Cemetery steeped in Chinese history

Personal perspective of Harling Point marks Asian Heritage Month

The gates to the Chinese Cemetery.

The gates to the Chinese Cemetery.

In Ross Bay Cemetery the dead were listed as Chinaman #1 and Chinaman #2 and so on; just one  reason the region’s Chinese populace found a resting place at scenic Harling Point in Oak Bay.

On May 15, in honour of Asian Heritage Month, Charlayne Thornton-Joe will lead a tour at the Chinese Cemetery, a National Historic Site that includes her grandfather’s grave.

“I usually start with an apology, that I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, but that the reason it exists is because of discrimination,” said Thornton-Joe, a Victoria councillor.

Her walks were inspired years ago when she took a similar tour at Ross Bay Cemetery with noted Victoria historian and storyteller John Adams.

“I was captivated, John and I have become good friends since then,” Thornton-Joe said. “He has a perspective of a historian, for me I tell my perspective of the Chinese Cemetery through my ancestors.”

Thornton-Joe shares through personal connection with her grandfather, who died before she was born.

“It’s a little bit about why the Chinese came to Victoria or Canada. A little bit about what they were doing here; and why we have a Chinese cemetery and where they were buried before.

“Discrimination was part of that time,” she said.

Ross Bay was divided into religions and the Chinese were buried in a section called Aboriginals and Mongolians, she explained.

“Every storm, where the Chinese were buried the water would come up, they would go to sea.”

Growing up in Victoria, Thornton-Joe was a regular visitor to the picturesque cemetery that operated from 1903 until the early 1950s.

“My mother was very traditional in the way of going to the cemetery and showing respect for your ancestors,” she said. “I go quite often to visit my family members even today. I built a really close relationship to the cemetery.”

In 1903  the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association purchased 3.5 acres of land at the corner of Penzance Street and Crescent Road – Harling Point. Today simple markers and a ceremonial altar still stand on the site owned and maintained by the association. The cemetery was designated a National Historic Site by the Government of Canada in 1994.

The tour starts at 2 p.m. on May 15 and costs $2 for Old Cemeteries Society members and $5 for non-members. Meet at the cemetery, foot of Crescent Road, off King George Terrace.

 

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com