Early Chinese Cemeteries in Victoria, British Columbia

General view of the Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 2000.

For the Week of Monday, May 30, 2021.

On May 30, 1902, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association decided to sell land they owned on Christmas Hill, near Victoria, British Colombia, and search for a new location to build a cemetery.

Economic opportunities had attracted thousands of people of Chinese descent to British Columbia by the late 19th century. By 1886, more than 3,000 were living in Victoria—the largest Chinese community in Canada. Their labour was welcomed by some but resented by others. Anti-Chinese sentiment resulted in many attempts by the City of Victoria and the province of British Colombia to exclude Chinese workers from employment on public works and to impose specific taxes on them. This culminated with the passage of the federal Chinese Immigration Act in 1885, which imposed a tax of $50 on every Chinese person seeking entry to Canada—a figure that later rose to $500. 

The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) was founded in 1884 to provide charitable aid in support of the most vulnerable, especially the unemployed, impoverished, elderly, and socially isolated, and to represent the interests of the community in Canada prior to the establishment of the Chinese Consulate at Ottawa in 1908. The CCBA protested discriminatory laws in direct petitions to the Chinese Ambassador to England and the Chinese Foreign Minister, and pursued legal action when required. At the local level, the CCBA also helped provide for the needs of the community. Partly in response to the segregation of Chinese children in public schools, it established the Chinese Public School in Victoria in 1909. 

The CCBA established the first Chinese cemetery in Victoria. In the late 19th century, the only available option was burial at Ross Bay Cemetery, which segregated people of Chinese descent to plots in lower areas that flooded during storms and provided little privacy for culturally significant practices, such as making offerings at tombs during Qingming and burning paper money, the latter being seen as a fire hazard and thus controversial by non-Chinese. In 1891, the CCBA purchased land on Christmas Hill overlooking Swan Lake, with plans for a Chinese cemetery. Local opposition prevented this use, so the CCBA decided to sell the land in 1902 and search for a new location, eventually settling on a 3.5-acre ocean-front lot at Harling Point. The burial ground is on a flat site below the south-westerly flank of Gonzales Hill, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The location respects the feng shui principles central to traditional Chinese spiritual beliefs. 

The Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point is a designated national historic site. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of National Historic Sites, which can include a wide range of historic places such as gardens, cemeteries, complexes of buildings and cultural landscapes. 

The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Information on how to participate in this process is available here: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/ncp-pcn

 

May is Asian Heritage Month. Learn more about Asian Canadian histories by exploring articles in our online archives about the Early Chinese Cemeteries in Victoria, British Columbia, Vietnamese immigration to Canada after 1978, and The Abbotsford Gur Sikh Temple.