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B.C. city ponders allowing natural burials in cemetery

Nelson city council has asked its staff to examine an existing bylaw
The possibility of natural burials and green burials are the subjects of discussions at Nelson City Council. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Natural burials could take place at the Nelson cemetery within months if city staff and council decide it is allowed under an existing bylaw.

The difference between a natural burial and a green burial was central to council’s discussion at their July 11 meeting.

A natural burial means no embalming, with the body placed directly into the earth in a biodegradable container or shroud. No traditional casket or grave liner is used.

Green burial is a larger process that includes a natural burial, plus planting the area with native trees, shrubs and ground cover, and integrating the area with the local ecosystem.

Green burials would involve design changes in part of the cemetery and perhaps new bylaws. Natural burials could arguably be done now, depending on how the Memorial Park Cemetery Bylaw is interpreted.

The original intent of the council discussion was to create a new plan for Nelson’s parks and cemeteries that could include re-designing the cemetery land to include green burials. This planning process would be included in the budget development process for 2024 and would deal with various parks in the city, of which the cemetery is one.

But Councillor Rik Logtenberg steered the conversation in a different direction by pointing out that natural burials (as opposed to green burials) could be done now, legally, in the Nelson cemetery.

He said the Memorial Park Cemetery Bylaw, passed in 2015, does not prohibit anyone from burying a person with just a shroud and no casket. Logtenberg proposed that council vote on a resolution to emphasize that this is allowed.

Councillor Keith Page said this is Logtenberg’s interpretation of an ambiguously worded bylaw and that the question should be sent back to management staff to examine the language, to determine whether the bylaw does in fact allow natural burials. Page said one of his issues was the bylaw’s definition of “interment.”

The bylaw defines “interment” as “the act of burying a casket or cremated remains in a grave.” The bylaw does not define “casket” and it does not explicitly allow or disallow burial without a casket.

Council eventually decided to send the question back to management staff to examine its wording and decide whether natural burials may take place within the current bylaw or whether it requires changes. This is expected to come back to council at its next regular meeting.

Staff were also asked to ensure that any potential changes to the bylaw do not contradict any provincial legislation.

Council also passed a motion to create a Parks and Cemetery Master Plan in 2024. The cost of this will be brought forward in the budget process for next year.

The Nelson End of Life Society has been advocating for green burials in the city for several years. The group says the current choices of cremation or traditional burial are not environmentally friendly. Cremation consumes huge amounts of energy for each body and adds many toxic chemicals to the atmosphere, and traditional burials often add embalming fluid, steel and concrete to the earth.

About a dozen cemeteries in B.C. are set up for green burials.


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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