Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mountain View Cemetery Open House - July 2009 - Vancouver BC Canada

Harpist in Mountain View Cemetery's Celebration Hall courtyard, 11 July, 2009, Vancouver BC

Today, along with other volunteers from the British Columbia Genealogical Society, I attended Mountain View Cemetery's Open House. Mountain View Cemetery is owned and operated by the City of Vancouver and opened in 1887, but many areas in the cemetery have recently been renovated or rebuilt. There is new landscaping, new columbaria and new offices and a Celebration Hall. This event offered Vancouverites and others an opportunity to see those improvements.

The weather was glorious and everyone I talked to was enjoying the music, the tours, the new cemetery facilities and the chance to meet others interested in the cemetery and its history.

Some visitors were from old Vancouver families with many relatives resting at Mountain View. Others were new to the city and wanting to get to know it better. Quite a few were Mountain View neighbours and are accustomed to walking through the cemetery regularly - as one fellow said: 'this is our marble park'. And a few were genuine taphophiles - people with a passion for enjoying and learning about cemeteries.

British Columbia Genealogical Society and Veterans Affairs Canada tables, in the Celebration Hall, Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver BC. 11 July, 2009

Inscription sandblasting exhibit, Celebration Hall, Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver BC, 11 July 2009

BCGS volunteers, Brenda Smith and Cynthia Hamilton, Celebration Hall, Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver, BC. 11 July 2009

Today the BC Genealogical Society had a table, as did Veterans Affairs Canada which has participated in several of the renewal projects for veterans' memorials at Mountain View.

We brought books and articles about BC cemeteries, including our own index of Mountain View gravestones, and we answered lots of questions about these and about family history research in general.

Our main aim today though was to interest Mountain View Cemetery visitors in joining a new 'Friends of Mountain View Cemetery' group. Many signed our contact list. We hope to encourage and support cultural programmes at the cemetery, including regular tours and the annual Night for All Souls event, for example, as well as heritage preservation and education at and about Mountain View.

I noticed that many were also interested in Veterans Affairs projects, especially the 'Valentines for Vets' project. What a great idea!

Mountain View Cemetery had a display showing how inscriptions are sandblasted and cemetery staff were on hand all day looking up burial information and grave locations - often there was a linelup for this service. I have a couple of Mountain View burial 'puzzles' myself, but I saved those for another visit.

Outside in the cemetery, Lorraine Irving, a BCGS member and long time Mountain View Cemetery researcher, and John Atkin, a Vancouver heritage guide and writer, gave group tours. These were well attended, and afterwards many came into the hall in search of further information about the 'Friends'. The City of Vancouver has a video on-line about the history of Mountain View Cemetery featuring Lorraine Irving and Glen Hodges, Mountain View's manager. As Lorraine says, a cemetery is "a museum without walls" and Mountain View certainly reflects the history of Vancouver.

Lorraine Irving is the real inspiration behind the 'Friends of Mountain View Cemetery' idea and she has plans for many different tour themes which we hope will become regular events. Right now, John Atkin has written two self guided tours - one on Vancouver's Mayors and one on the Princess Sophia sinking in 1918.

By far my own favourite among the recently renovated areas at the cemetery is the Infants section, formerly a communal grave area, which now commemorates about 10,000 stillborn or very young infants buried in the cemetery between 1914 and 1971 - most in common graves. In 2005-2006, this was landscaped with a dry stream bed - "One Stone for Every Infant..." where stones engraved with an infant's name can be placed.

This is now a very pleasing area and many today listened to music under the trees and then wandered through the paths here. Others, as you can see, took the time to place flowers on their family graves or simply sat and reflected.

Above photographs, Infants Area, Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver, BC. 11 July 2009

All in all, a very good day. I do hope that Mountain View Cemetery's Open House will become an annual summer event in Vancouver.

If you'd like to know more about the 'Friends of Mountain View Cemetery' group, please contact me at canadagenealogy at

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