Kamloops Chinese Cemetery
Old Chinese Cemetery
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Kamloops Chinese Cemetery is located north of Lombard Street and east of Hudson's Bay Trail in an area known as the Powers Addition, on the southwestern outskirts of downtown Kamloops. It is situated on a sloped and open grassland site with panoramic views of the Thompson River and Mount Paul. The cemetery contains marked and unmarked graves of Chinese who lived and worked in Kamloops, as well as monuments associated with traditional Chinese death ritual practices.
The Kamloops Chinese Cemetery is valued as a representation of the impact of the railway on Kamloops, and the resulting substantial Chinese population, with its strong sense of community that continues to the present day. When the Canadian Pacific Railway was built through Kamloops in the 1880s, over 17,000 Chinese workers were brought in to build the Yale-Kamloops line. At the conclusion of the project, many Chinese settled temporarily in Kamloops, increasing the Chinese population to over 400 residents by 1890. Chinese residents were given a small section west of First Avenue in the original town site for their Chinatown.
The Kamloops Chinese Cemetery is also valued as an illustration of traditional Chinese death ritual practices transplanted into the Western frontier context. Exacerbated by political turmoil in China, from approximately the 1850s to the 1910s, thousands of Chinese migrated from Guangdong, China, to frontier gold rush sites around the world. The Guangdong Chinese practiced secondary burial, a traditional custom where, after seven to ten years, bones of the deceased were disinterred by organized bone collectors, transferred to a centralized bone house and shipped back to China for reburial in family plots. To accommodate this custom, temporary Chinese burial grounds were set up in many communities; most followed a basic blueprint in their spatial arrangement and material culture. Traditional Chinese rituals associated with the choice of site (fengshui), burial of the deceased and cyclical rituals such as Qing Ming were also carried out. The Kamloops Chinese Cemetery shows clear evidence of these traditional Chinese death ritual practices. For example, in keeping with important tenets of fengshui, the cemetery is aligned on a north-south axis on a sloped site with views of the Thompson River. Evidence of disinterred plots is also visible on the landscape, and traditional funerary monuments are present, including a stone altar and a funerary burner. Non-Chinese influences can be discerned in the tombstone styles. The tradition of honouring the deceased continues to the present day with the recent addition of wooden plank grave markers and the Asian-inspired pagoda and gateway.
The Kamloops Chinese Cemetery is further valued as one of Canada’s largest and oldest intact Chinese cemeteries and as a symbol of the transition of the Kamloops Chinese community from temporary to permanent in the 1920s. The majority of early Chinese immigrants in Kamloops were there temporarily, intending to return home to their families after five to ten years. First mentioned in the Inland Sentinel in 1887, the Kamloops Chinese Cemetery was set up by the Chinese as a temporary burial place. As the Chinese were banned from burying their deceased in the Pioneer Cemetery, the Hudson’s Bay Company allowed them to select a burial site on land south of town. The site was demarcated by a wooden picket fence, and a stone altar and burner were placed at the north end of the cemetery. Graves remained unmarked until after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, when Chinese began to settle permanently in Kamloops. This change is clearly indicated by the introduction of permanent, marked tombstones, first installed in 1927. Most marked graves date from the 1930s to the 1960s. The Chinese Cemetery was closed in 1979, and the site now contains approximately 125 burial plots, over 50 of which were disinterred. In recent years, members of the Chinese community have been actively involved in restoring and rehabilitating the Chinese Cemetery as a place of community commemoration and worship, through a partnership between the City of Kamloops and the Kamloops Chinese Cemetery Heritage Society.
Source: City of Kamloops Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Kamloops Chinese Cemetery include its:
- location on sloped, rolling topography with views of the Thompson River and Mount Paul
- situation on an open plot of grass and sagebrush vegetation, north of Lombard Street and east of Hudson's Bay Trail
- original and early elements of the burial ground including interred and disinterred grave plots and cast concrete gate posts
- variety of permanent gravestone materials such as carved granite, cast concrete and ceramic tile grave markers set on a north-south axis and inscribed with the names and birthplaces of the deceased
- variety of gravestone styles, such as shouldered and domed headstones with Masonic and Chinese symbols
- variety of modern commemorative structures associated with traditional Chinese death ritual practices, such as the wooden plank grave markers, the cast concrete altar, funerary burner and memorial, wooden pagoda and Asian-inspired wooden gateway
Local Governments (BC)
Local Government Act, s.967
Theme - Category and Type
- Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
- Philosophy and Spirituality
Function - Category and Type
- Religion, Ritual and Funeral
- Mortuary Site, Cemetery or Enclosure
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Kamloops Planning Department
Cross-Reference to Collection