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2015 Tours and Excursions of The Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria

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 and start in front of Oregano’s, Fairfield Plaza, 1516 Fairfield Rd. Others start where noted. No reservations needed. 

Contact www.oldcem.bc.ca or 250.598.8870.


Feb. 11 (Wednesday). 7:30 pm. OCS Annual General Meeting at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Saviour, 4648 Elk Lake Drive (Royal Oak). Tour of church to follow meeting.

Feb. 15. RBC. Historic Main Street. This is the start of Heritage Week in Canada and this year’s theme is “main street.” Sylvia Van Kirk and John Adams will visit graves of early store owners from Victoria’s main streets and tell stories drawn from Edgar Fawcett’s classic 1912 book Some Reminiscences of Old Victoria.

Feb. 22. RBC. Black History. After 1858 Victoria was a haven for blacks escaping racism in California and many are buried at RBC. Included on the tour will be Gov. James Douglas, who was part black, plus many notable black pioneers, and maybe a scoundrel or two. A joint tour by the OCS and the BC Black History Awareness Society for Black History Month.

March 1. RBC. St. David’s Day. In honour of the patron saint of Wales John Adams has found some good stories about people of Welsh extraction at RBC. Of course many were exemplary citizens, but others were scoundrels. Bring a leek or daffodil to decorate their graves.
March 8. RBC. Emily Carr Tour. Emily Carr’s grave is one of the most visited at RBC. This year marks the 70th anniversary of her death on March 2, 1945. This tour is a favourite annual event led by an OCS team that will visit the graves of many people Emily knew. At each grave, Molly Raher Newman, well-known Emily impersonator, will read from Emily’s writings.

March 15. RBC. Ides of March. Today’s tour will reveal stories of gruesome deaths, dire warnings, conspiracies and other unpleasantness, all in keeping with the negative associations with the Ides of March, based on the murder of Julius Caesar in Rome on this date in 44 BC.

March 22. RBC. Ross Bay Villa Tribute. Hear the fascinating stories of the many families who lived at Ross Bay Villa and whose graves are now located in RBC across the street. Tour starts at Oregano’s (Fairfield Plaza) and ends at Ross Bay Villa. Proceeds from this tour will be donated to the Ross Bay Villa Society.

March 29. RBC. Music in Early Victoria. Music was an important part of culture in nineteenth-century Victoria. In today’s first-time 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.

April 5. RBC. Symbolism. Victorian-era cemeteries are filled with symbols that reflect the lives, beliefs, occupations and aspirations of those who lie buried beneath. Tombstones at RBC reflect a wide range of nineteenth-century funerary motifs. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld’s Easter Sunday tour will include some of the most interesting and unusual.

April 12. RBC. “Moses, Me and Murder” is the title of one book of Ann Walsh’s popular trilogy for juvenile readers, based in the Cariboo, BC’s historic gold-mining region. The author will read selections from Moses, Me and Murder and her other books and visit the graves of some of the characters from this and other stories.

April 19. Veterans Cemetery (God’s Acre). This year’s Veterans Cemetery tour is entitled “Into the Fray” and coincides with the 100th anniversary of Canada’s initial engagements in World War I during the Second Battle of Ypres. John Azar will tell stories about the various roles soldiers played and guest speakers will relate the experiences of family members who served during the war. Access off Colville Road near the Base Hospital.

April 26. Pioneer Square. The first burial in Pioneer Square (also called the Old Burying Ground) was in February 1855, 160 years ago this year. Today’s tour, led by an OCS team, will focus on notable pioneers who died during the gold rush era and the early days of the city. Meet at the corner of Quadra St. and Rockland Ave. beside Christ Church Cathedral.

May 3. RBC. Lei Week: 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 10. RBC. Mother. In honour of Mother’s Day Sylvia Van Kirk will again lead us to many tombstones at RBC that embody stories of mothers, grandmothers and mothering. Some have moving epitaphs, some are simply inscribed “Mother.” Join us for a late spring ramble with a special focus on Victoria’s family history.

May 17. RBC. The Sinking of RMS Luisitania. 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 new commemorative tour.

May 24. RBC. Thou Gaudy Gold. The first of two tours to coincide with the Royal BC Museum’s new feature exhibit, “Gold Rush! Eldorado in BC.” (See also July 12). In today’s thematic tour, seasoned OCS tour guide Tom Pound examines the nature, the allure and the quest for gold. Tom’s tours are always witty and full of amazing details.

May 31. Chinese Cemetery. In honour of Asian Heritage Month, Victoria City Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe will lead a tour at the Chinese Cemetery, a national historic site that includes her grandfather’s grave. The picturesque cemetery dates from 1903. Meet at the cemetery, foot of Crescent Road, off King George Terrace.

