Lucy Sanders’ bench
By Danda Humphreys
Lucy Sanders' bench in Pioneer Square
Nestled in the shadow of Christ Church Cathedral on Quadra Street, a sandstone bench commemorates a woman who was born on a different continent, thousands of miles away. The bench stands in Pioneer Square—formerly the Old Quadra Street Burying Ground—and the woman’s name was Lucy Sanders.
Lucy was born in South Africa in 1875. While the new baby played in her Port Alfred home, a faraway city called Victoria was entering her teens. Little did Lucy know that her own name would eventually live on in this very special place.
Victoria, settled as the site of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s northern headquarters in the early 1840s, had changed a great deal since those early days. A gold rush on the BC mainland had triggered the fort’s demise, as fortune-seekers and businessmen turned the former fur-trading post into a commercial centre. Incorporated as a city in 1862, it was growing by leaps and bounds.
And over in Port Alfred, South Africa, little Lucy was growing too.
The Boer War was in full swing when Lucy met and married a young English lawyer by the name of Harry Sanders. Three children were born, and in 1911, Harold and Lucy settled their family in Ontario.
The multi-talented Lucy was an outstanding musician, a gifted organist, and an inspired writer. Her only daughter, Dora, became a writer too. She married Jim Carney, a journalist she met in Shanghai in the 1930s.
At the time of the invasion of Shanghai, the Carneys had twins, a girl and a boy. During a brief amnesty, called by the invaders to enable evacuation of the children of foreigners, the Carney toddlers escaped by being passed from hand to hand across rows of Whampoo River sampans, to a British destroyer waiting to carry them to safety.
By 1944, while World War Two still raged far away, three generations of the family had managed to reunite in Victoria. Lucy loved it here because it reminded her of the South African coastline. She and Harold also bought property on Galiano Island.
Dora’s daughter entered politics. She became a senator and a cabinet minister, and had a reputation for being a “toe-to-toe fighter” in the political arena. Her name? Pat Carney. It was she and her twin brother who were handed across the sampans to safety during that long-ago military invasion.
Lucy Sanders died on Galiano Island in 1947. Always practical, she left clear instructions about her own dispatch. No burial; she wanted, she said, to be cremated. No flowers; the money should be spent on food for people in Britain, who were still suffering post-war shortages. And no tombstone; instead, a seat should be placed where the tired and elderly could stop and rest.
That’s why the sandstone bench comes as an unexpected surprise, near the Helmcken family tomb in Pioneer Square. Victoria’ first official burying ground, established in 1855, was superceded by the much larger Ross Bay Cemetery in 1873, and had long since been turned into a public park by the time Lucy died.
Her ashes are not buried beneath the bench that bears her name. It serves, instead, as a reminder—of the one thousand people who were buried at Pioneer Square. And of the thoughtfulness of a lady named Lucy Sanders.
Danda Humphreys first told Lucy’s story in a booklet called Favourite Stories from Lantern Tours in the Old Burying Ground, published by the Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria in 1998. www.dandahumphreys.com.
This story was published in the September 2006 edition of Focus Magzine.