2020 Tours and Excursions

November 8th marks our last tour of this most difficult 2020 season.

At this time we would like to send out a heart felt THANK YOU to all our tour guides who did an amazing job of adapting to the restrictions and challenges of this most unusual year. We would also like to thank all our loyal supporters for sticking with us this year, being patient, staying distanced and in general just being there for us.

We are currently working on a brand new tour program for 2021, so stay tuned, follow us on Facebook and we hope to see you in the new year.

Photo Gallery from 2020 tours….Thanks again to all our Tour Guides

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 . Others start where noted. No reservations needed.

Feb. 19 (Wednesday). 7:30 pm. OCS Annual General Meeting at Craigflower Schoolhouse. Our speakers will be: John Adams of Discover the Past who will talk about traditional Chinese funerary & burial customs and how they were practiced in Victoria.ers:

Feb. 16. 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.

Wednesday Feb. 19. OCS Annual General Meeting. All welcome. 7:30 pm at Craigflower Schoolhouse, 2765 Admirals Road. Speaker: John Adams will talk about traditional Chinese funerary and burial customs and how they were practised in Victoria.

Feb. 23. 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.

March 1. RBC. Welsh Tour. Happy St. David’s Day (Dydd Gwyl Deŵi Hapus)! Wear a daffodil, a St. David’s Day tradition in Wales, and join John Adams on a tour about Welsh people who settled in Victoria. The list is long and varied: a school trustee, a department store founder, a Cariboo miner, a telegrapher, a Royal Engineer and even a pirate, plus many more.

March 8. RBC. Victoria’s Seaport Prominence. Ron Armstrong will look at how the sea and ships had a major impact on Victoria’s early days. Shipbuilders, shipwrecks, navigators, marine engineers and rumrunners are included. Edward Gillam, captain of the famous Vancouver Island coastal steamer Princess Maquinna, will be featured. To end the tour, Ron has a special surprise.

March 15. RBC. Murder Most Foul – Part 1. An appropriate theme for the Ides of March and 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. 11 with a selection of different stories.

March 22. 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. Another Emily Carr tour is scheduled on July 5.

March 29. RBC. 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.

April 5. Chinese Cemetery. Ching Ming Tour. To mark Ching Ming, sometimes known as “grave sweeping day” or the “Chinese Day of the Dead,” Victoria Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe will conduct the OCS’s annual tour at the Chinese Cemetery, starting with 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.

April 12. RBC. 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 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.

April 26. 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 Executive Director of Point Ellice House Museum and Garden, 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.

May 3. Veterans’ Cemetery. VE Day Tour. In recognition of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), John Azar will lead a tour at the beautiful Esquimalt Veterans’ Cemetery (God’s Acre). The tour will feature Greater Victoria residents telling the stories of relatives who participated in the Second World War—no matter where they are buried. Access to the cemetery is on Colville Road near the base hospital.

May 10. RBC. The Sinking of RMS Lusitania. 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 105th anniversary tour.

May 17. RBC. 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 24. RBC. Civil War Stories. From the Fraser River gold rush on, Victoria attracted 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.

May 31. 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 7. RBC. City in Colour. This is the title of May Q. Wong’s most recent book of rediscovered stories from Victoria’s multicultural past, focusing on people of colour. The author will highlight the diversity of people buried at RBC, whose origins were in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Polynesia. Hear about Victoria’s Hawaiians, Metis, American Blacks, Chinese, Japanese and others of diverse origins who were pioneers, trailblazers and community leaders.

June 14. RBC. Civic Leaders. Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch will visit the graves and telling the stories of men and women from Greater Victoria who have contributed in a major way to civic life and politics around the region.

June 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.

June 28. 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 and artistic career.

July 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 March 22.

July 12. RBC. The McNeill family (of McNeill Bay and Port McNeill fame) was prominent in the mixed-race society of early Victoria, and descendants of Captain William Henry McNeill (born in Boston MA) and his Haida wife Matilda live in the city to this day. Peter Grant used genealogy tools to study the McNeills and has made a number of contacts with family members. On this tour we will meet a Nisga’a First Nations leader who was Captain McNeill’s second wife; an athletic local hero who went down on the SS Valencia; and several other interesting family members who are buried in RBC. 

July 19. RBC. Rebels and Reprobates. Well-known historian Rosemary Neering, author of Down the Road: Journeys through Small-Town British Columbia (winner of the 1992 BC non-fiction book prize and recently back in print with a new introduction and photos), Wild West WomenEmily CarrBritish Columbia Bizarre, The Pig War and many more titles, has searched her extensive files of interesting characters from BC history and compiled a list of men and women with colourful stories to include on today’s tour.

July 26. RBC. The Gorge of Summers Gone. Today’s tour title is from the book of that name written by local historian Dennis Minaker and published in 1998, but which is still the definitive history of the Gorge waterway. Dennis’s research was based on many interviews with people whose lives were connected to the Gorge as residents, swimmers, boaters, tavern keepers and farmers.

Aug. 2. 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.

Aug. 9. RBC. The Annual OBON Ceremony has been cancelled due to the pandemic for this year. Instead the Japanese Community will conduct a tour in the cemetery on Sunday August 9 at 2pm. You must preregister for this tour.

Live tour limited to 20 participants. Contact info@vncs.ca to pre-register.

COVID-19 precaution measures in place.

From Manzo Nagano’s first wife, Tsuya and daughter, Haru to Yoshitaro Muramune, the earliest Japanese to be buried, to a marker for the Oriental Home, we will help bring life to these former lives and places. We’ll start at the Kakehashi monument, meaning bridge, to represent both the journey of the pioneers who came to Victoria from across the Pacific and also the joining of two cultures that contribute so much to our society today.

Aug. 16. 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 RBC.

Aug. 23. 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. 30. 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. Meet in the parking lot off Cedar Hill Cross Rd. at the corner of Cedar Hill Rd.

Sept. 6. Jewish Cemetery. Fraternal organizations were an important part of community life in early Victoria. With the help of Mark Anderson and Diana Pedersen, Amber Woods (author of the OCS’s publication Guide to Victoria’s Historic Jewish Cemetery), will tell the stories of Jewish Freemasons and Woodmen of the World. Meet at main gates Fernwood Rd. at corner of Cedar Hill Rd. Men, please wear a hat.

Sept. 13. RBC. The White Plague and Other Afflictions. The “white plague” and the “strangling angel” were nicknames for common diseases in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which we are unlikely to encounter today. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will tell stories of those afflicted, doctors and nurses who treated them, medicines and therapies, and the effects on the community of these diseases.

Sept. 20. RBC. Coastal Navigation. In “the good old days” ship captains really had to know what they were doing, day and night, in all kinds of weather, with few navigation aids. Tom Pound will chart a course on today’s tour that includes people who were familiar with the lighthouses and other aids and techniques so vital to mariners along the BC coast.

Sept. 27. RBC. It’s The Law! (original tour presenter is not available)This week’s tour will reveal thrilling stories of criminal deeds and police derring-do from BC’s lively past. This tour will be presented by Yvonne Van Ruskenveld.

(Canceled) Stained Glass Stories. Diane Persson has been researching the individuals commemorated in the beautiful stained glass windows of Christ Church Cathedral. In this new tour, she will reveal the fascinating stories of some of those who are buried in RBC.

Oct. 4. RBC. Women’s History: Health Care. This year, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will focus her annual celebration of Women’s History Month on women involved in health care. Hear the stories of women’s work during epidemics, in the far north and in wartime. Learn what it took to get a hospital that served women, not just men, in Victoria.

Oct. 11. 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 15.

Oct.18 Unfortunately, we have had to cancel the planned tour for October 18th and replace it with a tour about “Spiritualism”. There were many people early Victoria involved in the spiritual movement. Join John Adams as he tells their stories from their graves at Ross Bay Cemetery. You may be surprised by some of the names.

Cancelled..….Oct. 18. 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.

Cancelled Due to covid19….We have made the difficult decision to cancel this years bus tour.

Oct. 24-30. Ghost Bus-tours®. Our 27th 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. 25. 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. 1. RBC. Brothers in Arms. In the First World War, many families watched fearfully as their sons eagerly rushed off to war. In some families, two or more sons joined up. Diana Pedersen and Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will tell the stories of some of these sets of brothers—their experiences during and after the war and the impacts on their families.

Nov. 8. 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.

Cancelled ROBP Tour. As this is an indoors tour, we have decided to cancel it due to covid19 restrictions.

Nov. 15. 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.

Cancelled Synagogue Tour As this is an indoors tour, we have decided to cancel it due to covid19 restrictions.

Nov. 22. Congregation Emanu-El Synagogue. Today’s tour is another indoor location where Amber Woods will explain the history of Victoria’s pioneer Jewish community and the brick synagogue they built in 1863. Now the oldest synagogue in Canada in continuous operation, it is a National Historic Site and a Victoria landmark. Amber Woods, author of the OCS publication Guide to Victoria’s Historic Jewish Cemetery, also conducted the Jewish Cemetery tour on Sept. 6.

Cancelled Christ Church Tour As this is an indoors tour, we have decided to cancel it due to covid19 restrictions.

Nov. 29. 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. Consider staying for Evensong at 4:30 pm, starting with a candlelight procession to mark the First Sunday in Advent.

Cancelled, Old Burying Ground Christmas Tour

Dec. 6. 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.

Cancelled, Ross Bay Christmas tour

Dec. 13. 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. (Today is Emily’s birthday.)

The tour schedule will resume on Sunday, February 16, 2021, at Ross Bay Cemetery. OCS members will be sent a 2021 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.

Submit this form for more information: