In January we received correspondence from a couple in Shawnigan Lake stating that they were in possession of tiles that were originally from a grave in Ross Bay Cemetery. It turns out that the tiles were given to them by Ms. Anita Bossi when she moved from her house on Quadra Street around 1998. Her hope was that they would find their way back to Ross Bay.
What could we say? Of course we would take possession of the tiles and try and figure out where they came from and what we could do with them. We have determined that they were originally installed on the Carlo Bossi grave (F41E21A) and were probably removed for a new burial in 1930 or 1931 and never re-installed. Over the years some were lost, broken or buried. We received 250 marble and slate tiles which is not nearly enough to re-tile this large grave site. So, we have decided to use them to tile the Anita Bossi double plot (M60/61W05) near the caretakers shed in Block M.
The job of cleaning the old tiles (at 5 minutes each) is now complete and a new concrete top will be poured shortly to form a new base for the tiles. If all goes well, we should lay the tiles by the end of September. This is an exciting project for us and will fulfill Anita Bossi’s wish to return these tiles to Ross Bay Cemetery.
Laying the tiles was a bit of a challenge. It took some time to figure out the pattern that would work with the limited tiles we have. But in the end, we made it work.
In our last newsletter we described our summer 2021 restoration project in Ross Bay Cemetery. I am pleased to report that the project is completed. We hope that you will stop by and have a look at it on your next visit to the cemetery. (M60/61W05)
CLEANING AND RESTORATION 2021
One of the most difficult repairs needed in the cemetery is a broken cross where one arm has been broken off. A frame has to be built and fitted to the cross in order to position the broken piece accurately and hold it in place while the bonding agent cures. After a couple of days, the supports can be removed and the voids filled. This is a marker that we repaired recently.
Cleaning is always a priority at Ross Bay Cemetery, especially tiled grave covers. They are prone to attracting moss and lichen which can damage the tiles.
This summer we have taken on the restoration of the Parker-Ball fence (F27W21). In 2003/2004 the fence was totally removed, rebuilt and painted as a joint project with the Island Blacksmith Society. The last 16 years have not been kind to the iron fence and rust had started to show in many spots. It was decided that the best way to preserve it was to have it sandblasted (with glass), primed and repainted. Our hope is that this intervention will preserve it for many years to come.
Completed August 29th with the help of 20 volunteer hours of painting. A very tedious job!
Each year we try and do some restorations and repairs. Here are a few that we will work on this year. Watch for the after pictures in the Fall.
BEFORE AND AFTER
Cleaning of graves has taken a back seat over the last few years. Our volunteers are getting older and most of them are no longer physically able to do this job. However we still try and do a few each summer. Here are a couple that we will work on this summer.
NEW GRAVE MARKER
This year we have teamed up with Association Historique Francophone de Victoria to create and install a new grave marker for Leon Morel. His grave is located at C22W24 near the Bossi and Fee monuments. Leon Morel was an early pioneer of Victoria working for The Hudson’s Bay Co. In the 1840’s he was a Voyageur, Trapper, Builder, Peace Agent and Farmer. We anticipate completion and an unveiling to take place in late August.
This project was completed on September 6th with the unveiling of the marker on a French tour of Ross Bay Cemetery.
Project 2017/2018 Grave Marker Photographs
Summer of 2017 saw the addition of 7 new Row Markers. The Row Marker Project has become an ongoing OCS project designed to help visitors to the cemetery locate specific graves. Visit our page, “How to Find a Grave in Ross Bay Cemetery“.
One of the assets the Old Cemeteries Society has is a very good searchable database that is accurate and fairly up to date. We are able to search by name, date of death, location, and a number of other criteria.
Our current project is to photograph each grave marker in Ross Bay Cemetery and link the photos to the corresponding plot number on the database. Given that there are in excess of 28,000 burials in Ross Bay Cemetery, this is a huge task. But, how hard can it be to take a bunch of pictures?
In reality, here is what goes into photographing a cemetery.
First you have to establish a starting point and a plot number for each block or section so that the sequence of pictures can be followed throught the whole process. When this list has been completed, you are ready to go into the cemetery.
The second step is the hard part! Each site has to be “prepared”. We walk the rows with brooms, trowels and shovels to clean each monument and make sure that all the features and names are visible. Many of the markers and curbing are overgrown, partly buried or covered with grass clippings from lawn cutting. (The parks maintenance crew do not care if the markers get covered over with grass) This process can take a lot of time but is vital to the whole project.
Once this is complete (sections at a time) we can start taking the actual photos. This process takes a team of two unless the lighting is just perfect. One will handle the camera and the other will use a large piece of cardboard to provide shade so that the photos will be consistent with no shadows. We will take at least two pictures of each plot having a memorial feature on it. One to show the overall plot and one close-up of each feature. By feature, we mean names, curbing, architectural features and other inscriptions. On the larger monuments, this will entail taking lots of pictures! A regular battery will allow you to take around 500 pictures. It’s now time for a coffee or maybe something stronger.
