Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria logo

Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria logo














2018 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 (Wednesday). 7:30 pm. OCS Annual General Meeting at Craigflower Schoolhouse. Speaker: OCS board member Drew Waveryn will give an illustrated talk about his trip to the VIMY 100 event in France.

Feb. 18. 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.

Feb. 25. 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 4. RBC. Emily Carr Tour. (First of two tours) Emily Carr’s grave is one of the most visited at RBC. Every year a team of OCS guides creates a new route to include the graves of many people Emily knew. Emily herself (a.k.a. Molly Raher Newman) will delight us with readings about these people from Emily’s prolific writings. Another Emily Carr tour with different stories is scheduled on July 15.

March 11. RBC. Blanshard Day. On this date in 1850 Richard Blanshard read his commission at Fort Victoria, to become the first governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island. John Adams will provide the context for the colony’s formation and visit the graves of many of the people Blanshard knew, though he returned to his English estate called “Fairfield.”

March 18. RBC. Murder Most Foul. (First of two tours) Michael Halleran will take us to graves of murderers and their victims and tell the grisly tales he has found in coroners’ files and old newspapers and through interviews with family members. On Oct. 7 Michael will conduct a second tour on the theme, with different stories.

March 25. RBC. Mariners All. Local maritime historian Ron Armstrong will focus on many of the sea captains, shipbuilders and others who contributed to the development of shipping and related industries in the North Pacific, on the BC coast and at the Port of Victoria.


April 1. RBC. We Had a Ball—Unusual Epitaphs & Symbols. Epitaphs can give us a glimpse into the lives and personalities of people buried at RBC, and symbols on tombstones can be decoded. In this new tour, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld explores the meaning of interesting epitaphs and symbols and the stories they reveal.

 April 8. RBC. Marvellous Mausoleums. Mausoleums are above-ground structures for reposing the dead. RBC has 13 of them, ranging from small and plain to large and impressive. Drew Waveryn will lead the tour to these intriguing buildings, many of them superb examples of architecture, and explain why they were built and who is in them.

April 15. RBC. Japanese at Ross Bay. Today’s tour will be conducted among the flowering trees 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.

April 22. RBC. Masonic Anniversary, 1858–2018. The first Masonic lodge in BC was started in Victoria 160 years ago and many of those involved are buried at RBC. Mark Anderson, a Past Master of Temple Lodge No. 33 in Duncan and historian of that lodge and one in Nanaimo, will lead today’s tour to many of the Masonic graves at RBC and talk about the history of the order here.

April 29. RBC. Wordsmiths, Scribes & Scribblers. British Columbia has a rich tradition of authorship, and many of our early writers are buried in RBC. Join Yvonne Van Ruskenveld in visiting the graves of those who described our history and geography, revealed their own stories and waxed poetic from colonial days on.

May 6. 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 13. RBC. Mothering and Mortality. A tour to celebrate Mother's Day. Learn more about pioneer mothers and their families with Sylvia Van Kirk and Yvonne Van Ruskenveld. Although infant mortality was high, you will be surprised to learn how many large families thrived in early Victoria.

May 20. RBC. A Day of Signs and Wonders. Today’s tour title is the name of award-winning author Kit Pearson’s 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.

May 27. RBC. Chinese at Ross Bay. Our second tour in honour of Asian Heritage Month will focus on the Chinese buried at RBC. From 1873 to 1903 when the Chinese Cemetery opened, most burials of Chinese in Victoria were at Ross Bay. John Adams, author of a soon-to-be published book called Chinese Victoria, will lead this tour.

June 3. RBC. Music in Early Victoria. Music was an important part of culture in 19th-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 10. Sisters of St. Ann. This June marks the 160th anniversary of the arrival of the first four Sisters in Victoria. Since then, the order has played a significant role in education, nursing and historical preservation. Carey Pallister, archivist for the Sisters and a long-time OCS supporter, leads today’s tour. Meet outside the main front entrance to the Royal BC Museum, Belleville Street.   


June 17. RBC. Aqua Vitae. This is the title of Glen Mofford’s recent book that relates the colourful and extensive history of Victoria’s saloons, bars, pubs and other drinking establishments that were located in large numbers throughout the city until prohibition in BC closed them all in 1917. The author will visit the graves of many people he includes in the book.

June 24. RBC. Métis Connections. Métis are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry, and one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Today’s tour leader, Fern Perkins, who is Métis, will demystify confusion about the term. Fern will visit graves of many Métis buried at RBC and explain their historical importance to the city and the country.

July 1. RBC. Canada Day. Celebrate Canada’s 151st birthday with a team of OCS members as they visit the graves of women and men who have contributed in significant ways to our country’s history. Some are famous and some obscure but all have interesting stories.

July 8. RBC. Unbuilt Victoria is the title of Dorothy Mindenhall’s fascinating book about architectural projects in Victoria that were never completed and is the topic for her tour today. Her examples will range from the zany to the magnificent and will showcase the dreams of many early Victorians.

July 15. RBC. Emily Carr Tour. (Second of two tours) Emily Carr’s grave is one of the most visited at RBC. This second tour of the year follows a new route to the graves of many people Emily knew. Emily herself (a.k.a. Molly Raher Newman) will delight us with readings about these people from Emily’s prolific writings.

July 22. RBC. People, Politics and Poetry in 19th Century Victoria. Retired history professor Robert Taylor has written two books about the important role poetry played in early Victoria. His tour today is a blend of his favourite stories from his previous popular tours and will include short excerpts from some of the most interesting poems in his files.

 July 29. Holy Trinity Church, Central Saanich. 150 Years of the Saanich Fair. Sylvia Van Kirk will lead this first-time tour in the picturesque churchyard beside the pioneer church and present stories of the Saanich Fair (the oldest annual country fair in BC) and the men and women of the local farms who have made it happen. Holy Trinity is located at the corner of West Saanich Road and Mills Road, beside Victoria International Airport. Parking lot off Mills Road.

Aug. 5. RBC. BC Premiers. Ross Bay Cemetery is the final resting place of many BC premiers, mainly from the province’s earliest days. A team of OCS members has prepared a tour for this BC Day long weekend focusing on the personalities, foibles and accomplishments of these men. While many are little known today, they all deserve recognition. 


Aug. 12. St. Stephen’s Churchyard. This week’s tour features one of BC’s oldest churches, nestled into the farmland of the Mt. Newton Valley and surrounded by the graves of local pioneer families, including the Thomsons of nearby Bannockburn Farm who donated the land in 1861. Sylvia Van Kirk will tell the stories of the church and those buried beside it. Look for the sign for St. Stephen’s Road, off Mt. Newton Cross Road near West Saanich Road.


Aug. 19. 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 (location TBA). The Obon ceremony takes the place of a tour today.

Aug. 26. RBC. Theatre Stories. Join Drew Waveryn, OCS board member and a frequent actor on the stage at Langham Court Theatre, for his popular 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's fledgling film industry.

Sept. 2. Jewish Cemetery. The Jewish Cemetery is the oldest continuously operating cemetery in BC and has connections to many pioneers from Victoria and other places. Amber Woods, author of the OCS’s recent publication Guide to Victoria’s Jewish Cemetery, will explain the cemetery’s location and describe its people, symbolism and monuments. Meet at the main gates, Fernwood Rd. at the corner of Cedar Hill Rd. Men please wear a hat.

Sept. 9. RBC. British Campaigners. In the days when the sun never set on the British Empire, the British military defended the empire’s interests in battles far from home. In Victoria, old soldiers commemorated their experiences as members of the British Campaigners Association. In this new tour, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld visits the graves of veterans of the Boer War, the Crimean War and other distant struggles.

Sept. 16. RBC. Firefighter History. Retired firefighter Mark Perkins has a wealth of interesting stories about the people who served in the Victoria Fire Department and its volunteer predecessors with colourful names: Deluge, Tiger Engine and Union Hook and Ladder Company.

Sept. 23. RBC. The Key to Mythic Victoria is the title of today’s tour and the book written by tour leader Linda Foubister. She will present intriguing facts and tales, including many about the cemetery’s trees, and will relate them to the larger tapestry of mythology from Celtic Europe, Asia, North America and other ancient cultures.

Sept. 30. RBC. Spanish Flu Pandemic. One hundred years ago, as World War I was ending, the Spanish flu swept the globe, killing up to 6% of the world’s population. Peter Grant, local historian, author and tour presenter at RBC, will explain how the pandemic affected Victoria and discuss some of those buried at RBC who died as a result of it.

Oct. 7. RBC. Murder Most Foul. (Second of two tours) 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 and old newspapers and through interviews with family members. This tour will include different stories from Michael’s tour on March 18.

Oct. 14. RBC. Gold Rush Women. Beginning with the Fraser River in 1858, gold rushes shaped BC economically, socially and physically. While most gold-rush prospectors, miners and business people were men, many women were also drawn to BC during these lively times—and not just in ways you might think. This year, Yvonne Van Ruskenveld focuses her annual women’s history tour on women in gold rush BC.

Oct. 21. 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. 20-30. Ghost Bus-tours®. Our 24th 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. 28. 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. 4. RBC. Sinking of SS Princess Sophia. On October 25, 1918, the CPR steamer Princess Sophia sank after hitting a reef in Alaska. All on board (at least 343) perished. Some of the bodies were found and brought to Victoria where they arrived on November 12. Tom Pound, frequent OCS tour presenter, leads today’s tour.


Nov. 11. Veterans’ Cemetery. Remembrance Day Tour. This annual tour at the Esquimalt Veterans’ Cemetery (God's Acre) shares 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. 18. Masonic Temple Tour. Today’s location will be inside the historic Masonic hall, built in 1878, designed by architect John Teague. It is home to Victoria-Columbia Lodge No. 1, the oldest on Canada’s Pacific coast. The tour will visit the main lodge room where its symbolism and Masonic funeral rites will be discussed. Meet outside the entrance at 650 Fisgard Street near the corner of Douglas Street.


Nov. 25. Royal Oak Burial Park Mausoleum. Today’s location is another indoor one. The mausoleum opened in 1996 and features elegant granite and marble corridors lined with crypts for coffins and niches for cremated remains. It is a light-filled space with beautiful stained glass windows. The visit will include a history of mausoleums and how this one is used. Meet at the mausoleum inside the grounds. Drive through the main gates at 4673 Falaise Dr. and keep to the left. Lots of parking near the mausoleum.


Dec. 2. 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. 9. 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 17, 2019, at Ross Bay Cemetery. OCS members will be sent a 2019 schedule.



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

Please 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



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:

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



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