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Sunday, October 30, 2011


Mountain View Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Vancouver, in operation since 1887.  It covers 106 acres, home to 92,000 graves and 145,000 interred remains.  The cemetery is located in what was once farmland, in the area of Fraser Street between 31st and 43rd Ave.  Buried beneath the ground here are everyone from war heroes to sea disaster and slide victims and victims of the worst transit accident in BC when a transit streetcar crashed in 1909 killing 15 people.  There are wealthy people interred here as well as those who met their ends through violent or tragic means.

The wealthy include Henry O. Bell-Irving, a cannery owner and Yip Sang, a Chinese businessman.  But there are also grave of well known athletes:  Joe Fortes, a popular African/Canadian lifeguard and Harry Jerome, an Olympic runner.  The mother of poet Robert W. Service, Sarah Emily Service, is buried here along with murder victim Janet Smith, age 22, aka "The Scottish Nightingale". Her murder in 1924 was known as "The notorious Janet Smith Case" 

Burials are often grouped together according to religion or nationality or organization affiliations.  Other groups are paupers, and war vets including Canadian military graves.

On Saturday, Oct 29,  "All Souls Day",  the cemetery was open for visitors during the night.  Candles lit up the pathways and shrines were set up with candles and incense to honor the dead.  There was choir music,  the Carnival band, and music by a Asian musicians playing instruments made of bamboo.

It wasn't at all spooky wandering the candle-lit pathways.  Occasionally there was a pyre burning in a cauldron or a piece of timber.  There were adults and children, many of them visiting specific grave sites.  My friends and I wandered the labyrinth of tombstones and pathways, stopping now and then to light candles and read the inscriptions left on the shrines. 

It was a tasteful and nostalgic way of celebrating the Hallowe'en weekend.  Inside the cemetery office building tables were set up where you could make your own votive candles with materials supplied including flowers. 

I thought of my many friends and family members who have passed, several of them just this year.  It was a good way to remember and honor their memory.  I've been on the Ghost Tours of Vancouver bus trips which also stop at this cemetery and focus on the more sinister side of the graveyard sharing gruesome tales of old murders and accidents.  But wandering the tombstones by candlelight, listening to music, lighting votive offerings, seemed a much more meaningful way to celebrate the Hallowe'en weekend.

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