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Ancient Chinese ceremony at Kamloops cemetery honours ancestors

The 2015 Ching Ming event at the Kamloops Chinese ceremony. Food, incense, fake money and wine are all part of ceremony which pays respect to ones ancestors.
Image Credit: Elsie Cheung
March 27, 2016 - 11:30 AM

KAMLOOPS - The Chinese Cemetery hosts one of the most important events in the Chinese calendar — the Ching Ming Festival, in some cases translated to English as Tomb-Sweeping Day.

Elsie Cheung, president of the Kamloops Chinese Freemason Association, says this event has been going on in Kamloops for as long as anyone can remember, and likely took place soon after the first Chinese people arrived in the area. The cemetery was first recorded in 1887, and officially given to the Chinese community in 1892. Cheung says that such an important ceremony would have been part of the culture immigrants brought with them and practiced upon arrival. 

“It’s a ceremony we do every year for paying respect to the ancestors,” she says. “It’s a tradition that’s carried all around the world. It’s usually around your Easter time.”

The festival is an opportunity for those living to honour ancestors and those who came before them. At the Chinese Cemetery in Kamloops's west end, many of the people buried there are men who came to Canada in search of gold or to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 19th century.

“These aren’t my relatives, but most of them are freemasons, so that’s why we promise to pay respect to them,” Cheung says.

The Kamloops Chinese Freemason Association has been around for about 106 years, Cheung says, with its roots in the Chee Kung Tong, an organization from China. She says the English name was to help get accepted in Canada, and there's no connection to the European Freemasons.

At the local cemetery Cheung says food and fruit is placed on the altar below the slope where the graves sit. Incense is lit nearby as well. Those participating will then be poured three glasses of wine as an offering to those buried there.

Wine being offered at the 2015 Ching Ming ceremony at the Kamloops Chinese cemetery.
Wine being offered at the 2015 Ching Ming ceremony at the Kamloops Chinese cemetery.
Image Credit: Elsie Cheung

“Then we have to do the three bows, facing there,” she says, pointing to the slope covered in wooden markers. “We teach everyone to do that.”

The ceremony finishes with the burning of fake money and a book containing the names and items donated to the event. A tea reception will follow.

While the festival is a Chinese tradition, those from outside the community are welcome to join in, Cheung says.

“One year I had a church group that brought tons of little kids. Then we showed them how to do the three bows, offer the wine and share the culture,” she says. “There’s some old ladies that come over and they say ‘we remember when we were little kids. We’d come here and they’d give you 25 cents.’”

The giving of money is a common part of Chinese ceremonies, Cheung says.

This year she’d like to see the event grow.

“I’d like more people to come. We’ll show them how to offer wine and the incense,” she says. “And then we have a little snack.”

She also hopes the site will grow, with a legacy garden planned out and a community centre, if there's ever a budget for it.

This year the Chinese Cultural Association and Kamloops Chinese Freemason Association will hold their annual event on April 17, at 1 p.m., and it will be open to anyone interested.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Brendan Kergin at bkergin@infonews.ca or call 250-819-6089. To contact an editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
InfoTel News Ltd

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