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.
Feb. 20. RBC. 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. 27. 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.
NOTE: The tour on Sunday, March 20, Victoria’s Multicultural Firsts, is on Zoom only.
March 6. RBC. Monuments and Their Makers.
Victorian cemeteries such as RBC were often intended to be outdoor sculpture gardens. Several master stone sculptors practised in Victoria and have superb works in many different styles on display at RBC. Who carved these angels, elaborate crosses, Gothic tablets and classical pillars? John Adams has chosen some fascinating examples for today’s tour and will visit the graves of some of the carvers to tell their stories.
March 13. RBC. 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 later this year with a selection of different stories.
March 20. Zoom only. City in Colour.
May Q. Wong presents a new talk based on her recent book City in Colour about Victoria’s multicultural past, with a focus on people of colour. She reveals how ethnically diverse Victoria was from its early days with fascinating tales of people of colour who came from various backgrounds.
March 27. 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. A second, different Emily Carr tour is scheduled later this year.
April 3. RBC. Gulf Islands Connections.
Today the Gulf Islands are easily accessible by regular ferry service but even in the earliest days of settlement when travel was more difficult, there were strong connections between Victoria and the islands. Join Yvonne Van Ruskenveld to hear stories of those with connections to the many different islands that attract visitors from near and far.
April 10. 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.
April 17. RBC. Grave Messages.
While the permanent residents of Ross Bay Cemetery can no longer speak to us directly, the words and symbols on their grave markers give us glimpses of who they were and how they were loved. Join long-time OCS member Yvonne Van Ruskenveld as she explores the meaning behind a new set of some of RBC’s most interesting epitaphs and symbols and the stories they can reveal. This tour will include some of the newest stones in the cemetery.
April 24. RBC. Re–thinking Point Ellice House.
Kelly Black, historian and manager of Point Ellice House National Historic Site, examines the stories of the O’Reilly family, their neighbours, friends and business associates. Peter O’Reilly, often portrayed as a pillar of the community in Victorian society, can also be seen in a different light that will be discussed today.
May 1. Chinese Cemetery Tour. To mark Asian Heritage Month, Victoria Councillor 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 8. RBC. Victoria’s Lusitania Riots. On the weekend of May 8-9, 1915, Victorians rampaged through downtown streets in the only anti-German riots in North America following the sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania by a German submarine. This episode disrupted a half-century of Anglo-German harmony in Victoria, traumatized many residents, embarrassed city officials, and quietly disappeared from the public record. Historian Diana Pedersen will lead this tour.
May 15. 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.
May 22. RBC. Breaking Up Was Hard to Do. Divorce was not as common in the 19th century as it is today, but Yvonne Van Ruskenveld has found some notable exceptions. She will highlight them and reveal alternative “arrangements” many others used to get around the expense and difficulty of divorce.
May 29. RBC. Movers and Shakers: Builders of Downtown Victoria. Martin Segger, well-known heritage professional and former Victoria city councillor, will conduct this new tour based on his extensive involvement with past and present planning and development issues related to downtown Victoria. Old Town, Chinatown and the harbour will be included. Find out who was involved with downtown planning in the 1850s and whose schemes and visions have influenced development up to the present day.
June 5. 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.
June 12. 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. Ken Sudhues 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.
June 19. RBC. City Fathers Since 1862. On this Father’s Day, Victoria City Councillor Sarah Potts will mark the 160th anniversary of the City of Victoria’s incorporation with stories of some of the most notable mayors, including Thomas Harris, the first mayor. A 300-pound butcher, he broke the mayor’s chair just by sitting on it.
June 26. 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.
July 3. RBC. Cariboo Gold. This summer marks the 160th anniversary of the biggest gold strike in the Cariboo gold rush. Billy Barker made history with his rich strike, and a town quickly grew up close to his claim. But Barker didn’t start the Cariboo gold rush, and he wasn’t the only one who struck it rich. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld has collected tales of a time and place that left an indelible mark on BC history.
July 10. RBC. What’s in a Name? The map of BC is dotted with places named after people buried in Ross Bay Cemetery. What did these individuals do that kept their names alive in our province today, even if they themselves were long forgotten? A team of presenters will reveal the stories behind the place names.
July 17. RBC. Victoria in 1872. What were the headlines in Victoria 150 years ago? Taxes, the condition of the roads, homelessness and crime were in the news then, as they are now. What were some of the other issues that filled the columns of the Colonist and other newspapers? Find out from John Adams on this new tour.
July 24. RBC. Ross Bay Cemetery’s 150th anniversary. The City of Victoria purchased the site for RBC in 1872 and the first burial took place in it at the end of the year. Why did we need a new cemetery? Were other locations considered? Find out who were the men involved in making the choices and the one who designed the new site. Who was the first to be buried? John Adams has the answers.
