Fewer people in Regina are choosing a traditional burial with a casket and a headstone when it comes to end-of-life planning for themselves and their loved ones.
Ten years ago, 65 per cent of interments in city cemeteries were traditional and about 35 per cent were cremations, said Ray Morgan, Regina’s parks and open space manager.
“We’ve seen those trends change to where it’s pretty much the opposite,” he said.
In 2020, cemetery fees — which constitute a cost-recovery effort to fund maintenance and infrastructure — are going up by four percent.
In recent years, the city has faced an increased demand for columbarium space to inter cremated remains.
“Just to give a comparison, we would, 10 years ago, build one columbarium and it would last for about three or four years,” Morgan said. “We’re finding now we’re filling up a columbarium within a year to a year and a half.”
The city’s columbaria have from 48 to 100 cremation niches.
Jeff Christiansen, vice-president of operations at Speers Funeral Chapel and Cremation Services in Regina, said the rising cost of cemetery space is likely a factor in people’s decision-making, but he doesn’t think it’s what’s driving the shift away from traditional burials.
Saskatchewan’s population, still very much rural, is becoming more urban and in urban centres, whether because of space and price or not, people do tend to lean toward cremation,” Christiansen said.
“People tend to choose what other people choose, what seems to be an acceptable option to them.”
Ultimately, Christiansen said cremation is a more flexible option in terms of what happens to the remains — which can be interred, displayed or scattered — and when and where a memorial is held.
Families are geographically spread out and not all members can’t gather right away to celebrate a loved one’s life, he said.
“Cremation gives them the opportunity to go ahead and care for the body of their loved one, but perhaps have a service later on when everyone can still be there,” he said.
The trend has given Christiansen cause for concern, though, as people are starting to forego having a service at all.
“That gathering that you have to honour the life of a person, to give thanks for their life, to celebrate their accomplishments, to acknowledge what they meant to you, that’s a very important part of the journey of your grief,” Christiansen said.
People appear to be veering from the constructs of religion, he noted which have typically played a role when it comes to end-of-life planning.
“There are some things happening in terms of a shift in the way people’s sense of spirituality and of their bigger connection to the larger world, however, someone might conceive that — changing,” Christiansen said. “People are trying to reshape the way they make sense of what many would say is one of the most significant human experiences, the loss of someone you care about.”
Adapting to these social changes when it comes to the development of Regina’s cemeteries has been a challenge at times, Morgan said.
“It’s certainly a quicker change than we’ve expected, but we’re meeting that challenge and we’re getting the infrastructure in place,” he said.
The city, which currently facilitates the scattering of ashes, is looking into other green burial options for 2021, including placing ashes with a tree seedling.
“We want to make sure we’ve got all the information we can before we start developing new areas in the cemetery,” Morgan said.
The city has cemetery space for 75 more years worth of interments.
“Seventy-five years is a ways to go. Trends could change in another 25 years,” Morgan said. “We’re just developing small sections at a time.”