Funeral director says items at cemetery have been turning people away

Funeral director Sandy Poelvoorde says people have been declining to use Campbell River's Elk Falls Cemetery because of adornments

Funeral director Sandy Poelvoorde says more and more people have been declining to use Elk Falls Cemetery because of the clutter of mementos on grave sites. But she hopes that will change as the city implements a clean-up plan to remove all the items other than flowers.

“If the city wants to start a clean-up, we’re 100 per cent behind them,” says Poelvoorde,  funeral director and owner of Boyd’s Funeral Services in Campbell River. “People in the last year have not been too keen on being interred up there (Elk Falls Cemetery) because of the state. I have had families decline to have loved ones interred up there because of the state so this is good news for us. More people have been going to the Courtenay civic cemetery than before.”

Poelvoorde says the problem with Elk Falls is the adornments people leave behind sometimes become safety hazards.

“People are putting anything from whirligigs to mason jars to candles to solar lights, which look really lovely at night,” Poelvoorde says. “Unfortunately, when the wind blows they scatter. The sun’s UV breaks down the plastics and they become hard, jagged pieces, and hooks from the solar lights – when they fall down, they become a tripping hazard. In the summer, some of the glass jars with candles become lovely glass prisms and you’ve got dry, dry conditions and they become a fire hazard. It’s just little things people don’t think about and that they shouldn’t be thinking about; they should be thinking about their loved one.”

But some of the objects are particularly difficult to navigate around when it snows and Poelvoorde says during burials it can add to an already stressful situation.

The adornments also present challenges for the cemetery maintenance crews which are contracted out by the city.

“You can’t mow over hunks of plastic, you can’t mow over glass and you can’t mow over whirligigs,” Poelvoorde says.

Ross Milnthorp, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, says the city has always had a bylaw in place to protect the public from potential safety hazards created by such adornments, but the city has not been enforcing the bylaw.

Recent complaints and concerns from cemetery staff, funeral directors, and even cemetery plot owners prompted the city to begin a nine-month phased approach to removing the adornments, starting October 1.

“We recognize that people want to show respect and love for those interred in the cemetery, and that they have strong attachment to the grave adornments,” Milnthorp says. “Staff will make changes with caring and sensitivity and a nine-month grace period will be in place for people to remove existing grave adornments that do not comply with the bylaw.”

Any mementos not removed by plot owners as of July 1, 2014 will be removed by city staff, tagged and stored at the Dogwood Operations Centre for up to one year to be claimed by family members.

Objects no longer allowed at grave sites include: ceramics, statues, lanterns, mason jars, candles, fences, glass, benches or rocks. Loved ones will also no longer be able to plant trees, shrubs, plants, flowers or bulbs in the cemetery. Fresh flowers are allowed from March to November and artificial flowers are only permitted from November to March.

Poelvoorde says so far she has only heard a positive response to the city’s enforcement.

“We’ve heard lots of positive feedback; we’ve heard nothing negative about the city enforcing bylaws,” Poelvoorde says. “Most people we’ve talked to seem very glad that it’s going to get a clean-up.”

And Poelvoorde points out that every cemetery plot owner would have signed an interment agreement with the city which lays out all the restrictions.

Poelvoorde says with the city cutting down on adornments, it’s the perfect opportunity for the municipality to come up with some alternate ways for people to memorialize their loved ones.

She envisions pieces such as a scattering garden, a water feature, a niche wall for aboveground resting places or some other form of a columbarium (upright stone or granite structures for multiple urns), a green burial space, or an upright marker section.