Stephen Olson

Stephen Olson

Royal Oak Burial Park shows there’s more to death than sadness

Annual Summer So(u)lstice event a day of celebration for community at cemetery

  • Jun. 13, 2015 10:00 a.m.

As Paula Jardine reflects on planning her father’s burial, she remembers how the offerings for a sombre affair didn’t feel quite right.

A local artist by trade, Jardine started took it upon herself to research funeral rights across the world in an attempt to create a more celebratory event for her next visit to a cemetery.

“I just thought, ‘We must bring more beauty to this,’” Jardine says.

For the past six years, that’s exactly what Jardine and her friends have been doing at the Royal Oak Burial Park in Saanich. Each June, musicians, poets, local residents and many who have loved ones buried in the park gather for Summer So(u)lstice, an afternoon event that focuses on the positive memories of life.

“Death is a difficult subject for people to talk about generally,” says Stephen Olson, executive director at the park. “There’s usually a lot of sadness around being here, and we just wanted to create a more uplifting environment for people, to let them know it’s not all about sadness and death.”

Established in 1923, the 134-acre grounds are only about half developed right now, Olson says.

“A lot of people come in and don’t realize how large and beautiful this cemetery is,” Olson says.

Music throughout the park will include Erin Onyschtschuk’s woodwind improvisations in the Woodlands along with harpist Gwyneth Evans.

Victoria-based choral group Ensemble Laude will sing in the Mausoleum at 2:15 p.m. and Vancouver’s Homegoing Brass Band will perform processional music at 1:30 p.m. and again at 3:00 p.m. to end the day.

Visitors can create unique floral tributes, messages and parchment memory flags.  Local poets will also be on site to turn visitor’s memories into poems.

“The celebration has just evolved in a really beautiful way. Everybody who has come to work on it has brought something new to it,” Jardine says.

Royal Oak Burial Park is operated and maintained by the Board of Cemetery Trustees of Greater Victoria, created on behalf of the City of Victoria and the District of Saanich.

“This is our cemetery and it’s community-owned,” Olsen says. “It was visionary of Saanich and Victoria to establish and set aside this much land for a cemetery back in 1922. We’re not facing nearly the same issues of declining space as other urban municipalities.”

Summer So(u)lstice takes place Saturday, June 20, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The event is free, suitable for all ages and is wheelchair accessible. Light refreshments will also be served.

“We just hope people come out and listen to some great music, and learn about the history of this community,” Olson says.