July 31. RBC. First Class in Every Respect. Victoria’s early inns and hotels were central to the city’s rise from colonial outpost to tourist destination. The hotel-keepers at Ross Bay Cemetery were entrepreneurs and community builders who catered to labourers and gold-seekers, soldiers and government officials, lady travellers and globe-trotting sportsmen, middle-class tourists and royal visitors. Join Diana Pedersen and Yvonne Van Ruskenveld for this new tour.
Aug. 7. RBC. Recalling Past Acquaintances. John Adams will take a walk down memory lane and visit the graves of people he has met. His French tutor, his junior high school science teacher, an archivist, a historian, a Japanese Canadian internee from World War II, and many others whose stories have stayed with him over the years will be featured on this new tour.
Aug. 14. 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 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. 21. RBC. Gossip in the Graveyard. Today’s tour is all about the scandal and gossip that surrounded some of those buried at RBC. An OCS team has been collecting some of the choicest tidbits that kept tongues wagging in bygone days and are still a source of amazement and entertainment today.
Aug. 28. 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 in March.
Sept. 4. RBC. Italian Pioneers. During and after the 1858 gold rush, many Italians settled in Victoria. They became important members of the community in business, the arts and community service. Giovanna Greco will tell the stories of some of the early Italian pioneers who came to Victoria and stayed.
Sept. 11. 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.
Sept. 18. RBC. An Angler’s Paradise. From the 1880s to 1914, Vancouver Island was famed for its abundant trout and salmon rivers. Victoria’s tidal waters teemed with recreational salmon trollers in late summer. Diana Pedersen will celebrate this National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day in the cemetery with tales of early sportfishing and its important links to settlement, transportation, tourism, and conservation.
Sept. 25. 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.
Oct. 2. RBC. Women’s History — Brideship Revisited. This fall is the 160th anniversary of the arrival of the ship Tynemouth, bringing a special group of young women to Victoria. Sent out from Britain, they were destined for employment or marriage in gold rush BC. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will visit the grave of many who stayed in Victoria.
Oct. 9. RBC. Murder Most Foul – Part 2. 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 in March.
Oct. 16. RBC. “Never Not Ready.” This is the motto of the Fifth (BC) Field Artillery Regiment, still an army reserve unit here in Victoria today, but an important part of our community for almost 140 years. John Azar will lead this new tour that traces the artillery in Victoria back to its earliest days through the lives of those who served.
Oct. 23. 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. 30. 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. 6. 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. Tour starts at 2pm.
NOTE: The tours on November 13, 20 and 27, will be on Zoom only. The Zoom links will be sent out to members.
Nov. 13. Zoom only. History of Ross Bay Cemetery. The site for RBC was acquired by the City of Victoria 150 years ago (1872) and the first burial took place in December. The official opening was in 1873. To commemorate the anniversary, John Adams, author of Historic Guide to Ross Bay Cemetery, will give an illustrated presentation about the cemetery’s origins and some of the fascinating stories about how it evolved into its present configuration.
Nov. 20. Zoom only. Doctors of Early Victoria. Pioneer doctor J.S. Helmcken is well known in BC history but many other doctors soon followed him to minister to Victoria’s growing population in a slowly developing health care system. In this illustrated presentation, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will feature some of these doctors, many of whom, like Dr. Helmcken, went on to become influential members of Victoria and BC society, helping to shape our city and province.
Nov. 27. Zoom only. Captains of Industry. 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. Many of the people who owned these businesses or worked in them are buried at RBC. John Adams will discuss the industries, the owners, employees and their graves in an illustrated presentation.
The tours on December 4 and 11 will be in person. Please see below for details.
Dec. 4. Old Burying Ground Christmas Tour. John Adams will delight and amaze you with Christmas and holiday stories from Victoria of old. New Christmas tales and old favourites combine with the history of one of Victoria’s oldest cemeteries, in use from 1855 to 1873. Meet at the corner of Quadra St. and Rockland Ave.
Dec. 11. RBC. Ross Bay Christmas Tour. John Adams continues the yuletide theme with more warm-hearted and humorous stories. Themes are different each year, but the final stop on the tour is always Emily Carr’s family plot where a holly wreath will be placed, now an annual tradition of the OCS. (Emily’s birthday is Dec. 13.)
Charge: $5 for non-members; $2 for members. 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.
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)
CHECK APPLICABLE CATEGORIES:
□ 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.
Make cheques payable to OCS.
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
Here is the link to the Old Cemeteries Society YouTube channel:
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: