I just got back from a two-and-a-half week blitz through Vancouver and surrounds. This is the third in my series about sites of genealogical interest. If you like to read them in order, see A Trip to the United Church of Canada Archives and True crime, the Wing Sang Co., and police records: A trip to the City of Vancouver Archives.
Mapping and need to know info
The first thing you should know about Ocean View Burial Park is that it is not in Vancouver, but rather just outside city limits in Burnaby, at 4000 Imperial Street. Today it’s considered “Vancouver area” but this distinction is important. Historically, Vancouver-area Chinese were discouraged from being buried inside city limits. Sadly, discriminatory practices did not end just because a person was dead.
A second important Burnaby cemetery for Chinese burials is Forest Lawn Memorial Park at 3789 Royal Oak Avenue.
Some Chinese burials were permitted at Mountain View Cemetery, 5455 Fraser Street, within Vancouver city limits, but here the history gets complicated. It’s outside the scope of this post, but the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) acquired about thirty lots (roughly 500 graves) and predominantly used them for the reburial process until the last exhumations in 1937.
Yip Sang was buried with great honours at Mountain View in 1927. By choosing Vancouver, he was setting a precedent. As a founding member of the CBA, it’s likely he could have chosen reburial but it’s a testament to his vision he chose a place where he could be honoured by generations of Canadian descendants. Nearly a century later, his family still stop by to visit.
Hours and access
Ocean View is a division of Dignity Memorial and is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There is no charge to enter or park. Driving access is off Imperial Street (north entry) or Patterson Avenue (east entry). A pedestrian-only access is at the corner of Imperial and Patterson. See the cemetery map and contact information at the link here.
Ocean View has come a long way since 1919: it now offers service in Cantonese, English, Mandarin, and Vietnamese.
Ocean View’s historic Chinese sections
Mapping and GPS-enabled smartphones
Within Ocean View, there are specific areas of interest to the Chinese genealogist. Prior to the 1970s, Chinese were buried in segregated sections; thus, it is useful to know where these sections are today. I created the below illustration which in this section I will call “the map.”
Before moving on, I would like to share current smartphone capabilities with you. I carry a new iPhone with GPS-enabled images. (This setting should be set to OFF when not needed as the unintentional amount of metadata being shared is astounding.) When I am visiting cemeteries, whether for my work or as a Find a Grave volunteer, I am mindfully using the location capabilities. Here’s an example of the kind of information a good smartphone can generate: a zoomable map of the location of the photo, in this case the Alberta section of Ocean View. To be clear, this is what is sent to Find a Grave when uploading photos from their app.
Elks (formerly Mongolia?) and Willow Sections
The Mongolia/Willow area is a segregated Chinese section. (On the map it’s at 3:00 o’clock.) Today the sections near Willow are called Elks (north) and Hope (south), therefore I reason that the section now called Elks was once called Mongolia. This is where Won Alexander Cumyow (d. 1955, age 94) and his wife Eva Chan Cumyow (d. 1939, age 68) are buried, just east of the graves of my grand-aunt Dora Chu (d. 1942, age 23) and uncle Jan Chu (d. 1942, age 17 months).
Alberta and Superior Sections
The Alberta/Superior sections are west of the large Abbey Mausoleum. I usually park at the mausoleum when I am visiting this area. On the map it’s at the top, about 12:00 o’clock. Alberta was the segregated area but as the section filled and Ocean View adopted more inclusive policies from abt. 1970s onwards, Chinese began to be buried in the neighbouring section Superior. This was the section I visited in May, 2022, methodically going up and down each row. This took about two hours to walk, pause, clear away bits of grass, and record graves of importance to my work.
I visited the graves of my great-grandparents Chu Chan Wah (d. 1948, age 69) and Joe Shee (d. 1963, age 86); and grandparents Harold Chu (d. 1994, age 77) and Leila Young Chu (d. 2013, age 96). I visited my aunt Suzanna Seto (d. 1980), buried beside her father Seto Wah Quan (d. 2020, age 92). I stopped to pay respects to the great H.Y. Louie and to Won Alexander Cumyow’s sons Clifford Won Cumyow (d. 1945, age 28), Gordon Won Cumyow (d. 1988, age 91), and Gordon’s first wife Estaire Marion Lung Cumyow (d. 1955, age 42).
In this section I also found my paternal grandfather’s half-brothers Dr. Yip Kew Ghim (d. 1968, age 66), Yip Kew Ming (d. 1971, age 67), Yip Kew Gin (d. 1990, age 92), and their families. I was surprised to see them at Ocean View but imagine the Yip family plot at Mountain View was not spacious enough by the 1960s for everyone.
I was left with this impression: while segregation is no longer a part of current cemetery policy, it has lasting effects. Generally, family want to be near family.
Ocean View online
Find obituaries for Dignity Memorial online here.
Find a Grave
According to Find a Grave, over fifty percent of Ocean View’s markers have been recorded. I would suggest that stat is skewed. In my experience, few Chinese graves are on Find a Grave. Many that are there are my work. I am sensitive to the general Chinese distaste for talking about or publicizing topics relating to death and therefore wait for a respectful period of time – months or years – before creating an online memorial.
