Kamloops Heritage Chinese Cemetery

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Overlooking the City of Kamloops, the meeting of two rivers, ties the Kamloops Chinese Cemetery on Hudson Bay Trail. This is the resting place for the early Chinese immigrants who came to Canada to work. These hard working immigrants toiled and contributed in a significant way in developing the hinterland now known as the Thompson Nicola Region.

These immigrants worked primarily in the dangerous construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. They were called to do blasting and other dangerous work with little of no training. Those who survived, settled in the Kamloops and Ashcroft area, working as vegetable gardeners, orchard workers in Fruitlands (North and placer miners. Some were fortunate enough to have a small business, like a restaurant or grocery store. Most of these early immigrants came from the Guangdong Province, China. They had to pay a head tax and were forbidden by the Canadian Immigration Act to bring in any family members, even a wife. They came as single young men (seventeen and eighteen years of age) and died as single old men.

Out of this misery, came a benevolent benefactor Mr. George Bower, a local rancher. He donated a small parcel of land at the Hudson Bay Trail road so his Chinese ranch hands would have an eternal resting place. This was neeessitated because the Chinese at that time were denied burial rights at the City cemetery. Most of the burials happened between1930 to 1960, with the last one taking place in 1976. This gentleman chose to be buried there so he could be among his Chinese friends.  The site was established as early as 1860 to 1885.


The Kamloops Chinese community recognized there was a need to expand the acreage of the site and through their continued effort, sufficient funds were raised to purchase the existing property in 1956.  On April 2, 1980 the Chinese Cemetery was handed over to Kamloops Chinese Cultural Association (KCCA).  From this day on the association took official reponsibility of looking after the cemetery.  (Minutes of the April 9, 1980)


 In a collaborative effort in 1995, the Province of Guangdong donated the two lions guarding the cemetery and Kamloops Chinese citizens paid for the shipping. On March 30. 1996, the Chinese Consulate visited the site and ceremoniously dotted " the lion eyes so they would keep awake and stand guard for all the departed souls. This has been designated as a Municipal Heritage Site.

The Kamloops Chinese community has kept up the age old tradition of observing the Ching Ming Festival. The day when we remember and pay homage to our ancestors by visiting the cemetery; so we do not forget those who have contributed so much to Canada. Participants gather annually at the cemetery and make offerings of food. incense and paper money to those who have departed this world. General cleaning of graves site sand head stones are performed at this time. This year the chosen day was March 29, 1998. Many adults and children turned out to take part in the event.

Sources: Danny Chow and Linda Wong who are long-time residents of Kamloops. They have friends and relatives buried in the Chinese Cemetery. Submitted by Kamloops Chinese Cultural Association.  




Additional Information on Kamloops Chinese Heritage Cemetery
After the obliteration of the Kamloops Chinatown (along West Victoria near the Overlander bridge), the Chinese Cemetery is the only historic landmark of the Chinese community

It is the first memorial park in Canada to commemorate pioneer Chinese railway workers of the CPR and CNR.
Most of the dead were from four districts in Southern Chinese province of Kwangtung around Canton. Most of them were born before the turn of the 19th century

The railway section between Yale and Kamloops was the most difficult and expensive. Contractors saved millions of dollars because of cheap Chinese labor. The Chinese were known as "beasts of burden" and "living machines" and were paid less than white labor. For every mile of railway, one Chinese man died. 600 Chinese laborers died while building the CPR.

Kamloops Historical Dates
1852 Gold was found 8 miles west of Kamloops at Tranquille Creek. Many Chinese arrived to work as placer miners.

1880 Main influx of Chinese in Kamloops to complete the CPR

1885 A square unmarked plot of land was given in trust to Kwon Lung a member of the Chinese community, hundreds of Chinese railway workers were buried there. The land covered an area of 0.4 acres and was situated outside the city limits

1887 First mention of the Chinese cemetery in the Kamloops newspaper due to a reporter "stumbling" on the site

1890 400 Chinese persons living in Kamloops making up 1/3 or Kamloops population

1905 Most Chinese bodies buried in the cemetery were exhumed and their bones returned to an ancestral plot in China

1920 No longer wishing it to be unmarked, cement corner posts were constructed and fenced off. Chinese immigration to BC had been cut off as well, Chinese people could not transport the bones of the dead back to China. The cemetery became a permanent burial site, not a short term rest place for Kamloops Chinese residents. Associations like the Kuomingtang and the Chee Kung Tong maintained the cemetery. Chinese Freemasons were well established in Kamloops and they helped support the well-being of the cemetery in terms of funding and ceremony

1926 Earliest marked grave

1950 The lot became too small. Bodies were stacked up to 3 deep to fit them in so the graveyard was expanded at it's southernmost end and burial continued.

