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Heritage Register
Fairfield

1495 Fairfield Road
Ross Bay Cemetery

Built 1872
Heritage-Designated

For: City of Victoria

Designers: Henri Mitchel, Edward Mallandaine Sr.

Ross Bay Cemetery


By the early 1870s, the rapidly growing city of Victoria needed a new cemetery (see 1030 Quadra St, Fairfield). James Bay was recommended as a site but residents objected and the cemetery board looked further out of the city. Isabella Ross, widow of Charles Ross, a Fort Victoria founder, owned a large tract of land in what became the Fairfield/Gonzales area. By 1870 Isabella had divided her land into smaller parcels, and sold most of them. The city purchased 12 acres of this from Robert Burnaby for the new Ross Bay Cemetery. The plans and specifications for fencing and roads were made by Henry Mitchell, a landscape gardener, working in partnership with the architect Edward Mallandaine Sr.

The first burial in the new cemetery was that of Mary Pearse in December 1872, although the cemetery didn’t officially open until 1873. About 100 people per year were buried there, rising to 500 a year by the 1920s. Further land purchases in 1894 and 1906 greatly enlarged the facility but Ross Bay Cemetery was close to being full by the time that Royal Oak Burial Park was opened in 1923.

A major change to the whole Ross Bay area came in 1909 after winter storms washed away part of the cemetery that was near the shoreline. At this time Dallas Rd ended at Lovers’ Lane (now Memorial Cr) which allowed access up to Fairfield Rd. After the storms the city built a seawall along Ross Bay and Dallas Rd was extended. Many of the graves washed away by the storms were those of Chinese and Japanese people. The Chinese community took the opportunity of moving many of the remaining Chinese graves to their new cemetery at Harling Point.

The Old Cemeteries Society (OCS) completed a restoration project in 2001 which included restoring toppled grave markers, cleaning and stabilizing headstones, and cleaning and repairing grave fences. The $67,000 cost was covered by donated labour and materials, the city parks department, CUPE Local 50, and an $18,000 Millenium Fund grant. The OCS offers thematic tours, field trips to other burial sites, workshops and lectures, and undertakes cataloguing and research as well as restoration projects.

Vandalism in Ross Bay Cemetery has become a major problem in recent years, as there is open and easy access at many perimeter points. In the early 2000s a proposal to both reduce vandalism and increase the capacity of the cemetery was developed. Partial funding for the project was to come from the sale of the remaining 200 unused plots. Most of these had been sold decades before but never used and the law allows for re-sale after notifying the owners, if they can be found. In the fall of 2003 the plots were sold by random draw and some of the proceeds went into the Perpetual Care Fund for the cemetery. There was also a transfer of title to the city from the Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian churches, all of which had owned portions of the cemetery. The proposal included a gated wall along Memorial Cr. However, nearby residents objected, stating that they did not want views in and out of the cemetery impeded or trees cut down. Many people also believed that the wall would not deter vandals. Although the proposal was approved by the city, work has not begun.

Another controversy arose when the Commonwealth War Graves Commission proposed upgrading 56 of the 134 war graves in Ross Bay Cemetery. These graves are grouped together in the SW quadrant, with others spread throughout the cemetery. The project was to remove old gravestones and install uniform new ones in orderly rows. Both the Old Cemeteries Society and the Hallmark Society opposed the plan, arguing that it would alter the character of that sector of the cemetery, a designated heritage site. This project did go ahead, after compromises were made. The work was done by Mortimer’s Monumental Works. Unlike many urban cemeteries, which give priority to capacity, the development of Ross Bay Cemetery has resulted in a place of great beauty and serenity.

Many prominent Victoria citizens are buried here, among them Sir James Douglas (1877), Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (1894) and Amor De Cosmos, founder of the British Colonist newspaper (1897), and members of the Dunsmuir family. The Carr family (207 Government St, James Bay) grave has become a pilgrimage place for visitors, who leave small tributes to Emily.

Many victims of shipping disasters off the NW coast are buried in Ross Bay Cemetery and the war veterans’ graves include some dating back to the US Civil War. The rich and famous are well represented in the cemetery but there are also many of the humble and unknown. In the southwest quadrant is a small headstone inscribed “Here lies Trudie - that dear child - Feb. 3 1895-Oct. 21 1910 - she was gentle & kind, gifted & dearly beloved.” Elsa Gertrude Knowles, 15, daughter of Robert and Alice Knowles of 602 Moss St, died of polio.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION & IMAGES:

• Statement of Significance (Canadian Register of Historic Places)

• GIS Map of Victoria's Heritage Register Properties

• Fairfield History

• Fairfield Heritage Register

• Hallmark Heritage Society Archives

• Royal BC Museum Archives Image 1

• Royal BC Museum Archives Image 2

• This Old House, Victoria's Heritage Neighbourhoods,
Volume Four: Fairfield, Gonzales & Jubilee


 © VICTORIA HERITAGE FOUNDATION (VHF) 2014
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