June 7. RBC. United Empire Loyalists. During the last week of May the United Empire Loyalists (UEL) Assoc. of Canada is holding its annual meeting in Victoria and will be visiting RBC to find out about some of the UELs buried there. On today’s public tour John Adams will visit many UEL graves, including that of well-known pioneer Robert McMicking who started Victoria’s first telephone service.

June 14. RBC. Community Leaders. Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen is an excellent raconteur and a favourite tour leader for our tours at RBC. On today's tour he will be visiting 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. Aboriginal Day. Celebrate Aboriginal Day in Canada by visiting graves of some of the many First Nations and Metis people buried at RBC. Today’s guide is OCS member Fern Perkins, descendant of Isabella Ross, the Metis woman who became BC’s first female property owner in the early 1850s when she bought what is now the site of RBC.

June 28. Jewish Cemetery. Victoria’s Jewish Cemetery is the oldest continuously operating cemetery in BC, consecrated in 1860. The first grave is that of Morris Price, murdered in his Lillooet store in 1861. Since then hundreds of people have been buried there, including Samuel Schultz, Canada’s first Jewish judge. All welcome. Men, please wear a hat. This tour starts outside the cemetery gates at the corner of Fernwood Rd. and Cedar Hill Rd.

July 5. RBC. Victorian Villains. Chris Adams of Discover the Past Tours has found some amazing scoundrels linked to nineteenth-century Victoria. Today he will include stories connected with Billy the Kid, Jack the Ripper, Boone Helm (the cannibal), rum running, opium smuggling and many more exciting topics.
July 12. RBC. Gold Rush! Yvonne Van Ruskenveld has searched her extensive files about BC’s gold rushes to put together today’s tour of all new stories. The second of our tours to coincide with the Royal BC Museum’s new feature exhibit, “Gold Rush! Eldorado in BC.”

July 19. RBC. “The Honourable Aleck.” 150 years ago Alexander Rocke Robertson was making a name for himself as a lawyer in the frontier communities of BC. Eventually he became a prominent citizen of Victoria where he was elected mayor and later an MLA. His descendant, Ian B. Robertson, has used family letters and papers to compile a book whose title is used for today’s tour.
July 26. RBC. Japanese at Ross Bay. Today’s tour will be conducted by Gordon and Ann-Lee Switzer, authors of Gateway to Promise: Canada’s First Japanese Community, a history of Japanese in Victoria. RBC includes graves of about 150 Japanese and is the location of the impressive Kakehashi Monument dedicated to Japanese pioneers.

Aug. 2. RBC. Famous British Columbians. A special tour for BC Day will include the graves of people whose names are known across the province. Historian John Adams will tell the stories of Sir James and Lady Douglas, Emily Carr, John Robson, Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, Billy Barker, the Helmcken family and many others.

Aug. 9. St. Luke’s Church and Churchyard. World War I experiences are the focus of today’s tour led by Pam Gaudio and Sylvia Van Kirk. They will guide us to the graves of men and women buried in the churchyard who served in World War I, including General Ashton, “Whizzbang” Johnson, Montague Bridgeman and nurses Parker and Pugh. Meet in the church parking lot, northeast corner of Cedar Hill Rd. and Cedar Hill Crossroad.

Sunday Aug. 9. Special Event: Annual Obon Ceremony at RBC. 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 2:30 pm 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 and to join the reception that follows at nearby Ross Bay Villa at 3:30 pm. Note: This is not an OCS event. Our Aug. 9 tour is at St. Luke’s Churchyard (see above).

Aug. 16. RBC. Commonwealth Connections. Michael Halleran has discovered people from diverse and far-flung British Commonwealth countries in RBC and will tell the stories of how they found their way to this outpost of Empire and contributed to Victoria’s civic life.

Saturday Aug. 22. Special Event: Holy Trinity Churchyard Tour (part of North Saanich Flavour Trail). Starting time: 3:00 pm. Diana Chown and her team will lead a tour featuring community builders. The historic church will be open and tea will be served from 2-4:00 pm. Meet in the Holy Trinity Churchyard, corner of Mills Rd. and West Saanich Rd. (Note: This is not an OCS event.)
Aug. 23. Hatley Memorial Gardens. Tour this suburban lawn cemetery that opened in 1932 when RBC was filling up. Long-time OCS presenter Bill Magee has found many noteworthy people buried in the woodland setting, including Chief Henry Hunt. Meet inside the cemetery gates at 2050 Sooke Rd, opposite Royal Roads in Colwood.

Aug. 30. RBC. The World of Amelia, Lady Douglas. The wife of Sir James Douglas has often been portrayed as a shy and awkward lady, but today’s new tour conducted by OCS member Joyce Mackie will show that Lady Douglas was a respected member of the community who had a wide circle of friends and influential admirers.

