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2014 Tours and Excursions of The Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria

Tours given in daylight hours only. City by-laws prohibit entrance to the cemetery after dark. Sunday Ross Bay Cemetery History Tours: Tours start at 2:00 pm. Meet at 1:45 pm in front of Oregano’s, Fairfield Plaza, 1516 Fairfield Rd.  Others start where noted.

Charge: $5 for non-members; $2 for members. No reservations needed. Tours are held regardless of weather. Contact www.oldcem.bc.ca or 250.598.8870.


Feb. 5 (Wednesday). 7:30 pm. OCS Annual General Meeting at James Bay New Horizons, 234 Menzies St. Fern Perkins and Sylvia Van Kirk will give a presentation called “Bringing the Cemeteries of Central and North Saanich Alive”.

Feb. 16. Metis Stories. In Manitoba, Feb. 17 will be Louis Riel Day, so the OCS will highlight some of our Metis pioneers at RBC on this first-ever tour coordinated by Fern Perkins, descendant of Isabella Ross, a famous Metis woman in Victoria. A good way to observe Heritage Week and the OCS’s first tour of the season.

Feb. 23. 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 2. Unbuilt Victoria. This is the title of Dorothy Mindenhalls’ book that examines architectural schemes that were proposed, but rejected. The author will visit the graves of some of the people involved in both amazingly bad and stunningly good buildings that never were built. 
March 9. Odd Fellows 150th Anniversary. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) had its first meeting in Victoria on March 10, 1864. John Adams will visit the graves of many who were there and recount the fascinating history, symbolism and work of this secret society dedicated to Friendship, Love and Truth.

March 16. Pioneer Square. Fort Victoria. In mid-March 1843 James Douglas and a group of Hudson’s Bay Company workers (mostly French Canadians) began construction of Fort Victoria. Pioneer Square (the Old Burying Ground) is the final resting place of many who were involved. Meet at the corner of Quadra St. and Rockland Ave. beside Christ Church Cathedral.

March 23. Prominent Presbyterians. Join Jim Kempling, archivist of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and Barbara Forsyth, heritage interpreter, as they visit the graves of many notable Presbyterian families who shaped Victoria and early BC, such as Dunsmuir, Robson, McMicking, and McBride.

March 30. Emily Carr Tour. Visit Emily’s grave and those of many people she knew and wrote about and hear excerpts from Emily’s books. Emily’s grave is one of the most visited at RBC. This annual tour, led by a team of OCS members, is always a favourite and this year includes new stories.

April 6.  “The Key to Mythic Victoria” is the title of local author Linda Foubister’s book about mythic tales of Victoria and Victorians.
   RBC’s siting, underground streams, trees, memorials and occupants recall mythic traditions from the ancient world. The author will discuss some of them and other mythic tales of the city in this first-ever tour.

April 13. St. Ann’s Academy. Sisters of St. Ann Graves. The grounds of St. Ann’s Academy National Historic Site once contained two cemeteries dedicated to the sisters. Archivist Carey Pallister and site manager Shelley Myhres will visit the locations and discuss the sisters’ death and burial rituals.

April 20.  Symbolism. Victorian era cemeteries are filled with symbols that reflect the lives, beliefs, occupations and aspirations of those who lie buried beneath. Yvonne Van Ruskenveld’s tour will include some of the most interesting and unusual.
April 27.  Mapping Victoria. Surveyor and map historian Michael Layland’s recent book The Land of Heart’s Delight will be the basis for his tour to the graves of map-makers, surveyors and others connected with putting Victoria on the map from the days of Fort Victoria to the present.

May is Asian Heritage Month and OCS will present three tours on this theme.

May 4. Chinese Cemetery. The first tour of Asian Heritage Month will be conducted by Victoria City Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe who will lead a tour at the Chinese Cemetery, a National Historic Site, including her grandfather’s grave. Meet at the cemetery, foot of Crescent Road, off King George Terrace.

May 11.  Mother. In honour of Mother’s Day Sylvia Van Kirk, Professor Emerita of history, will visit some of the many tombstones at RBC inscribed with “Mother.” Some of the occupants were famous and some were not, but each one has a fascinating story to tell.

May 18.  Chinese at Ross Bay. Chinese were buried at RBC before the Chinese Cemetery was created. Many were exhumed and sent back to China; some were moved to the cemetery at Harling Point; others were washed out to sea in a violent storm in 1909. Historian John Adams will talk about this intriguing part of RBC’s history.

May 25.  Japanese at Ross Bay. The third tour of Asian Heritage Month will be conducted by Gordon and Ann-Lee Switzer, authors of Gateway to Paradise: 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.

June 1.  Empress of Ireland. On May 29, 1914, the CPR’s Empress of Ireland collided with a Norwegian ship in the St. Lawrence River, with a loss of 1,012 lives. This was the largest number of deaths on any Canadian ship during peacetime. Chris Klausen, curator of an exhibit at the Maritime Museum about the catastrophe, will lead the tour to graves at RBC linked to it.

June 8.  Golden and Diamond Weddings. Sylvia Van Kirk, is fascinated by the number of golden and diamond wedding anniversaries described years ago in glowing detail by the local newspapers. Though average lifespans were short, many people did live to old age. She has selected some of the most memorable stories for this week’s tour.
June 15.  Fathers. In honour of Father’s Day Joyce Mackie, one of OCS’s popular guides, will be visiting the graves of many men at RBC who were fathers in various ways: priests, fathers of families, a Father of Confederation, city fathers, the “Father of BC” and maybe even Father Christmas.

June 22.  “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.

June 29.  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 6.  Commonwealth Connections. Michael Halleran, a founding OCS member, has searched RBC’s burial records for people from diverse British Commonwealth countries and will discuss how they found their way to this outpost of Empire and their contributions to Victoria’s civic life.

July 13.  Leechtown 150th Anniversary. This week in 1864 Peter Leech discovered gold on the Leech River, a tributary of the Sooke River, and started the only major gold rush on southern Vancouver Island. Dr. Perry Lydon, author of The Gold Says it All, the story of the Leechtown Gold Rush, will coordinate this special tour.

July 20.  Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. Divorce was not so common in the nineteenth century, but Yvonne Van Ruskenveld, a former OCS president and popular tour leader, has found some notable exceptions. In this new tour, she will highlight them and other “arrangements” made to deal with unhappy marriages.
July 27.  Postal History. Professor Emeritus of English Bill Magee will explore the beginnings of communication in BC, including the Hudson's Bay Company fur brigades, postage stamps of the 1860s, postmasters, Barnard's Express, the introduction of the telegraph and telephone services, and laying the Trans-Pacific Cable.

Aug. 3.  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, Amor de Cosmos, Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, Billy Barker and many others.

Aug. 10.  Annual Obon Ceremony. This is the Japanese Buddhist Day of the Dead when graves are cleaned, incense is lit and prayers are said. The public are invited to participate and to join the reception that follows. The ceremony takes place at the Kaklehashi Monument in the southwestern corner of RBC, close to the corner of Memorial Crescent and Dallas Rd.

Aug. 17.  Were we "Ready for the Fray"? While on their way to World War I in Europe the 16th Battalion, Canadian Scottish Regiment adopted the motto “Ready for the Fray.” John Azar will lead a tour that reflects on Victoria’s enthusiasm at the outbreak of the war and on the true state of the region’s readiness for what was to come.

Aug. 24.  Mysterious Mary Ann. Historian and archivist Sherri Robinson will lead this first-time tour based on her research about nurseries and greenhouses, especially the Fairview Nursery where Esquimalt Plaza is today. Mary Ann, the owner for many years, had an amazing life. Come on the tour to find out why.

Aug. 31.  Victoria Police History. Victoria’s police force is the oldest in western Canada. Det. Jonathan Sheldan of the Victoria Police Dept. and member of the Police Historical Society will visit graves of many who served with the VPD. He will recount stories about the origins of the force and highlight some noteworthy cases.

Sept. 7.  Captains of Industry and Their Workers. Victoria during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a hub of industry. Sawmills, shipyards, paint factories, foundries, breweries, gasworks and other enterprises lined the harbour and filled the air with smoke. Sylvia Van Kirk and John Adams will lead this new tour.

Sept. 14. Royal Oak Burial Park. Public Benefactors at Royal Oak. Professor Emeritus Bill Magee is a wonderful storyteller and will be focusing on the fascinating lives of people who served their community as scientists, nurses, educators, judges and soldiers. Meet inside the main gates at 4673 Falaise Dr.

Sept. 21.  Victoria High School Centennial. Vic High was founded in 1876 as BC’s first high school, but the present impressive structure opened in 1914. Former students have chosen graves of significant people connected with their alma mater and will tell their stories on today’s tour.

Sept. 28.  Pioneer Farmers. Sylvia Van Kirk has discovered that the One Hundred Mile Diet is nothing new. More than a century ago farming was a major activity in Gordon Head, the Saanich Peninsula and other outlying areas. Today’s first-time tour will visit graves of pioneer farmers and those connected with them.

Oct. 5.  Women’s History at RBC. October is Women’s History Month and one of the highlights in the OCS’s annual schedule to mark the event is Yvonne Van Ruskenveld’s tour. She always has new stories about famous, daring, heroic, forgotten and sometimes unusual women buried at RBC.

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

Oct. 19.  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. 18-30. 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. 26.  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 Victoria’s Ghosts of Victoria Festival.

Nov. 2.  Victoria, Mobilize! This tour will focus on the volunteers who rallied to the Empire in the summer of 1914 and will follow their lives on and off the battlefield to
their final resting places in RBC. The participants are members of the Victoria-Esquimalt Military Re-enactors Association and will give the tour dressed in clothing appropriate to the period.

Nov. 9. Veterans’ Cemetery Remembrance Tour. John Azar conducts his annual tour to veterans’ graves, with fascinating stories of the people and their times, from the Crimean War to the present day. Meet at the Veterans’ Cemetery, one of Victoria’s most picturesque. Access off Colville Rd. near the Base Hospital.

Nov. 16.  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. 23. McCall Bros. Funeral Directors. Founded in 1921, McCall’s has been at its present location for the past 93 years and is still family operated (fourth generation). Today’s visit will focus on the history of the business and will include a tour of the John Di Castri designed building. Meet inside at 1400 Vancouver St at the corner of Johnson St.

Nov. 30. Stewart Monumental Works. One of BC’s oldest operating monument makers is located near RBC and has supplied many of the headstones there and at cemeteries all over the province. Today OCS will visit their workshop and find out how technology has changed. See a demonstration of a tombstone being made. Meet at the shop, 1403 May St.

Dec. 7. 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 history of one of Victoria’s oldest cemeteries. Meet at the corner of Quadra St. and Rockland Ave.

Dec. 14.  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 15, 2015, at Ross Bay Cemetery. OCS members will receive a 2015 schedule in the mail.


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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