Current Events

No matter how hard we try, cemetery monuments will get broken by falling trees and branches, deer and vandalism. Below is the last victim of a tree fall. There are only five large statues in Ross Bay Cemetery. Last year the Pooly angel lost a wing to a pine tree branch and this week the Bossi angel has lost a wing to a fallen pine tree. The sad part of this loss is that we had requested that this tree be removed on at least two different occasions. Each time the city arborist has told us that the tree in question was safe and healthy and could do no harm to the Bossi Angel.. Hate to say “I told you so” but……..

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our longtime editor. George Russell Stewart, Russ, passed away peacefully in Victoria on November 28. Our condolences to his family and we assure them that we will remember. Rest in Peace Russ.

‘Dignity and grace’: How Greater Victoria cemeteries honour veterans

The history and legacy of Canadian heroes, engraved in granite

Visit a Greater Victoria cemetery in November and you’ll find rows of grave markers decorated with poppies, wreaths and Canadian flags. What you won’t see, though, is the storied history of each headstone and the Canadian it honours.

“Going into a cemetery is like going into a bookstore,” Old Cemeteries Society volunteer John Azar told Black Press Media on a rainy afternoon in Fairfield’s Ross Bay Cemetery. “You see the covers of these books and you know there’s a story behind every one of them.”

The society works to restore and commemorate Victoria’s historical cemeteries. While military headstones don’t always tell the stories of those who died, volunteers like Azar are full of them.

“There’s a fellow at the other end of the cemetery by the name of Blaney Scott,” he said, pointing across the burial grounds.

“He served in the air force … his fuel tank was shot. Fuel was leaking out of the tank close to the wing, so he climbed out to go and plug it with rags … he ended up making it back.”

READ MORE: First poppy presented to West Shore WWII veteran

A collective responsibility for remembrance

Honouring deceased veterans has been a national effort since the First World War, where 66,655 Canadians gave their lives and another 172,950 were wounded.

The need for a federal response to the growing number of wartime casualties quickly became clear, Azar said.

“So many people were being killed that they couldn’t even send them back to Britain,” he explained.

As a result, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was founded in 1917 to care for the graves of British soldiers who died and were buried overseas, as well as those who died from their injuries back home.

Some grave markers from that time period give us insight into how families coped. Oftentimes, Azar said, deceased relatives were commemorated on family headstones even though their bodies were buried elsewhere.

In Ross Bay Cemetery, part of an inscription on the Agnew family plot commemorating Maj. Augustus Agnew reads, “(he) fell in action at Courcelette … buried at Contay, France.”

READ MORE: Ross Bay cemetery ceremony little-known, but meaningful

Ensuring ‘dignity and grace’ after death

The commission stopped accepting new applications shortly after the Second World War. To support new armed forces members, a federal department called Veteran Affairs Canada (VAC) was created in 1944. On top of serving ill and injured veterans, the department provides burial assistance through the Last Post Fund.

The families of eligible veterans – those who died due to a service-related disability or have financial need – can apply for financial help with related funeral costs. VAC also provides a military-style grave marker for the deceased.

Registering, creating and maintaining the grave markers of more than 200,000 veterans across Canada is no small feat. Government employees catalogue the department’s headstones and log regular repairs and cleaning. Most stone cleaning is carried out by local contractors – either by hand, with a steam cleaner or with high-pressure water.

“Veterans Affairs Canada helps preserve the memory of deceased Canadians who served their country during war and peace by maintaining their final resting places,” a VAC representative told Black Press. “We remain committed to paying tribute to those who have served and will continue to care for their places of commemoration with the dignity and grace they deserve.”

Since 1947, VAC has also overseen Veterans Cemetery in Esquimalt, also known as God’s Acre. The grounds are the final resting place for more than 2,500 Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP veterans.

In 2018, the Government of Canada allocated $24.4 million over a five-year period to VAC so the department could clean and restore grave markers and repair almost 45,000 damaged graves across Canada. According to VAC, about 42,000 repairs have been made.

READ MORE: Victoria residents pay their respects

Honouring today’s sacrifices

Royal Oak Burial Park in Saanich contains 93 Commonwealth burials from the Second World War, as well as VAC-sponsored headstones for deceased Armed Forces members. According to business development and client services manager Lorraine Fracy, Canada’s involvement in the Afghan War and the advent of social media sparked a renewed interest in honouring the dead.

“The stories that were being told by the next generation … just became awe inspiring,” she said.

Certain high-profile deaths have brought extra attention to remembrance in Greater Victoria, Fracy added. In 2009, when Lt. Andrew Nuttall – who died while serving in Afghanistan – was buried in the park, Fracy said inquiries were constant.

“For the first couple of weeks, probably even into the first year, we were having daily and weekly requests for where Andrew was buried, so people could go up and pay tribute,” she said.

Royal Oak Burial Park holds a variety of commemorative services for Remembrance Day.

An initiative called No Stone Left Alone invites youth to lay poppies at headstones, and Fracy added a local resident takes it upon himself to place crosses at different military graves.

As she prepares for these programs, Fracy said she often has moments of pause.

“Coming into the fall is always a time of reflection,” Fracy said. “The crosses are that beautiful reminder of those that sacrificed for the freedoms that we have today.”

2021 Veterans’ Remembrance Cross Placements Going Ahead

Like other community events being planned as we gradually return to normal daily life, this year’s Veterans’ Remembrance Cross placements in the Cowichan Valley’s cemeteries are going ahead in a more traditional form than in 2020, but with participants still mindful of the need for caution during the fourth wave of COVID-19.

Since the early 1950’s, volunteers from different organizations have been placing small white crosses, decorated with a cedar sprig and a lapel-style poppy, on the graves of veterans in our local cemeteries during the weeks around Remembrance Day. In recent years, the leading role in the biggest cross placements at Mountain View and St. Mary’s, Somenos, cemeteries shifted from Royal Canadian Legion Branch 53 to the members of 744 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron, assisted by the 100 Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Admiral Mainguy, the 2924 Khowutzun Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps, and the local St. John Ambulance Youth Brigade. Their presence was sadly missed last year, when the cadets weren’t allowed to participate because of the pandemic. The bright side of that story was how volunteers from the community showed their support for the tradition by stepping up on short notice to ensure that the crosses were still placed.

As for 2021, local officers didn’t learn of the decision that military cadets could now participate in such events with permission from their HQ’s, until it was too late to make arrangements before this year’s first cross placements. These continue to be planned for Mountain View Cemetery and St. Mary��s, Somenos, Anglican Churchyard on Sunday, October 24th. The call has gone out once more for community volunteers to meet by the Legion Section at Mountain View at about 1:00 p.m.,immediately following the Poppy Flag raising ceremony at City Hall.

A cadet presence is expected to return, however, at Westholme’s All Saints’ Anglican Churchyard on Sunday, October 31st, at 11:00 a.m., when members of 100 Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Admiral Mainguy will join cemetery volunteers in honouring their namesake, Vice-Admiral E. Rollo Mainguy, and 47 other veterans interred there.

The organizers of the South Cowichan remembrance cross placements have chosen to take a cautious approach and will again depend on a small group of volunteers associated with the Mill Bay/Malahat Historical Society and with local parishes to complete the task. The public is invited to view the remembrance crosses set up at St. Andrew’s Anglican Churchyard in Cowichan Station, Shawnigan Cemetery, St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Churchyard and the Heritage Partnership Museum (Mill Bay Methodist/United Church Cemetery) in Mill Bay, and the Dougan Family Cemetery in Cobble Hill, from October 31st through the month of November.

Other local burial places where volunteers independently place remembrance crosses are St. Peter’s Anglican Churchyard in Duncan (250-746-6262), where crosses will be up by November 11th but no Tea or Tour is planned this year, St. John the Baptist Anglican Churchyard in Cobble Hill (250-743-3095), where crosses go up on November 7th, and St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Cemetery (Chemainus Cemetery) (250-246-4470). Their parish offices will have further details regarding their 2021 events.

Everyone is encouraged to visit one or more of the community’s cemeteries to see the crosses in place between Remembrance Day and late November. To add the name and burial site of a veteran interred in one of the Cowichan Valley’s cemeteries, please contact Mike Bieling at 250-748-5031 or oldcemeterian@shaw.ca.

Mike Bieling
Cowichan Valley Lest We Forget Where They Lie Project
6122 Burrows Lane,

Duncan, BC  V9L 2G2

Ross Bay Cemetery

The Parks crew at Ross Bay Cemetery have been very busy this spring of 2021. Their main project has been to fill in and level many of the depressions (sunken graves) throughout the cemetery. Their work is noticeable and if you see them around the cemetery, please acknowledge their efforts with a THANK YOU.

This is in response to an incorrect statement that appeared on the front page lead article printed on Thursday, February 4, 2021 edition of the Times-Colonist.