Sept. 6. RBC. When Horses Reigned. A new tour connecting us to the Victorian world of horse-drawn transport. Visit the gravesites of livery stable owners, farriers, carriage builders, saddle makers and the owner of the city’s first hansom cab. Today’s tour has been devised by Sylvia Van Kirk and will be conducted by a team of OCS volunteers.

Sept. 13. King Coal. Coal brought wealth and industry to Vancouver Island but it also brought labour turmoil. Discover the rich history of island coal through the people it touched, from the millionaire coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and industrialists to the multicultural miners to the soldiers brought in to quell the strikes. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld has been digging up stories for this new tour.

Sept. 20. RBC. “Awake and Dreaming” is the name of Kit Pearson’s award-winning juvenile fiction novel that features a ghost at RBC. The author has been leading this very popular tour for many years. She will visit the graves that inspired her writing, read excerpts from her book and finish the tour with a surprise ending.

Sept. 27. RBC. Federal Elections of the Past. With the federal election approaching, John Adams has looked into yesteryear to track down some of Victoria’s colourful MPs, such as Amor de Cosmos, Noah Shakespeare and many others whose graves are at RBC. He’ll also include a few of our MPs who are not at RBC, including Sir John A. Macdonald.

Oct. 4. RBC. Women’s History. October is Women’s History Month and one of the highlights in the OCS’s annual schedule is Yvonne Van Ruskenveld’s tour to mark the event. She always has new stories about famous, daring, heroic, forgotten and sometimes unusual women buried at RBC.

Oct. 11. RBC. Thanksgiving Farm Tour. Social historian Sylvia Van Kirk will introduce us to more of the pioneer farmers who developed the agricultural bounty of Victoria, the Western Communities and the Saanich Peninsula. Many of the men brought out by the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company went on to develop farms of their own and played a major role in developing their communities.

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.

Oct. 17-30. Ghost Bus-tours®. Our 21st annual bus excursion past some of Victoria’s most haunted sites. New route and many new stories. Reserve your seat early. Check the website www.discoverthepast.com for details.

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. Part of the Ghosts of Victoria Festival.

Nov. 1. RBC. Murder Most Foul. 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 is an annual tour, but is different each year.

Nov. 8. RBC. “From Classroom to Battlefield” is the title of Barry Gough’s new book about Victoria High School and World War I. In 1914 Vic High moved into its elegant new building (the only high school in town) just months before war was declared. Teachers and students served in the conflict in large numbers and many made the supreme sacrifice.

Nov. 15. RBC. Wreck of the SS Pacific. A tragic event in the history of Victoria was the sinking of the Pacific en route to San Francisco on Nov. 4, 1875.  To mark the 140th anniversary of this maritime disaster, historian Sylvia Van Kirk will take us to gravesites connected to people who were lost, including Fanny Palmer, Mrs. William Lawson and Frank Gareshe.

Nov. 22. Bay Street Armoury Museums. Today we are inside for a visit to two military museums located in the imposing armoury. The museums and messes of the Canadian Scottish Regiment and the Fifth Field Artillery Regiment are like treasure troves of history and will be open for viewing. Enter through the Field Street entrance (where parking is located), behind the armoury. Access to Field Street is off Douglas Street.

Nov. 29. Emanu-El Synagogue. Victoria’s landmark synagogue is a national historic site and the oldest synagogue in continuous use in Canada. Built in 1863 and extensively restored in the 1970s it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2013 with a ceremony involving the whole community. Maggidah Shoshana Litman will conduct today’s special tour inside the synagogue. Meet in front of the synagogue, 1461 Blanshard St. at the corner of Pandora Ave.

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. Meet at the corner of Quadra St. and Rockland Ave.

Dec. 13. RBC. Ross Bay Christmas Tour. John Adams continues the yuletide theme with more warm-hearted and humorous stories, including many about Emily Carr. A holly wreath will be placed on Emily Carr’s family plot, an annual tradition of the OCS. (Emily’s birthday is December 13.)

The tour schedule will resume on Sunday, February 21, 2016, at Ross Bay Cemetery. OCS members will be sent a 2016 schedule.


Check here for our suggested topics - List of Guided Tours at Ross Bay Cemetery

Tours of the Old Burying Ground (of Pioneer Square) offer true stories from Victoria's exciting past. Old Burying Ground tours are fun for the whole family!

We welcome adult groups and children in school classes or other groups. We are always pleased to consult with individual teachers and group leaders who wish to have a tour customized to suit their particular requirements. Tours normally last 70 minutes, and can be arranged for any time except Sunday afternoon. Cost for each tour is $45. Also see our School Tour Schedule for more information

Please call 250.598.8870 to discuss and/or book a tour or leave a message on our voice mail. Our Tour Coordinator will contact you as soon as possible. Or
Email: oldcem@pacificcoast.net Please add OCS Tour to the subject line


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