British Columbia·Photos

4 fascinating facts hidden in Burnaby's Chinese graves

Historian Maurice Guibord leads a walking tour at Ocean View Burial Park to highlight the history and struggles of Metro Vancouver's Chinese community.

Historian Maurice Guibord leads a walking tour at Ocean View Burial Park highlighting Chinese history

Maurice Guibord leads walking tours at the Oceanview Cemetery in Burnaby. (Margaret Gallager/CBC)

Cemeteries can tell us a lot about our communities — they're the physical record books of citizens passed, their names often etched forever in tombstone.

And according to historian Maurice Guibord, they have a lot to tell us about our cultural history — for better, and for worse.

Guibord leads walking tours at the Ocean View Burial Park in Burnaby. The tours explore the presence of Chinese graves, highlighting the struggles the community has endured over the last century.

CBC's Margaret Gallagher joined Guibord on a tour, and took away four fascinating facts that you might not have known about one of Burnaby's largest cemeteries.

The interior of Oceanview Cemetery's Chinese mausoleum. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

​1. It was segregated until the 1970s

Like many graveyards throughout the Lower Mainland, Ocean View Burial Ground — which opened in 1919 — was segregated for many decades, according to Guibord.

"The Willow section (was a) segregated section as of 1929 — for anyone who was non-white," said Guibard.

The section is located far away from the cemetery's entrance, and was nicknamed "Mongolia" during times of segregation — a title that Guibard says is reflective of widespread racial attitudes at the time.

Segregated cemeteries were also present in Vancouver in New Westminster until the 1970s, said Guibord.

Much like the Willow section, the Superior - Alberta section was also a segregated space of Chinese graves. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

​2. The first Chinese man born in Canada is buried there

The Willow section is also the home of Alexander Cumyow — the first Canandian-born Chinese man on record, according to Guibord.

"He never went to China. and he was so involved in the white community. He was a translator in the court in Vancouver, and he did not live in Chinatown."

"It's amazing that in life, he was part of the white community, but in death — it brought him here."

Cumyow was born in 1861 and died in 1955. He is buried next to his wife, Eva Chan Cumyow.​

The gravestones for Alexander Won Cumyow, the first Chinese person born in Canada, and his wife Eva Chan Cumyow. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

​3. It has a mausoleum built specifically for the Chinese community

Guibord says that in the first half of the 20th century, many Chinese chose to have their cremated remains sent to mainland China to be dispersed with their ancestors in their villages of origin.

But when Mao Zedong rose to power in 1949, he no longer allowed the practice.

The cemetery responded by constructing a new mausoleum for Chinese families, meant to keep the remains of families and ancestors close together.

Inside the mausoleum, three gods welcome and guide the dead. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

4. It was one of the first permanent cemeteries for local Chinese

According to Guibord, Ocean View was one of the first grave sites in the lower mainland where Chinese remains were no longer disinterred.

Chinese citizens bought their plots at Ocean View, as opposed to other local cemeteries where graves could only be reserved for several years.

"It was first time the Chinese were saying 'I am not a sojourner, I am now a resident,'" said Guibord.

Guibord's next walking tour is Saturday, November 5th at 10:00 a.m. at Ocean View Burial Ground.

With files from CBC's The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Chinese graveyard tells the story of community's history