Sunday, January 4, 2009

Harling Point Chinese Cemetery, Victoria, BC, Canada

Photographs taken May, 2007 by M. Diane Rogers

The land for this cemetery was purchased by the Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in 1903. Before that many Chinese Canadians had been buried in Victoria's Ross Bay Cemetery, but in a section prone to erosion from the ocean. Many of the Ross Bay graves were exhumed and the burials relocated at Harling Point after 1903.
For some, this was only a temporary spot - their bones were later sent to China for burial as they had wished, but after the mid-1930's, this was no longer possible. Some, whose bones were stored in the hope of future reburial in China, were finally laid to rest in mass graves here in the 1960s.
For many years, Victoria's Chinese-Canadian community worked to raise money to refurbish the cemetery and to raise awareness of its significance in Canadian history. In 1995, this cemetery was designated a National Historic site, the only cemetery west of Toronto and Ottawa to be so recognized. In 2001, the cemetery's refurbishment was completed with funds from the community and from the governments of British Columbia and Canada.

The Harling Point Cemetery is close to Ross Bay Cemetery, and is now in a highly residential area where once Chinese Canadians were forbidden to buy property, but the landscape with Gonzales Hill behind and the rocky areas nearby apparently provide good feng shui, most important in a burial site. I believe this is usually a very peaceful spot, although I have never been there when it is stormy. Families do come now to clean graves and pay their respects at the altar during the springtime Ching Ming Festival. Wildflowers still grow here among the old grave stones while the sea and the tide worn rocks lend their own beauty to the cemetery.

Members of the Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria, BC, sometimes offer tours at Harling Point. If you are planning a visit, check the Old Cemeteries website for up to date tour information.

There is a film about the cemetery and its history, From Harling Point, directed by Ling Chiu for the National Film Board of Canada in 2003. Participants in the film were Jim Wong-Chu, Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Edna Chow , David C.Y. Lai (also the historical consultant), Geraldine Peet and Paul Chan.


From Harling Point, National Film Board, Canada:

Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria, BC, Canada:


JoLyn said...

What an interesting article - and I love your photos!

Anonymous said...

I was born and raised on Harling point. I delivered The Colonist (morning paper) for years (1976-1980) I walked my dog down there for my whole childhood.
It is a beautiful place. You can alway find things (mostly garbage) on the beach there. There used to be an open sewer that literally was pointed up so it was like a fountain. Used to find condoms on the beach all the time. ( I didnt know they were condoms, thought they were balloons) That outfall has been covered up now and a pipe extending the opening farther out. There used to be a big white owl that came to the cemetery ever year, but that stopped long ago. About the fung shui... Since I knew everybody down there, I know that bad things did happen there, so its not all peaches and cream. There was a chinese man in a shack there a long time ago. He was the keeper of the bones. For a small fee, you could look at the bones. There used to be a procession done by chinese people around easter I think, They'd walk down to the cemetary with a huge roasted pig, put it on the altar and put coins and insence in the little garden on the altar.
As a kid, I thought it was used for human sacrafice.
There is a family named "Stuart" who lived across the street. Ross, Ian and Guy would know more stories, they mowed the grass there for years.