More bodies in single graves among sustainability solutions for Vancouver cemetery

A man walks through Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vancouver’s only cemetery could see its grave sites become more crowded in an effort to increase space and become more environmentally friendly.

City council approved bylaw amendments for Mountain View Cemetery this week that would allow strangers to share graves, including permitting three or more bodies in a single site.

The amendments also introduce a green burial option and would allow tombstones to be replaced by alternative, non-permanent markers made of wood or other sustainable materials.

A cemetery committee will still need to establish the expanded options, which the council approval gives them the freedom to do.

Mountain View has been operated by the city since 1887, and sale of new burial space in the 42-hectare site was shut down in 1986 due to a lack of remaining vacancy.

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After staff explored the possibility of re-opening the cemetery in the late 1990s, council approved redevelopment to begin once again, and the sale of interment space reopened in 2008.

Traditionally, the cemetery has sold sites as two-dimensional, four-by-eight foot spaces to a single person or family.

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Under the amendments, which take effect Jan. 1, 2020, partial rights can be acquired by another person or family — forcing the cemetery to think of the spaces as three-dimensional.

That decision would be made with permission from the family member in charge of overseeing the site, allowing them to license space as they see fit.

The changes also update a previous bylaw that allowed two caskets in the grave site within a 40-year period. Now, the cemetery will be allowed to determine ways to add more remains to spaces within a shorter time frame.

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Many cemeteries require people to be buried in a coffin or casket, and with concrete liners to prevent the ground from sinking above as the body decomposes.

While Mountain View has already done away with requiring concrete liners, the amendments will allow the committee to consider eliminating coffins or caskets altogether, replacing them with more sustainable options like shrouds.

Replacing traditional concrete headstones with wooden markers or native plants is also being considered, allowing the markers to return to the earth along with the body.

The cemetery stopped using herbicides and pesticides decades ago and doesn’t irrigate its lawns.

Cemetery staff say cemeteries in Europe that are thousands of years old have been long been reusing graves because of limited space and the same issue is now becoming a factor for many cemeteries in North America.

With files from the Canadian Press

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