By Chris Drost
At the recent Highlands East council meeting on Nov. 9, the decision was made to defer a decision on including winter burials in the green burial portion of the proposed cemetery bylaw. Instead, council requested presentations from the Haliburton Highlands Green Burial Society (HHGBS) and Cemecare, a burial vault and cemetery management organization, to obtain answers to their questions so the decision they make will be an informed one. This meeting has since been set for Dec. 14.
The HHGBS is a newly created organization, establishing its first board of directors in January of 2020. It emerged initially through an Environment Haliburton (EH!) project that honored the environmental legacy of Kyle Moore, an EH! member who passed away in 2019 at the tender age of 36. This group began collecting donations with the goal of establishing year-round green burial options in Haliburton County. According to the HHGBS website, approximately $5,000 has been raised to-date by 65 individual donors.
EH! created a working group with a recruitment of nine individuals to develop and plan to carry out year-round green burials across the four townships in Haliburton County. Eventually, the working group became a separate entity in Nov. 2019, HHGBS, and the first board of directors was appointed in Jan. 2020.
In February 2020, HHGBS presented a workshop on winter green burials for all municipalities that would like to participate. “We tried to answer all the practical questions,” says HHGBS president, Terry Moore. In Highlands East, green burials have already been approved but the question of winter green burials still has to be settled. “The practical solutions are all there. This will give an option for families. Not everybody was able to attend the workshop so this is why council has questions,” explains Moore.
Green burial societies have become more widespread in recent years. There is a Green Burial Society of Canada, the Natural Burial Association (Ontario) and a number of regional organizations across the country in Ottawa, the Cariboo and Burlington. Green burial societies can also be found in the U.S. and the U.K.
In Canada, the most common funeral practice is cremation. According to Statistics Canada, the rate of cremation grew from 47.7 per cent in 2000 to 73.1 per cent in 2020. Canada has laws about how remains are handled after death. In the case of a person dying of a communicable disease, like rabies for example, the body must be immediately sealed in a steel casket or container without embalming taking place. There are provincial licenses required for embalmers. Although embalming is not legally required in Canada, some provinces that require it if the burial will not take place within 72 hours.
According to the Green Burial Society of Canada website, www.greenburials.ca, there are five principles of a green burial.
The first principle is that there is no embalming. Instead, the body is left to decompose naturally, without the need for adding chemicals to the body. Environmentally sensitive soaps, lotions and disinfectants can still be used to make it possible for the body to be prepared for viewing prior to burial.
The second principle of green burials is called direct earth burial. This means that the body, which is not embalmed, is simply wrapped in a shroud made of natural and biodegradable fibers and placed in the grave. A casket or container made of fully biodegradable materials can alternately be used, but no liners or vaults.
Ecological restoration and conservation, is the third principle of green burials. This means protecting the environmentally sensitive area where the burial takes place. Visitation to the grave is discouraged and in certain situations, prohibited, although in some locations foot paths and benches may make visitation possible. After the grave has settled, it is typically planted with local indigenous plants. The site must never be repurposed and must be kept protected for eternity.
The fourth principle is communal memorialization, meaning individual memorials are discouraged over communal ones. The objective is to make the green burial site a kind of living memorial to the individuals interred there rather than having separate engraved memorials.
The final principle of green burials is optimization of the land the cemetery occupies. This includes keeping the infrastructure to a minimum, removing temporary roadways, and maximizing internment capacity.
When the Highlands East council has the opportunity to ask the HHGBS and Cemecare additional questions, it is expected that some of those questions will address concerns about how green winter burials could be handled in Highlands East. Logistics around snow removal, frozen ground and potential impact on other surrounding gravesites, were concerns raised already during the Nov. 9 meeting of council. According to Moore, Cemecare negotiates around winter green burials with each municipality. They require the entrance to the cemetery to be plowed, and the gravesite marked, but then they take it from there. They dig the grave and close it. There would be no impact on other existing graves.
“I am hopeful we can deal with practical issues and get this going. It is a question of putting everyone in the same room to answer all the questions,” says Moore.
Currently, the closest cemetery for winter green burials is in Roseneath, south of Peterborough, and there are about nine locations in all of Ontario.
Once the council makes its decision about the draft cemetery bylaw, it must then be sent to the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) for review. The BAO is a government delegated authority, first established in 2016, to administer the provisions of the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2002 on behalf of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. Its role is to enhance professionalism, increase consumer protection and provide an effective framework for the industry. The BOA offers a single point of contact for the bereavement sector, it inspects and licenses funeral establishments and provides service delivery and enforcement.