Red marks splashed across a historic altar and headstones may hold no malice, but the community is in an uproar over the “disgrace.”
Vandals sprayed red paint on the twin towers near the altar at the Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point, in Oak Bay. Oak Bay Police say the vandalism discovered at the national heritage site Sept. 29 doesn’t appear to be racially motivated.
“There’s absolutely no indication of that, it just appears at this point that it’s just straight graffiti; graffiti in bad taste,” said Deputy Chief Kent Thom, Oak Bay Police.
Growing up in Victoria, Charlayne Thornton-Joe was always a regular visitor to the picturesque cemetery that operated from 1903 until the early 1950s.
“They are tags. Somebody must have just gone through with red spay paint and tagged the altar and a couple of the headstones,” said Thornton-Joe, a Victoria councillor who routinely guides tours through the cemetery that includes her grandfather’s grave. “Many years ago there were some tags that were more racial in comment, this one is just as far as I can tell are just markings. Nevertheless it is considered vandalism and it is upsetting. I think it’s just somebody who thought it would be fun, they saw the surfaces ands thought they would tag them, not recognizing that it is a national heritage site and a lot of value there, not only to the Chinese community but the community at large.”
Since news broke of the damage, Thornton-Joe has heard outrage from cohorts, friends and neighbours through social media, email and in person, most calling the vandalism a “disgrace.”
“The outrage has come from the broader community. The community at large are upset about it. But it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with hate, or be racial in any way. It’s just some irresponsible, inconsiderate person,” Thornton-Joe said.
While the cemetery is private property, it’s left open for residents and tours to enjoy as well as those who still visit ancestor graves.
“It’s a lovely property. It no longer has burial there but there are those who go visit family members, and there is public access,” Thornton-Joe said. “Currently it is open to the public and it is an expectation that people will respect the historic and cultural aspect of it.”
Thornton-Joe contacted the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association which owns the property and they authorized her to organize cleanup.
“Unfortunately the difficultly is if someone tags your fence or a hydro pole or a bench you can power wash it or paint over it. This is stone that is 110 if not more years old so we have to be very careful how we remove it,” Thornton-Joe said.
The Hallmark Society will evaluate the stone and Goodbye Graffiti offered their services for cleanup.
“They require some care and attention. It will be removed and will not cause permanent damage to the altar and the markers that have been vandalized,” said Ken Johnson, president of the Hallmark Heritage Society, the oldest heritage preservation society in the Capital Regional District.
The altar and headstones are made of concrete, said Johnson, a conservator of stone and concrete.
“It’s definitely a hand process and certainly for the alter there are some other issues. Once the graffiti has been removed the Chinese Benevolent Association may want to do some conservation steps on the altar itself, it is starting to deteriorate,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to end up damaging something. Some of the monuments it looks like they have been painted themselves and we don’t want to be removing two paints.”
While Thornton-Joe hopes to have the cleanup organized by the weekend, the Oak Bay police investigation is suspended pending more information.
“We keep a log book with tags and we compare them when we get new ones and this is not similar to other tags that we’ve had,” Thom said.
Graffiti tends to ebb and flow in Oak Bay, and it hasn’t been a significant issue recently.
“It goes in bits and spurts. Once in a while we’ll have kids or even adults who are more prone to do this sort of thing. We’ve made arrests in the past where we’ve caught them,” Thom said. “We’ll get a series of these … and then it just seems to die out. We haven’t had anything like this happen in some time, not that’s been brought to our attention.”