Ross Bay Cemetery has always been inclusive in its burial practices and is the final resting place of First Nations, Chinese, Japanese, Blacks, Hawaiians, French Canadians and many other European nationalities. It is incorrect of CRD’s First Nations Liaison Representative Ms. Florence Dick to claim that aboriginal peoples were excluded from Ross Bay Cemetery.

For example: Chief Michael Cooper whose name appears on the main road through the Songhees Reservation and his wife are buried in Ross Bay Cemetery.

Gerry Buydens

President, Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria

At all historic sites, issues and events arise on a regular basis. This page is to inform the public of issues and events at any of our Greater Victoria cemetery.

Last Post Monuments

On November 11th, 2020 a small group of us gathered at Ross Bay Cemetery to join the LAST POST Fund for the unveiling and dedication of three new headstones. These headstones mark the graves of three veterans whose graves had never been graced with a marker.

A ceremony, giving the name, rank and a short bio, took place at each grave. Taps was played and then a piper played while we observed a minute of silence. The three veterans are:

Lieutenant John Marsh Simpson, 77th Foot                               M57E4

Sargent/Captain Paris Carter, Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps    G31E14

Corporal James Normansell, Royal Engineers #2155               A48W28 

At the Carter monument, the bio and a talk about Black experiences in early Victoria was given by Ron Nicholson from the Black History Society. The following are the full Bios for these three veterans.

Lieutenant John Marsh Simpson, 77th Foot ( East Middlesex Regiment);

Born 7 November 1835 at Ramsgate, United Kingdom. John Marsh Simpson was commissioned a Lieutenant in the 73rd Foot and later appointed to the 77th Foot (East Middlesex Regiment)on 19 January 1855. In October 1855 he was serving during the battle of Sevastopol during the Crimean war. He would survive and see service during the Turko-Russian war.  

For reasons unknown at this time Lieutenant Simpson found his way to Victoria, British Columbia and would go on to serve as an officer with the Vancouver Island Rifle Corps. 

Lieutenant Simpson died of stomach cancer on 11 September 1900.

No longer forgotten, their resting place shall be marked forever more.  

The Last Post Fund’s mission is to ensure that no Veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial, as well as a military gravestone.

Sergeant/Captain Paris Carter, Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps

Paris Carter was born in Kentucky, USA on 1 January 1820. It is unclear when he moved west to California but by 1859/60 He was farming in Kansas Territory and then potentially prospecting in California. It was in 1860 that he made the move across the border to Victoria, British Columbia. 

At the time there was a dispute between Great Britain and the United States over San Juan Island, and it was feared a war might break out. This led to the creation of the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps. Paris Carter was one of its original members. He continued to serve with the Corps until its disbandment in 1865. 

Paris Carter can be found in various newspaper clippings over the following years, detailing the trials and tribulations he experienced being an African American man in Victoria. However, his time in Victoria allowed him to raise three children with his loving wife Mary Elizabeth.

Mary would die on 13 October 1890, and just a few weeks later her loving husband Paris would follow on 4 November 1890.

#2155,Corporal James Normansell, Royal Engineers

Born in 1828 in Salford, Lancashire, England. James Normansell enlisted in the Royal Engineers in 1848. During his service he would serve around the world including 3 years in Malta, 1 year in the Crimean War (1854-1855), and 4 years in British Columbia as a part of the Columbia Detachment of Royal Engineers. On the 9 November 1863 he would take his discharge in New Westminster, B.C. 

For his service Corporal Normansell was awarded three Good Conduct Badges as well as the Turkish Crimea Medal and the British Crimean War medal with three clasps.

Corporal Normansell died 14 October 1884, aged 54 years.

No longer forgotten, their resting place shall be marked forever more.  

The Last Post Fund’s mission is to ensure that no Veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial, as well as a military gravestone.

July 2020

Restoration and repair are an ongoing concern at Ross Bay Cemetery. Check out our projects for this summer. OCS Projects

February 20, 2020

We would like to thank the City of Victoria Parks Dept for their quick response to this vandalism. The tagging has been removed and the monument looks good again.

I will never understand the mentality of people who hide in the shadows and vandalize public and private property. I have to ask, to what end? It is just scentless! This set of pictures is from Ross Bay Cemetery February 19, 2020 at the grave of Sir James Douglas.

2019….There is an ongoing problem with the homeless at The Old Burying Ground (Pioneer Square). The grave top around the Pritchard monument has deteriorated from the constant misuse.