Now you can download the group to your computer, hope the sequence is maintained and edit each picture.
The next step is to transfer the group of picture to the society computer for adding to the database. This requires that each picture be re-named to the correspond with the actual cemetery address. (B87W36-1, B87W36-2 etc). Once this is done, each picture is “linked” to the corresponding database plot number.
Our database is built in Access and allows us to add a variety of fields that show when an address is displayed. Photos are one of the fields.
When this project is complete, we plan on adding this database to this website for all to use.
For more information, contact the Old Cemeteries Society.
2016 Restoration Projects
As part of our continuing Row Marker project, we have placed a new marker pointing the way to the grave of Nellie Cashman (U64E51). This is one of 9 new markers being placed this year.
2015 Restoration Projects
Restoration work continues at Ross Bay Cemetery in 2015. Below are examples of our restoration efforts for this summer. These two monuments were vandalized many years ago and have lain in the ground for over 50 years. We hope to re-erect six more before the end of the year.
This summer’s activity will also include painting of the lettering and resurfacing the Margaret Jenkins Grave, monument lifting and leveling in Block G and cleaning of graves in Block A.
2014 Project to commemorate Leechtown’s 150th
“He lies before the twin yew trees,
A simple stone for bended knees,
This Ross Bay Grave, will ever hold,
the man who found the Leechtown Gold”.
150th Leechtown Commemoration Tour.
A very special Tour was organized at Ross Bay Cemetery 150 years to the very day that the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition (VIEE) headed up the Sooke River. It was July 13th 1864 when Peter Leech led his small group up the unexplored river system from the west coast.
To celebrate this historic event, The Lt. Governor of British Columbia, the Hon. Judith Guichon attended as our special guest. We also had two soldiers from the 39th Combat Engineers Regiment from Vancouver pay tribute to Peter Leech, who had been a member of the Royal Engineers, prior to his expedition on the Sooke River. Geoff Felker, his wife Charmaine and their young son Gage, direct descendants of Lt. Peter Leech, were also guests at our presentation.
Prior to the ceremony and tour, president Gerry Buydens greeted the Lt. Governor on her arrival at Ross Bay Villa. The interior of the Villa looked resplendent and a fine finger lunch and coffee was provided. The Lt. Governor was introduced to our guests and had a chance to talk to the two servicemen, Cpl. Steve Raymond and Cpl. Mathew Currey from the 39th Combat Engineers.
At 2.00 PM precisely the sound of the bagpipes were heard, indicating that the public gallery had reached the Peter Leech gravesite. With the aid of a Victoria Police Constable, the Lt. Governor and guests were escorted across the Fairfield Road to Ross Bay Cemetery. The Tour involved a presentation by Patrick Lydon that focused on Peter Leech, Mary MacDonald his wife, and the actual VIEE itself. The Lt. Governor then addressed the public and talked of the importance of historical phenomena and the need to recognize the figures from the past. The Lt. Governor talked about her own family’s quest for gold before becoming ranchers. She quoted from Robert Service, “The Spell of the Yukon” and her speech was very well received by the spectators. The Lt. Governor, aided by her Aide de Camp, Lt. Commander Simon Brown, and by President Gerry Buydens, laid a beautiful wreath of flowers on the grave of Lt. Peter Leech. Pipe Major Steve Kelly then played the old Irish lament “The Minstrel Boy”.
The Gallery then moved to the grave of Emily Carr where two letters to Fanny Leech, the daughter of Peter Leech were read. Finally, we moved to the grave of Billy Barker, where Yvonne Van Ruskenveld gave a very spirited account of the greatest gold-miner of them all. The Lt. Governor graciously remained for photos with many of our guests before being escorted back to her limousine by Gerry Buydens. It was a beautiful day and the Lt. Governor appeared to enjoy the occasion. We hope that in 50 years time, on the 200th anniversary of the finding of Gold on the Sooke and Leech Rivers, the presence and the remarks of the Lt. Governor will be remembered at Ross Bay Cemetery.
2013 Restoration Projects
Our 2013 restoration project is now complete. Thank You to Thrifty Foods for their continued support and to all the volunteers who made it posible.
Two projects have been recently conceived by the Old Cemeteries Society executive.
Ross Family Markers
The first is the re-creation of a Ross family grave marker and the restoration of the Isabella Ross grave marker.
The Ross family is woven into the very fabric of Victoria’s creation and early history. In 1843 James Douglas sent Charles Ross to a desolate piece of land on the tip of Vancouver’s Island with instructions to build a new fort. This new fort became what we now know as Victoria. After the untimely death of Charles Ross in 1844, his First Nations wife and her children continued to live in Victoria and influence its history.
