On a gently sloping point with sweeping views of the Olympic Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean, a ceremonial altar stands watch over the simply marked graves of hundreds of Chinese immigrants.
Many of the people buried in the Harling Point cemetery were among Canada’s first Chinese immigrants, arriving in the mid-to-late 19th century to work as cheap labor, many of them on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Approximately 400 people are buried in the cemetery, with the unmarked remains of an additional 900 located in 13 mass graves. Many were returned for reburial on their home soil, but during the mid-20th century the Second World War and Maoist revolution made it difficult to transport remains back to China.
The history of the cemetery is a chronicle of the harsh discrimination faced by Chinese people during this period. Discriminatory policies barred them from burying their dead in local cemeteries, so the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in Victoria carved out a place of its own.
The collective purchased the land at Harling Point in 1903, selecting the 3.5-acre property in accordance with the principles of Feng shui. At last, the community’s dead could be buried with dignity and in a manner that aligned with cultural traditions. The cemetery included a building locally known as “the bone house,” which served as a way station for those remains that would eventually be sent back to China. According to the Old Cemeteries Society of Canada, the bones remained in storage in Victoria until 1961, when they were interred in the 13 mass graves on the site.
After years of neglect, the cemetery was declared a National Historic Site in 1994 and restored. Its caretakers have also created a protected area for the rare native wildflowers that grow along the cemetery’s fringes.
Know Before You Go
The Chinese Cemetery is in a residential area, so parking is likely to be limited. It's an easy walk from Gonzales Beach and lies along the #3 bus route.