1956 The Kamloops Chinese Cemetery Association (KCCA) was formed and entrusted with the responsibility to look after the cemetery.  KCCA (representing the Chinese community) is still involved with the planning and development with the City of Kamloops and the Kamloops Chinese Heritage Cemetery Society.

1971 The Chinese cemetery was registered under the Crown after the KCCA decided that the cemetery property be given to the provincial government Today the area covers 0.75 acres of which 0.5 acres are occupied by graves.

1979 Chinese cemetery was closed for any more burials. Most new generation Chinese don't want to be buried in the graveyard, leaving behind Confucian beliefs for Christian ones. The land title of the cemetery was transferred to the City of Kamloops.

1980 The Chinese Cemetery was officially handed over to KCCA - Minutes of April 9, 1980.  From now on the Association will take official responsiblity of looking after the cemetery.  A committee was struck.

1985 Proposal to designate the cemetery as a heritage site.

1996 People's Republic of China donated the stone lions.


1998:  On March 2nd, a new committee for the Kamloops Chinese cemetery was formed.  On April 6th, the
Kamloops Chinese Heritage Cemetery Society approached the Kamloops Freemasons to contribute towards the restoration and preservation of the Chinese Cemetery.  On May 24th at the Annual General Meeting of the Kamloops Chinese Cultural Association (KCCA) there was the annoucement of the formation of the Kamloops Chinese Heritage Cemetery Society and the acceptance of the KCCA proposal to "commemoration of Chinese presence" by the City of Kamloops.


On April 30, 2013, the KCCA and KCFA formed the Kamloops Chinese Heritage Cemetery Committee to replace the heritage society to help manage and update future Kamloops Chinese Heritage Cemetery projects.


On January 29, 2016, the Kamloops Chinese Cemetery was among 21 places of historical significance to the Chinese-Canadian community which was provincially recognized under the Heritage Conservation Act.  The recognition came in the wake of the Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation, Final Report and Recommendations.


In June 22, 2017, Kamloops Heritage Cemetery Committee honored Fredrick Lee who was born in Kamloops on November 19, 1895, for voluntarily enlisted with the Rocky Mountain Rangers, “Machine Gun Section” who survived in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and killed in action at the Battle of Hill 70, August 21, 1917.


Cemetery Features
Four Types of graves:
1)   Most recent and elaborate, cemented surfaces and are marked by cut upright slabs of marble, inscribed with precise calligraphy

2)   Dirt mounds that are marked with cement or brick headstones, inscriptions done in paint or chiseled out

3)   Graves in simple mounds with headstones are boards with carved or painted inscriptions

4)   Unmarked mounds that lost their wooden headstones

Feng Shui (Geomancy)
The cemetery is laid out in accordance with Feng Shui (geomancy) indicating the balance between opposing forces in nature, protected by hills on 2 sides, the graves face northward and two ravines with creeks run parallel

The former entrance to the cemetery was situated on the western property boundary and relatives had to trespass on private property before they could reach the cemetery. In June 1971 the western entrance was closed and a new entrance was built on the northern side. Today the northern entrance of the cemetery is accessible by an unpaved public road.

Lions at the gate
On both sides of the cemetary entrance is the Shih (Mandarin pron. Sher) Tsu. Lions, as they are commonly known. The function of the Shih is to represent power and to remove negative influences. In the Buddhist faith, the lion is considered a divine animal of nobleness and dignity, which can protect the Truth and keep off evils. . The Lion is the symbol of majestic strength, great courage and strength of character. They symbolize defense and protection and a pair of stone lions, a male and a female are often seen guarding entrances and gateways to buildings. The Yang side of a building's entrance is the right hand side when facing the front door. This is where the male Shih resides. He can always be discerned from the female as he has a ball under his foot, known as the 'Pearl of Wisdom' or 'Ribbon Ball', the ball signifies the moon pearl which symbolizes blessings and protection against evil, and the ball also represents the sun, which is Yang. The female, Yin Shih, is always located to the left when facing the front door. You can always tell the female as she has a baby under her foot, her left paw fondling a cub. The cub represents thriving offspring. She represents Yin. Their presence on either side of an entrance symbolises the manifestation of the perfect location.

It is interesting to note that both have a round ball in its mouth. The ball was carved out of the stone inside the mouth area of the statue--it is too large to be removed without breaking the teeth It's said to bring good luck to touch this ball.

It is good luck to twirl the ball round before you step into the temple.

It is interesting to note that China had no lions originally. It is believed that when Emperor Zhang of the Eastern Han reigned in AD 87, the King of Parthia presented a lion to him. The earliest stone lions were sculpted at the beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 AD) with the introduction of Buddhism into ancient China.

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