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2016 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. 21. 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.

Feb. 26 (Friday). 7:30 pm. OCS Annual General Meeting in the Council Chambers, Victoria City Hall.

Feb. 28. RBC. City of the Dead. Ross Bay Cemetery was designed in 1872 according to the latest trends in cemetery design in Victorian England. John Adams, author of Historic Guide to Ross Bay Cemetery, will explain how the cemetery was developed and the philosophy behind some of its most distinctive features, including funerary architecture and plantings.

March 6. 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.

March 13. RBC. “The Gorge of Summers Gone” is the title of Dennis Minaker’s social history of the Gorge waterway and the topic of today’s tour. His information is from old timers from the neighbourhood, and from newspapers and archives. His fascinating stories will cover the farmers, coal barons, industrialists, brewers and judges who once lived along the Gorge.

March 20. RBC. Focus on Historians. Today’s first-time tour will visit the graves of many historians and chroniclers from BC’s past from 1860 to the present time. Some were famous, others obscure, but they all left a legacy of information still used by historians, even in the digital age.

March 27. RBC. Epitaphs to Remember. It’s Easter Sunday, but not all epitaphs are about rising again or heading straight to heaven. Join long-time OCS member Yvonne Van Ruskenveld as she explores the meaning behind some of RBC’s most interesting epitaphs and the fascinating stories they can reveal.

April 3. RBC. Emily Carr Tour. Emily Carr’s grave is one of the most visited at RBC. This year marks the 71st anniversary of her death on March 2, 1945. An OCS team will visit the graves of many people Emily knew, and Emily herself (a.k.a. Molly Raher Newman) will read excerpts about those people from her autobiographical writings.

April 10. RBC. Woodmen of the World. This popular fraternal order recruited male breadwinners with group life insurance and a pledge to let no member rest in an unmarked grave. Social historian Diana Pedersen will explain the stories, ceremonies, and symbols behind WOW monuments erected at Ross Bay from 1895 to 1915.

April 17. RBC. SS Clallam Disaster. Peter Grant, local historian, author and blogger has done extensive research about a tragic shipwreck off Victoria in January 1904 and will share some of his findings on today’s first-time tour. Over 50 people perished, but only 32 were found. Eight victims and one survivor are buried at RBC. One of his discoveries has an unusual twist, sure to send shivers down your spine.

April 24. Pioneer Square. Also known as the Old Burying Ground, this small cemetery founded in 1855 and closed in 1873 is one of BC’s oldest. Today’s tour will cover the history, use and redevelopment of the site and will include some of the most interesting tombstones and people buried beneath them. Meet at the corner of Quadra Street and Rockland Avenue.

May 1. 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 8. RBC. “Moses, Me and Murder” is the title of one of the novels in Ann Walsh’s popular Cariboo-based trilogy for younger readers. Ann's books also appeal to adults looking for an easy dose of BC history and are used in many BC classrooms. She will read selections from her books and visit the graves of some of the real characters she includes in them.

May 15. 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 operated from 1903 until the early 1950s. Meet at the cemetery, foot of Crescent Road, off King George Terrace.

May 22. RBC. Away With Rum. This year is the 100th anniversary of the passing of the prohibition law in BC. Provincial prohibition took effect in 1917 and lasted until 1921 but Victoria continued its ban on bars until 1954. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld will visit the graves of members of the WCTU, moral reformers and politicians who fought for and against the demon rum.

May 29. RBC. Theatre Stories. Join Drew Waveryn, OCS board member and a frequent actor on the stage at Langham Court Theatre for this first-time tour about the history of the theatre and actors in Victoria’s past. The tour will cover aspects of theatre from vaudeville to opera and even touch on Victoria' fledgling film industry.

June 5. RBC. Japanese at Ross Bay. Today’s tour will be conducted by Gordon and Ann-Lee Switzer, authors of Sakura in Stone (2015) and Gateway to Promise (2012), histories of Japanese in Victoria. RBC includes graves of about 150 Japanese and is the location of the impressive Kakehashi Monument dedicated to Japanese pioneers.

June 12. RBC. Music in Early Victoria. Music was an important part of culture in nineteenth-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.

June 19. RBC. Love and Marriage. Kirby Delaney has had plenty of experience conducting tours downtown for the Maritime Museum and Discover the Past, but this is her debut at RBC. Classic love stories from Victoria’s past will include the Helmckens and Douglases with a few illicit affairs included to keep things spicy.

June 26. RBC. St. Jean Baptiste Day. Quebec’s big day is actually June 24, but we thought we should honour the occasion today with a bilingual tour (French and English) conducted by Marie-Hélène Bourret and Gary Cohen. They will visit the graves of many francophones at RBC and even sing a few popular French songs.

July 3. RBC. Battle of the Somme. One of the bloodiest battles in human history began 100 years ago this weekend. John Azar, a World War I historian and frequent OCS tour leader, will share stories of people who served in the various Battles of the Somme who are buried or commemorated in RBC and other regional cemeteries.
July 10. RBC. Sinking of the 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 again lead this commemorative tour.

July 17. RBC. Klondike Gold Rush! The most famous gold rush in Canadian history provides a wealth of fascinating stories. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld has struck it rich in her search for interesting characters and events connected to the last of the great gold rushes.

July 24. RBC. “Imperial Eden”. Robert Ratcliffe Taylor, retired history professor and author of several histories related to Victoria, has prepared this first-time tour based on his book about poetry in Victoria from 1858 to 1920. He will include poems written by men and women from all walks of life, many of them published in the local newspapers a century or more ago.
July 31. RBC. A Look Back to 1916. Sherri Robinson, Esquimalt archivist, historian and author, is a frequent tour giver at RBC. On today’s first-time tour she recounts stories from 100 years ago about traders, miners and stout-hearted women, all of whom added excitement to BC’s history. She’ll even include “the Manning Mystery” that made the news in 1916. Come to find out what that was all about.

Aug. 7. RBC. Famous British Columbians. A special tour for BC Day will include the graves of men and women whose names are known across the province. Joyce Mackie, a regular OCS tour guide, will tell the stories of Sir James and Lady Douglas, Emily Carr and many other interesting people.

Aug. 14. RBC. “Capital Characters” is the title of one of T. W. Paterson’s many books about BC history and the theme of his tour today. Tom began researching and writing history as a teenager and has developed a lively style of telling stories that brings his characters to life. He has done many tours at RBC in the past, but they are always different, always enjoyable.

Aug. 21. RBC. Annual Obon Ceremony. 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. The Obon ceremony takes the place of a tour today.

Aug. 28. 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.

Sept. 4. RBC. Favourite Stories from the Past 30 Years. Today’s tour is in honour of the OCS’s 30th year of conducting Sunday tours at RBC. Our members have searched their files and prepared their favourite stories from the many they have told over the years. Come and help us celebrate this landmark anniversary.

Sept. 11. RBC. Rebels and Reprobates. Well-known historian Rosemary Neering, author of Wild West Women, Emily Carr, British Columbia Bizarre, The Pig War and many more books, 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 this first-time tour.

Sept. 18. RBC. An Angler’s Paradise. From the 1880s to 1914, Vancouver Island was known throughout the British Empire for its abundant trout and salmon rivers. Social historian Diana Pedersen returns with new stories about sportfishing and its ties to settlement, transportation, tourism, and conservation.

Sept. 25. St. Ann’s Academy Graveyards and Gardens. Carey Pallister, Archivist of the Sisters of St. Ann (and designer of the OCS logo in 1990), will conduct a tour around the grounds of the former convent school to discuss the early sisters’ burial sites and explain how the beautiful gardens were developed, including the story of a unique battleship fountain. Meet in front of St. Ann’s Academy main steps, 835 Humboldt St.

Oct. 2. 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. 9. 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.

Oct. 16. RBC. “A Day of Signs and Wonders.” Today’s tour title is the name of award-winning author Kit Pearson’s just-released 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 author of many novels for young readers.

Oct. 23. 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. 22-30. Ghost Bus-tours®. Our 22nd 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. 30. 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. 6. Veterans’ Cemetery. Remembrance 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. 13. RBC. Empress Hotel Stories. Victoria’s landmark hotel opened in 1908 and has been a part of the city’s social life ever since. Visit the graves of the man who filled in the mudflats where the hotel was built, the chambermaid who plunged to her death, a prominent lawyer who lived in the hotel and hear about a famous love affair that started in the hotel’s tea lobby.

Nov. 20. RBC. A Sad Melancholy Event. Today’s tour title is derived from a passage in the diary of Sir James Douglas 150 years ago on the occasion of the union of the colonies of Vancouver Island and BC on Nov. 19, 1866. He and many others in Victoria were unhappy with the move. John Adams looks at some of the people involved in the union and their opinions.

Nov. 27. 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.

Dec. 4. 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. 11. 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 19, 2017, at Ross Bay Cemetery. OCS members will be sent a 2017 schedule.


OCS members get a discount on the weekly tours and receive six copies per year of the newsletter “Stone Cuttings” and two copies of the journal “Stories in Stone” 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.

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



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 1–10 Tours on the topic of Remembrance Day at RBC or the Veterans’ Cemetery.

Other topics to choose from at any time:

  • Gold Rush
  • Women’s History
  • Emily Carr
  • General Tour
  • BC History
  • Burial Traditions

Call 250.598.8870 to inquire about custom tours or to book.


Tel: 250.598.8870
Email: oldcem@pacificcoast.net
Mail: OCS, Box 50004, RPO Fairfield Plaza, Victoria, BC  V8S 5L8
Visit our website: www.oldcem.bc.ca

Groups and school tours a specialty any time.
Call 250.598.8870 to discuss and/or book a tour.

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.

OCS members get a discount on the weekly tours and receive six copies per year of the newsletter “Stone Cuttings” and two copies of the journal “Stories in Stone” 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.

OCS Membership.
Adult $30, student $20, household $45

Donation. Your donations to the OCS are tax deductible and will assist our research, restoration and education work in local cemeteries.

Use the form below for membership and donations.

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.


Mailing Address:



Amount enclosed:

Make cheques payable to OCS.
Mail to Old Cemeteries Society,
Box 50004, RPO Fairfield Plaza,
Victoria, BC  V8S 5L8


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