In 1994, the Old Cemeteries Society erected a wooden replica grave marker for Isabella Ross on her unmarked grave (plot C 009 E 22). Today it is in poor shape and badly in need of refurbishing.
In the 1980’s the last wooden grave marker was removed from the cemetery and placed in storage by the City of Victoria Parks Department.
It is split in several pieces and barely legible. Thankfully someone felt it was worth saving and historically significant. This old marker commemorates the Ross family and we have used it as a pattern for other markers. It is now time to re-create and reinstall it in Ross Bay Cemetery at the Ross family gravesite (plot F 033 W 21).
The Old Cemeteries Society feels that in recognition of First Nations in our history and in this year of the 170th anniversary of Fort Victoria, it is appropriate that we honour both by restoring Isabella’s marker and re-creating the original grave marker for the Ross family.
The new and restored Ross grave markers will remind all who visit Ross Bay Cemetery of the contribution this family has made to the creation and growth of Victoria.
Grimm Family Gravesite Fence
The second project is to completely refurbish the wrought iron fencing around the Grimm family plot (C 026/27 E 22).
Over the past 20 years the Old Cemeteries Society has restored most of the historic iron features in Ross Bay Cemetery. Our last major ironwork project was in 2002-2004 when we teamed up with the Vancouver Island Blacksmiths Association to completely rebuild the Parker-Ball fence (for more information visit the Grave Preservation page).
In 2011, the Old Cemeteries Society cleaned and painted all 55 iron features in Ross Bay Cemetery except for the Grimm fence. At that time we felt that it was too far gone and would require a major restoration. This is the year for the restoration.
The Grimm fence will hopefully stand for another century as an example of the blacksmiths art and a reminder of the harsh realities of pioneer life in Victoria
2013 Restoration of the Huston Grave (C33/34E25)
This is the anatomy of a restoration project. This project started with a totally overgrown gravesite. We first removed the 7-8 foot laurel bush, removed the tiles from the damaged concrete top and re-positioned the original granite curbing. No small feat!! A new concrete top was poured and all the tiles were cleaned and re-polished. Then the refurbished tiles were sorted, organized and re-laid. The end result is a stunning as new example of 1880’s grave art.
Pioneer Square Update September 2013
This month saw the start of upgrades to the Old Burying Grounds on Quadra Street. The City of Victoria has allocated $700,000 over a three year period to completely revitalize what has become known as Pioneer Square. This first phase will see new paths, lighting, benches and additional landscaping. Some of the grave markers that are considered in good to fair condition will be cleaned and refurbished. Work on this phase should be completed by the end of October.
Pioneer Square (Old Burying Ground) Planning Project
Approximately 75 people attended the second Open house on March 28, 2012; 50 survey/questionnaires were completed and received. In addition, several people took paper copies or information on how to access the online survey with them so they could complete the survey later. Generally, the feedback was good – most supported the vision statement and the general ideas and goals in the plan although there were some discussion and feedback around some of the specifics.
The survey and display boards are now available on the City’s website along with a copy of the draft plan. There is a link to the information at www.victoria.ca under Latest News. The online survey will be open until April 16th.
After the survey closes, the results will be compiled, potential revisions to the management plan will be identified and the Pioneer Square Advisory
Group will meet again.
The OCS website has a Pioneer Square (Old Burying Ground) section
Project update April 2013
Thanks to the Thrifty Foods Smile Card Program and generous donations from our membership, we are pleased to announce the completion of Phase 4 of this
project. Row markers are now placed in three “belts” across the cemetery from Memorial Crescent to St. Charles Lane. One belt is on plot #75 near Fairfield Road, one is across the middle of the cemetery on plot #40, and one is on plot #1 on the Dallas Road side of the cemetery. In phase 4 we have placed markers strategically along all the pathways within the cemetery. A map with all the locations and locating instructions has been placed in the shadow box at the caretakers shed across from Ross Bay Villa.
We have now placed 171 markers and it is our hope that they will continue to help everyone find grave sites for generations to come. This completes our Row Marker Project. Thank you for your support.
Dec 5, 2009 – Another path of destruction!
On Friday morning almost 50 headstones were found damaged at Ross Bay Cemetery. Representatives from the Old Cemeteries Society executive attended the scene of the crime on Saturday morning to list and photograph the damage.
The swath seems to have started at the south east corner at St Charles Lane and ended by the washrooms at Memorial Crescent.
The City Parks Dept. was very quick to address the problem by reporting the vandalism to Police and authorizing Mortimer’s Monumental Works to start work immediately. 23 monuments were repaired immediately and the remaining will be attended to on Monday December 7, 2009. We will be notifying any descendants we have in our records. Another senseless act of cowardice.
Aug 2009 Recent Vandalism at Ross Bay Cemetery – – CTV News
Vandalism – has been a problem in RBC throughout its existence. Read more about cemetery vandalism