Description of Historic Place
Pioneer Square occupies a rectangular site on the edge of downtown Victoria, situated to the north of Christ Church Cathedral, with frontages on Quadra Street, Rockland Avenue and Meares Street. The site contains at least 1,300 interments, marked by a number of surviving gravestones and bench tombs. Since 1908, Pioneer Square has been a City of Victoria park, and retains its formal Edwardian-era layout with diagonal paths and a central circular focus, grassed flat terrain and mature trees and plantings. There are also a number of other, later memorials located within the park setting.
Pioneer Square is valued as the most significant colonial-era cemetery in British Columbia and is inextricably linked with the pioneer community of Victoria. It was established as a burying ground in 1855 following the closure of the Fort Victoria Graveyard. Between 1855 and 1873, Pioneer Square was Victoria's primary cemetery. It contains some of the province's oldest carved headstones and embodies a collective memory of British Columbia's colonial era. Many of the province's earliest and most prominent settlers are interred here, including: James Murray Yale (1796-1871), Hudson's Bay Company Chief Trader; David Cameron (1804-1872), first Chief Justice of the Colony of Vancouver Island and his wife Cecilia, sister of Governor James Douglas; John Work (1792-1861), Hudson's Bay Company chief factor; and Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken (1824-1920), his wife Cecilia and their three infant children.
This burying ground is a direct link to the formative years of the City, at the time of its evolution from a Hudson's Bay Company outpost to the second incorporated city in western Canada, and illustrates the importance of the Wakefield System at the time of colonial settlement. The town site that the Hudson's Bay Company laid out around the fort starting in 1852 was based on the philosophical and social precepts of Edward Gibbon Wakefield's theory of colonization. This provided a controlled system of land development, by providing reserves of land for public use including schools, churches, hospitals and parks that was the template for the ultimate development of Victoria's urban structure. Pioneer Square is located within the original Church Reserve, an integral component of the city's infrastructure and a reflection of Wakefield's ideals of an ordered, properly-organized society.
Pioneer Square is additionally significant as a symbol of Victoria's multicultural origins and as a physical testament to the pioneering spirit of the early community of Victoria. A wide variety of people were interred at the cemetery including different ethnic, secular and religious groups, and many community members who reflect the history, development, heroics and tragedies of Victoria, with local, provincial and national associations. The cemetery initially had designated sections for Anglicans, Catholics and Royal Navy personnel, but as the city's population diversified so did the cemetery. The influx of settlers from the 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush resulted in the allocation of space to the Chinese community in the northeast section of the cemetery. Situated adjacent to the Chinese section was a designated area for Kanakas (Hawaiians). Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists and Congregationalists were also accommodated. The cemetery also had direct ties to local military history and the southwest corner was the location of naval interments and memorials. Since its closure as a cemetery, Pioneer Square continues to be used as an active place of commemoration.
Pioneer Square is also significant for its continuity as a designed landscape, first as a Victorian-era burying ground and for over a century as a City park. Its original rambling, picturesque character reflected the 19th century aesthetics of death and memorialization. With the opening of Ross Bay Cemetery in 1873, the Quadra Street Burying Ground was officially closed, and ultimately neglected. In 1908, the provincial government issued a Crown Grant for the cemetery to the City of Victoria. The undergrowth was cleared and most of the monuments were removed. Typical of park design of the Edwardian era, meandering diagonal paths and a central circle originally intended for a fountain were installed. Tombstones, curbing and grave fences were removed, with some installed in a new grouping to the east side. Today, historic Pioneer Square continues to function as one of the only urban green spaces near downtown Victoria.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of Pioneer Square include its:
- location on the edge of downtown Victoria adjacent to Christ Church Cathedral, with frontages on Quadra Street, Rockland Avenue and Meares Street
- continuous use as a designed landscape since 1855, first as a Victorian-era cemetery then as a Edwardian-era park, with open spatial qualities and diagonal paths with a central circular focus
- associated use of the space as a park for reflection and relaxation for over a century
- earliest areas in the cemetery including the Anglican section, the Catholic section, the Chinese section and the Naval Corner
- existing monuments including the Carroll and Pritchard monuments and the Sutlej Memorial, which represent outstanding examples of Late Victoria funerary and commemorative architecture
- unique memorial elements such as burial vaults and bench tombs, which are the only remaining examples on the west coast of Canada
- variety of headstone styles such as shouldered and screen headstones, and flat plaque markers
- variety of headstone materials such as carved granite, cement and sandstone
- variety of gravestone symbols such as epitaphs, religious or animal symbolism, body symbolism, and connections to fraternal and social organizations
- military memorials and later historical commemoration, including Naval Corner and the Canadian Scottish Regimental Cenotaph
- associated landscape features such as grassed terrain and many mature trees and plantings