May 11, 2018 8:28 am

Danielle Smith: City seems determined to close Queen’s Park Cemetery dog park

The city has put up notices outlining a plan to expand Queen's Park Cemetery into an area currently home to an off-leash dog park.

Carolyn Kury de Castillo/Global News
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My stomping grounds when I was a kid was Confederation Park and Queen’s Park Cemetery. I always rode my bike down there and hung out with my brother and our friends in both. Some kids might find cemeteries spooky  — I find them peaceful. I completely understand why people want to have a cemetery as their final resting place.

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That being said, it’s not what I want. Having my ashes planted at the base of a tree is good enough for me. Cremation is becoming so common it hadn’t occurred to me that Calgary was running out of burial space — but it appears they are. Queen’s Park Cemetery is now being eyed for expansion and residents aren’t very happy about it. More than 100 people showed up at a consultation to say they didn’t want to lose their dog park in the expansion.

MORE: Calgary dog owners slam plans to expand cemetery into off-leash park

A few things seem odd to me. One is that I think expanding cemeteries shouldn’t be the responsibility of the government. If a religious group wants to bury their dead in accordance with their traditions, maybe they should be required to buy the land to do it themselves. Second, why didn’t the city get buy-in on the plan before now?

LISTEN: Doug Marter, Manager, capital planning and infrastructure Calgary Parks

I put this proposition to Doug Marter, manager of capital planning and infrastructure with Calgary Parks. He said the Cemeteries Act makes building new burial sites a responsibility of the municipal government. I’d dispute the wisdom of that, but that’s the law they are operating under.

When he described the complexity of the process you have to go through to get the land use approved, it may be that government is the only entity with the time and money to jump through all the hoops to get it done. The city identified the need for new sites in 2006 and acquired land south of the city to develop, but it has taken over 10 years to get all the approvals lined up. It won’t be completed until 2020, and even then it won’t be enough. Maybe streamlining the process is another thing legislators need to address.

READ MORE: B.C. cemeteries, lacking land, are stacking bodies and scattering ashes in garden: architect

The upshot is Marter said they would like to have a 100-year supply to meet future demand, which to my surprise, has not actually fallen off, and this site only gives a 30-year supply. When I asked him why they would expand a site that is now inner city and has a lot of other uses bumping up against it, he said any other sites in North Calgary would take years to develop. They have the authority to change the use under their bylaws, and so that’s what they want to do.

When I asked him whether this was an ask session (soliciting input) or a tell session (letting people know what was going to happen), it became pretty clear it was the latter.

The options are:

  • close the dog park and create a new one in a fenced-off area in the playground;
  • close the dog park and tell the community to use another off-leash area close by; or
  • close part of the dog park and expand the cemetery into only a portion of the space.

You’ll note that “don’t close the dog park at all and look for another site” isn’t one of the options. I hate to say it, but that’s what makes the public so cynical about public consultations. It’s pretty clear the decision has been made, they have a preferred option, and the public feedback isn’t going to amount to much.

Is this really the only choice? Somehow I doubt it.

The consultation site is open until May 16. If you want to let council know what you think about the plan, you can give them feedback here.

I’ll be doing a follow up with the community residents to see if there are any other options they want council to consider. Stay tuned for part 2.

Danielle Smith is host of  The Danielle Smith Show on Global News Radio 770 Calgary. She can be reached at danielle@770chqr.com

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