and a few Browns) at RBC. Some were famous and some were not, but their stories form an interesting chapter in Victoria’s history.
Oct. 8. RBC. Women’s History — “The White Ribboners.” This year marks the 140th anniversary of the founding of the World Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The WCTU began in the US in 1874. In 1883, it expanded into Canada, and a group of strong, organized women here in BC took up the cause. On this new tour, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will take you to the graves of the amazing women who organized to push not just for prohibition but for women’s right to vote. They were a force that politicians had to reckon with!
Oct. 15. The Jewish Cemetery. In October 1859, within a year of the first Jews arriving in the city, the Hebrew Benevolent Society purchased 1.7 acres from the Hudson Bay Company for a cemetery. Officially established in February 1860, it was the first Jewish cemetery in western Canada and is B.C.’s oldest non-indigenous cemetery still in continuous use today. Our tour will offer an overview of the influences of Jewish customs and beliefs on the creation of a cemetery landscape as well as how the site reflects the community’s history, its present and its future. Meet at the main gates on Fernwood Rd. at corner of Cedar Hill Rd. Men, please wear a hat.
Oct. 22. RBC. Spiritualism in Victoria. From small beginnings in rural New York State in the 1840s, spiritualism went viral. By the 1860s, it was all the rage in Victoria and other places across the continent. Even Abraham Lincoln is said to have participated in seances at the White House. Find out who its main proponents were in Victoria, many of whom are buried at RBC, and what they experienced during their seances.
Oct. 29. 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. 5. 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. 12. St. Sophia Russian Orthodox Church. Today’s tour takes us inside a beautiful church located only a few blocks away from RBC. Find out about the church, its history and funerary customs. Be amazed by the beautiful mosaics. Meet at the church, 195 Joseph St. at the corner of May St.
NOTE: The tours on November 19 and 26, will be on Zoom only. The Zoom links will be sent out to members. The tours on December 3 and 10 will be in person. Please see below for details.
Nov. 19. Zoom only. Victoria in 1923. On today’s Zoom presentation, John Adams will look back 100 years to reflect on what was in the news in Victoria. Included are the opening of the Johnson Street bridge, the Royal Oak Burial Park and the Steamship Terminal, plus planning for Christ Church Cathedral and the Graving Dock. Find out about rumrunners during US Prohibition, a murder and raids on gambling dens. What was playing at the movie theatres and where were the best places to shop for Christmas presents? All will be revealed on this illustrated presentation.
Nov. 26. Zoom only. Crime in Early Victoria. With the onset of the gold rushes in 1858, the quiet little backwater that was Victoria became a lively commercial and social centre. Along with a growing population came a whole range of criminal activities, including police corruption. In this illustrated presentation, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will reveal crimes that shocked Victoria in those early years.
The Old Cemeteries Society has created a YouTube channel, in order to provide members and others the opportunity to view some of the video recordings from our recent Sunday Tours.
The following is a list of the videos available, to date — with a few more to be uploaded in the near future:
March 28th: Stories Behind Our Street Names — John Adams and Yvonne Van Ruskenveld
April 4th: More Than Angels and Obelisks — Yvonne Van Ruskenveld
April 11th: Victoria’s Militia Goes To War — John Azar
April 25th: Pioneer Square Gold Rush Tales — John Adams
May 30th: Civil War Stories: Yvonne Van Ruskenveld
U.S. Annexationists at Ross Bay Cemetery–John Adams
Multicultural Firsts In Victoria–May Q Wong
Murder Most Foul, part 1–Michael Halleran
Empire Connections-– Michael Halleran
Annie Harper Christmas Wreath–John Adams
Emily Carr Christmas Wreath–John Adans
Christmas Tour at Ross Bay Cemetery–John Adams
Here is the link to the Old Cemeteries Society YouTube channel:
Christmas tour 2022— John Adams https://youtu.be/Zt2ZoiSDLeo
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: