‘A sendoff back to nature’: Montreal cemetery offers green burials

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‘A sendoff back to nature’: Montreal cemetery offers green burials
WATCH: ‘A sendoff back to nature’: Montreal cemetery offers green burials – Aug 28, 2021

Gabriel Safdie’s only son, Jason Safdie, is buried near hockey legend Maurice Richard at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery.

The younger Safdie, who passed away at age 49 in July, was a huge fan.

“Since he was small,” said his father, taking pictures on the former Canadiens player’s grave, “since he was very small, I used to take him the the games.”

But seeing his son near the graves of other famous Montrealers, like former Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, in the Montreal section of the burial ground isn’t the only reason Gabriel is glad where his son is.

It’s Jason’s resting place that makes him smile.

His son’s ashes are fertilizing a new hackberry tree, planted as a memorial to him in a new space, next to the Montreal section, called Remembrance Grove.

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“It’s like really a sendoff back to nature which is really what it’s all about for us,” Safdie told Global News.

“We come to this earth, and then we return to the earth.”

Read more: Green burial options become more accessible in Alberta

Planting trees instead of tombstones is a new service offered by the cemetery. According to officials, it came about partly from a demand by clients who wanted something more environmentally-friendly than placing a coffin or other receptacle in the ground.

“We are creating a brand-new forest,” said Eric Choinière, the cemetery’s sales and customer service manager.  “We have one lot, for one deceased, one tree.”

He added there is space for thousands of trees in this cemetery, the biggest in Canada. Only five trees have been planted so far.

“I do think really that this is the way to live with our planet,” insisted Safdie, “because it is also ecologically a wonderful thing to do.”

Environmentalists who spoke to Global News pointed out that given the climate crisis, more people are thinking about the environmental impact of human burials — for example, the seeping of toxic embalming fluids into groundwater.

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David Fletcher, vice-president of the environmental group Green Coalition, thinks the cemetery is taking is a step in the right direction.

“The idea of using ash for the purpose they intend is really visionary,” he said.

But he thinks it falls short of what could be done, since cremation requires combustion, which creates emissions.

“In my view, we should be composting people and there’s precedence now,” he pointed out.

“Belgium seems to be moving in that direction and Washington state.”

Read more: A green death: Is human composting or natural burial for you?

Officials at the cemetery in Montreal said they have no plans for that now and pointed out that there would be public health issues to consider.

Safdie likes his son’s tree, even if it’s not being grown from his son’s composted body.

“Something about him being here in something alive,” he noted, “there’s nothing like it.”

For him, that’s monument enough.

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