My Find a Grave volunteer member identification number is 49493444. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss issues relating to online memorials.
As noted, Ocean View is an important cemetery for Chinese burials. Find obituaries in the Chinatown News (English), Chinese Times (Chinese), Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Province, and the British Colonist, to start.
The story behind this story
The research for this post was based on a combination of many visits to the cemetery and a remarkable essay by Maurice Conrad Guibord (see below citation). I knew Alexander and Eva Cumyow were buried near my Chu family but I didn’t understand the significance of their proximity. I now understand that they were all buried in the segregated section formerly called Mongolia/ Willow in the 1930s-40s. Alexander, who died in 1955, chose to be buried beside his wife despite his distaste for burial in a segregated area with a pejorative name.
Similarly I knew my tai guung and tai maa (Cantonese: maternal great-grandfather, great-grandmother) were not far from my tai yeh and tai poh (Cantonese: paternal great-grandfather, great-grandmother) but I didn’t realize they too were buried in a segregated section (Alberta). If I had to find one positive outcome from these discriminatory practices, I would say it’s helpful as a genealogist to know where my family are likely to be buried.
I have been visiting Ocean View for (Cantonese) Cing Ming Zit (Chinese: 清明节), aka Qingming, since I was small. Every year on the fourth day of the fourth month in the Chinese calendar, my maternal family would dress sombrely and set out for the cemeteries, first stopping at the florist’s. We would bring small gardening tools – brushes, clippers, and a trowel – to tidy the graves and dig out the ground-level vases. My grandparents would lead the way, visiting the ancestors in order of first rank and seniority, and then proximity. No questions were allowed and so it was years before I connected the names on the graves to the familiar names used within the family: tai guung, tai maa. It was often raining. I remember my wet feet in their inappropriate shoes squelching in the soft grass.
Now I observe a kind of Cing Ming Zit with every trip to Vancouver. My list of family to visit grows ever larger as my work expands. It’s impossible to see everyone each time but I do my best. If remembering equates to honouring the dead, I think I’m doing okay.
There is a lot I haven’t covered in this piece: the segregated Alder section, the reburial process, and the new Chinese-driven development post-1990. Ocean View is a large cemetery of about one hundred acres and one hundred thousand burials: it takes time and multiple visits to get oriented.
Thanks this week go to Maurice Guibord for his essay, to my family for instilling the bonds of honour and duty, and to my friends and family who have all at one point or another been asked to visit cemeteries on my behalf.
[Updated 25 Jun 2022] Thank you to reader JL for correcting my typo for Gordon’s year of decease: 1988, not 1991 as I had it.
Tzu-I Chung, “Comment: A history lesson from H.Y. Louie: kindness and charity overcome all,” Victoria Times-Colonist, 23 May 2020, [online newspaper], Times Colonist (accessed 8 Jun 2022).
Forest Lawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park, 2022, [website], Dignity Memorial, Service Corporation International (Canada), ULC, Dignity Memorial (accessed 8 Jun 2022).
Google Maps, 2022, [online mapping tool], search for Ocean View Burial Park, Burnaby, BC, Canada, Google Maps (accessed 7 Jun 2022).
Maurice Conrad Guibord, “The Evolution of Chinese Graves at Burnaby’s Ocean View Cemetery: From Stigmatized Purlieu to Political Adaptations and Cultural Identity,” 2013, [Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations], history of Chinese burials with section on Won Alexander Cumyow, Simon Fraser University SUMMIT ( accessed 8 Jun 2022).
Ocean View Burial Park, 2022, [database lookup], Find a Grave cemetery no. 2132463, Find a Grave (accessed 8 Jun 2022).
Ocean View Burial Park [map], 12 Mar 2020, [paper copy of map], Dignity Memorial.
Ocean View Funeral Home & Burial Park, 2022, [website], Dignity Memorial, Service Corporation International (Canada), ULC, Dignity Memorial Premier Collection (accessed 8 Jun 2022).
Qingming Festival, 2022, [crowd-sourced encyclopedia], last edited on 7 May 2022, at 09:43 (UTC), Wikipedia (accessed 8 Jun 2022).
Search Mountainview’s burial index, 2022, [database lookup], City of Vancouver (accessed 8 Jun 2022).
What to call your relatives in Cantonese, 26 Jan 2019, [blog], little chinese things: exploring the ins and outs of everything chinese culture (accessed 8 Jun 2022).
“Yip Sang grave stone at Mountain View Cemetery,” 1927, [database], item no. CVA 689-155 – [Yip Sang grave stone at Mountain View Cemetery], photo of Yip Sang’s headstone at Mountainview Cemetery in Vancouver, City of Vancouver Archives (accessed 8 Jun 2022).
4 thoughts on “Finding my family: Chinese graves at Ocean View Burial Park, Burnaby, BC”
Another fascinating post! How lovely you can visit so many of your forbears in their final resting places…
And after so long it’s lovely to do real life research on a warm summer evening.