Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point National Historic Site of Canada

Oak Bay, British Columbia
General view of the Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point National Historic Site of Canada, 2000. (© Parks Canada Agency/Agence Parcs Canada, 2000.)
General view
(© Parks Canada Agency/Agence Parcs Canada, 2000.)
Address : Crescent Rd. & Penzance St., Oak Bay, British Columbia

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1994-11-24
  • 1903 to 1961 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Mass burial of 849 Chinese pioneers, November 1961  (Event)
  • Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association  (Organization)
Other Name(s):
  • Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point  (Designation Name)
  • Chinese Cemetery  (Plaque name)
Research Report Number: 1995-18, OB3, AM2


Existing plaque:  Crescent Rd. & Penzance St., Oak Bay, British Columbia

This place, chosen by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in 1903 for its harmonized elements of Nature expressing the principles of "feng shui", is a significant legacy of the first Canadians of Chinese origin. Traditionally it was a sanctuary of temporary repose before final interment in China, a pattern which reflected the early aspirations of these immigrants to return to their homeland. After the Sino-Japanese war broke out in 1937, it was no longer possible to ship remains back to China. In 1961, bones from across Canada, were finally laid to rest here.

Description of Historic Place

The Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point National Historic Site of Canada occupies a 3.5 acre site that gently slopes in a south-westerly direction to the shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The burial area is an open grass-covered field containing tightly-spaced rows of individual graves, most of which run parallel to the waterfront, and 13 mass graves. Three hundred of the graves are marked by head stones, while two incinerator towers and an altar platform serve as visual and ceremonial focal points within the cemetery. The absence of landscape features such as trees, ornamental shrubs and lanes or pathways running in straight lines respect the feng shui principles which are central to traditional Chinese spiritual beliefs. The designation refers to the cemetery landscape with its funerary structures and grave markers.

Heritage Value

The Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point was designated a national historic site of Canada because: it is a significant cemetery landscape in Canada associated with a distinctive cultural group. The cemetery retains the largest concentration of pre-1950 Chinese mortuary features in Canada; its landscape features, and the orientation of the graves, incinerator towers and altar, clearly demonstrate the application of feng shui principles in order to attain a harmonious balance with the natural environment and thereby attain harmony in the afterlife; and its 13 mass burial sites serve as memorials to the pioneering Chinese-Canadians who settled in Canada before 1923, a group whose values were shaped by their associations with pre-revolutionary Chinese culture.

The cemetery was established in 1903 by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association which continues to own and maintain the site. It remained in active use for private burials until 1950 and was formally closed in 1961 with the interment of the remains of 849 Chinese pioneers whose return to China had been blocked since 1937. At that time the cemetery became a memorial site in honour of Chinese-Canadian pioneers.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1995.

Character-Defining Elements

The key elements relating to the heritage value and the inherent feng shui qualities of this site include: the south-west orientation of the burial area, its sheltered location protected from unfavourable winds from the north, east and west by natural promontories; the unobstructed views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains; the central placement and south-west orientation of the altar and incinerator towers and similar orientation of most grave rows; the curving, irregular route of the informal passageway which respects the feng shui belief that straight lines should be avoided and that roadways should never point directly at gravesites; the twin incinerator towers and alter in their form and materials; 13 memorial stones indicating the location of mass burial sites containing the remains of 849 Chinese sojourners; the 300 headstones in their placement, form, materials and designs; the grass surfaces and absence of trees or shrubbery; the natural rock outcropping at the eastern end of the site.