With burial plots at a premium, Gabriola Island residents seek a new graveyard, which they hope to maintain sustainably.
Space is running out at the current cemetery on South Road and there are geotechnical issues there, with land eroding into the ocean. Mary Holdgrafer, Gabriola Green Burial Exploratory Committee co-chairperson, said the volunteer group began examining the pursuit of a new site in December 2020.
She describes green burial as involving no embalming or chemical manipulation, with bodies placed in wooden coffins with no “finishes, nails or glues,” or woven baskets or shrouds.
“The cemetery here on Gabriola is rapidly reaching its capacity and it’s also on unstable ground,” said Holdgrafer. “Some of the oldest graves are slipping into the ocean basically … although there’s lots of space for ashes to be buried, there are very few spaces left for full-body burials.”
Jared Hooper, Gabriola Cemetery Commission board chairperson, echoed Holdgrafer’s sentiments, stating the cemetery has 20 spots left for full-body burials.
He said he’s been looking after the cemetery for 12 years and in that time there have been 14 full-body burials and about 60 cremation burials. He added that full-body “green” burials are becoming more commonplace.
“An issue with them of course, the space that it takes to bury a full body,” Hooper said. “It can put about eight cremation plots in it and space is kind of hard to come by.”
Holdgrafer said the exploratory committee has held preliminary discussions with Regional District of Nanaimo, including a presentation to the parks and open space advisory committee in the fall.
There are several pieces of land the committee is eyeing, said Holdgrafer and it is unanimous in committing to conserve the land and make it accessible for the community.
“One of our values is to make death a part of life and it depends on where the land is, how that would work out,” said Holdgrafer. “If it was land within the middle of the village, then we could have benches and picnic tables and encourage people to come and have their lunch there. If it’s farther afield, then that won’t work, so we don’t know what that would look like yet … In a green burial format, often what there is is some sort of a gathering place and and so we would envision being able to welcome the community to use that in some way.”
She said the exploratory committee has gauged interest from Gabriola residents informally, with “very positive” response and she anticipates there will be public information sessions in the fall.
The RDN board approved a motion at its Jan. 25 meeting, directing staff to continue work with the committee and Vanessa Craig, RDN Gabriola Island area director, said the regional district doesn’t manage cemeteries. It is early in the process and there is “a lot to figure out,” she said.
“The idea of a green burial cemetery does seem to appeal to part of the approach that Island residents might be interested in,” said Craig.
To find out more, search for Gabriola Green Burial Exploratory Committee on Facebook, go to www.islandfutures.ca/green-burial, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.