Municipalities face pressure to assume cemeteries

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Clearview council has agreed to take ownership of the West Nottawasaga Church Cemetery.

The Cemetery is on the property located at 7993 33/34 Sideroad where a memorial is being constructed for West Nottawasaga Church established in 1855. The church was demolished two years ago and with the board down to one member, a new caretaker was needed.

Cemetery transfers and abandonments have been an ongoing concern for Clearview Township for many years, considering its size and the number of cemeteries.

The Township of Clearview currently owns and operates nine cemeteries, four of which are considered active.

In December, the Township of Clearview sent a request to the province through the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery and the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) that the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act be amended to name the province as the default owner and operator of a cemetery when it is abandoned.

The request also asked for annual funding (based on the number of cemeteries a municipality owns and operates) for municipalities to assist with the maintenance of inactive and active cemeteries; free training opportunities for municipalities regarding cemetery administration; and the rollout of affordable cemetery software for use by municipal cemetery operators.

“Over the last decade there appears to be a trend where cemeteries in Ontario are being transferred, whether through abandonment or a mutually agreed upon transfer, to the care and control of municipalities,” reported clerk Sasha Helmkay-Plater. “This is often seen when there is a breakdown in existing cemetery boards and/or when churches cease operations.”

She said as cemetery volunteers age, boards struggle to find new members.

Other issues contributing to the increase in cemetery transfers are: high maintenance costs; inaccuracy of records; lack of financial and human resources to effectively operate and maintain the cemetery; increased regulatory processes that require ongoing training for selling of interment rights, and the financial operation of the care and maintenance fund, etc.

The transfer of ownership includes a maintenance fund of almost $30,000, which is not enough to cover the monthly expenses, as the township hires a contractor to do maintenance and burials. Therefore the township will be updating fees before any additional plots are sold.

Jim Campbell photo: A natural cathedral takes shape at the site of the former West Nottawasaga Church. Trees were planted recently to create natural windows and a large boulder has been installed at the pulpit, the realization of a design by Rockside Campbell.

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