Candlelight tradition preserves history

Esquimalt's God’s Acre ceremony reaches back to the 1860s

To say people are dying to get into Greater Victoria’s Veterans Cemetery is only a slight exaggeration.

The one-hectare military burial ground, a fenced-off oasis couched between the 12th and 17th holes of Gorge Vale Golf Course – known affectionately as God’s Acre, is down to its final 25 spots.

Bob Haldane, organizing committee chair for the annual God’s Acre Candlelight Tribute, says the families of deceased veterans must apply post-mortem to Veterans Affairs Canada for placement of their loved ones’ remains into the Esquimalt cemetery.

An old family friend considered a father figure by Haldane, a navy veteran himself, was buried at God’s Acre some years ago.

“If I had my way, when I go I’d be right there next to him,” he said. “But it’s not that easy. You can’t just reserve a spot.”

The cemetery celebrates its 145th anniversary next Thursday (May 30) with the annual candlelight vigil. The theme is a remembrance of those who gave their lives in the First World War, which ended 95 years ago.

God’s Acre contains the remains of more than 1,000 First World War veterans. The most recent addition came last fall when the remains of Gordon Marwick, a Canadian veteran of the battle at Vimy Ridge who passed away in the U.S. a handful of years earlier, were placed in a marked grave.

The cemetery originated in 1868, when Royal Navy Rear-Admiral George Fowler Hastings bought an acre of land from the Puget Sound Agricultural Company for $250 as a burial ground for Royal Navy officers and sailors. It was later expanded and in 1947, after decades of separated use by the Canadian navy and army, the two sections were combined as Veterans Cemetery.

The non-denominational chapel onsite, built in 1868, is a National Historic Place. It continues to be used today for special services.

Haldane says it’s important that young people attend and participate in the ceremony.

“We like to get the youth involved so they never ever forget how their freedom (was preserved).”