Note: The COVID phase 2 regulations have kicked in and we can now have outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people. (July 2021)
Charge: $5 for non-members; $2 for members. Tours at Ross Bay Cemetery are signified RBC and start at the cemetery entrance on Fairfield Road, opposite the south end of Stannard Street. Others start where noted. No reservations needed.
Tours are either about or at Ross Bay Cemetery (RBC) unless otherwise indicated.
SUNDAY TOURS START AT 2:00 PM UNLESS NOTED OTHERWISE.
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.
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.
June 6. On Zoom Only. U.S. Annexationists at Ross Bay Cemetery. In the late-1860s Victoria was a hotbed of support for people wanting BC to join the United States. They were opposed by others who wanted BC to join Canadian Confederation. Obviously, the annexationists lost this conflict and this year BC marks its 150th anniversary as a Canadian province. (A tour on this theme is scheduled for July 18). On June 6 John Adams will talk about many people buried at RBC who were on the losing side.
June 13. RBC. On Zoom Only. 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.
July 4. 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.
July 11. 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.
July 18. RBC. BC Joins Confederation. British Columbia became Canada’s sixth province on July 20, 1871. This tour will reflect on those buried at RBC who were instrumental in making this happen, in spite of many obstacles and much opposition. Who do we have to thank (or blame) and what did they do to achieve their goal? John Adams will dig deep into our past to answer these questions.
July 25. RBC. Sports in Victoria. Victoria has a rich and varied sporting history, both in team and individual competitions. Some sports may surprise you, while others are familiar and continue to thrive to this day. On this new tour, we’ll visit the graves of competitors (including one who went to the Olympics) and others involved in Victoria’s sporting life.
Aug. 1. RBC. BC Place Names. It’s the BC Day long weekend and the perfect time to learn more about our beautiful province. Ross Bay Cemetery contains the graves of many individuals who have places in BC named after them — some of these folks were famous, some were once famous but are now forgotten, and others never were famous but somehow their names live on. We’ll visit a selection of graves of the famous and forgotten.
Aug. 8. RBC. Skeletons from Victoria’s Closet. True tales from a side of Victoria that may surprise you. An OCS team will reveal stories that may shock you with their revelations of the goings-on that expose a less-upright side of Victorian society.
Aug. 15. RBC. Annual Obon Event. This is the Japanese Buddhist Day of the Dead when graves are cleaned, incense is lit and prayers are said. In place of a ceremony this year, Mike Abe of the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society will lead a tour to the graves of Japanese pioneers. Meet at the Stannard St. entrance as for other tours. No charge for members of the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society.
Aug. 22. RBC. Music in Early Victoria. Music was an important part of culture in 19th-century Victoria. In today’s tour, historian and performer Kate Humble will visit the graves of singers, musicians and music teachers to tell their stories and sing some of the tunes that were popular in their day. A unique, entertaining tour not to be missed.
Aug. 29. 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.
Sept. 5. 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 on April 18.
Sept. 12. RBC. Re-thinking Point Ellice House. Last week’s tour featured a young woman who grew up at Point Ellice House. This week, Kelly Black, historian and manager of Point Ellice House National Historic Site, examines the stories of other members 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.
Sept. 19. 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. 26. RBC. St. John Ambulance in Victoria. St. John Ambulance (SJA) is a familiar presence to many, offering first aid courses, and volunteer Medical First Response at public events. Our local branch traces its history back to 1911. On today’s tour, SJA members will tell the fascinating story of the history of St. John Ambulance volunteers in our community.
Oct. 3. RBC. Women’s History. Teaching was one of the few professions open to women in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some women operated their own schools, some taught in the public schools in cities and towns, and others faced a lonely life in remote rural schools far from family and friends. To celebrate Canada’s Women’s History Month this year, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will focus on teachers and their experiences.
Oct. 10. RBC. Scottish Columbia. Many of the earliest settlers on the island came from Scotland. Join Ron Armstrong for fascinating stories about some of the Scottish pioneers who are at RBC, from the rich and famous to the humble.
Oct. 17. 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 on March 21.
Oct. 24. 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. 25-30. Ghost Bus-tours®. Due to continuing uncertainty around Covid-19, our Ghost-bus Tours will not run this year. You can enjoy many of those thrilling stories and more on our annual Ghost Tour in Ross Bay Cemetery at 2 pm on Halloween, Sunday, October 31.
Oct. 31. 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. 7. 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. 14. Royal Oak Burial Park Crematorium. Come inside the Garden Chapel and have a seat to hear about the crematorium’s history and how funerary practices have changed since it opened in 1937. Staff will conduct a tour and demonstrate how the retorts are used and the procedures involved in preparing the cremated remains. Meet at the Garden Chapel (crematorium) inside the Royal Oak Burial Park, 4673 Falaise Drive.
Nov. 21. Christ Church Cathedral. One of the cathedral’s volunteer guides will explain the history of the church, opened in 1929 to replace an earlier wooden structure across the street, and lead a tour that will include some of the building’s outstanding architectural and heritage features, including the crypt beneath the nave.
Nov. 28. Stewart’s Monumental Works. Founded in 1896, Stewart’s Monumental Works still operates on its original site in Fairfield, near RBC. Learn about one of the city’s oldest monument makers and tour their modern facility. Meet at Stewart’s Monumental Works, 1403 May Street.
Dec. 5. 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, in use from 1855 to 1873. Meet at the corner of Quadra St. and Rockland Ave.
Dec. 12. 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.)
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 9th: Victoria’s Lusitania Riots — Diana Pedersen **NOTE: THIS VIDEO WILL ONLY BE AVAILABLE FOR VIEWING UNTIL JUNE 30th**
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: