Historical Locations – The Ross Bay Cemetery

Let’s get the full personal disclosure out of the way right off the bat; I love cemeteries.  Obviously, the context of them isn’t a particularly cheerful one but I’ve always found them to be incredibly peaceful places which are often quite beautiful.  Weird? Probably, but there you go. This also means that today’s post is going to focus on one of my favorites, the Ross Bay Cemetery.

See? Pretty. Image of the Ross Bay Cemetery, photo by Brandon Godfrey.

See? Pretty.
Image of the Ross Bay Cemetery, photo by Brandon Godfrey.

Located in Victoria, British Columbia, the Ross Bay Cemetery has been in use since 1873 and, in addition to being a wonderful example of a Victorian cemetery, is the oldest surviving formally landscaped area in the province.  The naming of the site itself is quite remarkable in its own right as it is named after its owner, Isabella Mainville Ross, the first registered independent female landowner in the province who also happened to be indigenous.

During its early years, the area was divided into a number of sections which represented the prominent groups residing in the region; there was a section for Christian denominations, one for First Nations, one for Chinese, a section for the poor (known as the potters’ field), and finally a ‘general use’ area for everyone else.  This being said, there were several groups which were not represented in the Ross Bay cemetery; the Jewish population had built their own cemetery in 1859 (which is now B.C.’s oldest operating cemetery), the region’s Chinese Buddhists stopped using this site after 1903 when they built their own at Harling Point, and finally the Sikhs who had begun arriving earlier in the 1800’s preferred to cremate their dead and scatter the ashes over the water.

Because Victoria is the province’s capitol, and due to the fact that until the mid-point of the 20th century travel between the island and the mainland was less than convenient, many of British Columbia’s major historical politicians have made Victoria their home which has resulted in this being the burial site for many of B.C.’s premieres.

In the nearly 150 years since the cemetery saw its first burial (that of Alexander Ross, Isabella’s son) this site has seen the inclusion of a number of significant figures including:

  • Billy Barker (1819-1894): prospector, the namesake of Barkerville

    The Grave of Billy Barker; image from www.flickr.com

    The Grave of Billy Barker; image from http://www.flickr.com

  • Robert Beaven (1836-1920): premiere of British Columbia
  • Sir Matthew Begbie (1819-1894): first Chief Justice of B.C.
  • Emily Carr (1871-1945): painter

    The gravestone of Emily Carr; image from victoriagridproject.ca

    The gravestone of Emily Carr; image from http://www.victoriagridproject.ca

  • Sir James Douglas (1803-1877): 1st Governor of B.C., Hudson’s Bay Company executive
  • Roderick Finlayson (1818-1892): ‘the father of Victoria’

In addition to these notable figures, the cemetery also contains the graves of 135 commonwealth service personnel from World War I (133 individuals) and World War II (2 individuals).

You can take a virtual tour of a number of the cemetery’s most famous graves at the Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria site.