New group seeks year-round green burial options
By Jenn Watt
Green burials have support in principle from the county’s municipal governments, now it’s time to find ways to overcome logistical barriers, says the chair of the Green Burial Working Group.
Terry Moore has been advocating for both winter burials and natural burial options in Haliburton County over the last year, since the death of his son, Kyle. Although Kyle, who was 36, died in February, he could not be buried until May because there is no winter burial available in the county.
Since that time, thousands of dollars have been raised in Kyle’s name to create more burial options in the area. In November, a new organization was formed from the Green Burial Working Group: the Haliburton Highlands Green Burial Society, which works to advocate for and offer information about year-round access to green burial options. At their first meeting, 30 people paid to become members and the group is now seeking incorporation as a not-for-profit.
“Part of the mandate of the society is going to be to really increase the knowledge base within the community of the realities associated with conventional burial and the advantages of green or natural burial alternatives,” Moore said in an interview last week.
Green burial involves choosing options that can better allow the human body to return to the earth as naturally as possible. That can mean selecting burial over cremation, deciding against using embalming chemicals, and buying caskets or shrouds that are biodegradable.
For those who die in Haliburton County during winter months, the choices are limited. Families can either decide to have their loved one buried in May, which involves embalming; or they can have the body cremated at a facility outside of the county.
Seventy per cent of people in Canada currently choose cremation and Moore said from his research, the same is true in Haliburton County. “We think that one of the main reasons why that’s a reality in Haliburton is the ban on burials for approximately six months of the year … from November through until May,” Moore said.
He and the other advocates for winter and green burial options would like to see municipalities grant permission for burials year-round and they’re working with each of the four lower-tier municipalities to look at options around designating specific green burial space.
In Algonquin Highlands, talks are ongoing about providing a portion of St. Stephen’s Cemetery for green burials. Moore said other councils have begun discussions through their committees about what possibilities could be pursued.
In February, the green burial society will be hosting a winter burial best practices workshop for township staff and councillors looking at policy and operational issues.
Allowing winter burials is not an easy decision for councillors to make. There would be costs to maintain cemeteries when they’re blanketed in snow and to map the plots using GPS. Moore said none of the municipalities currently own the hydraulic hammer attachment for an excavator needed to break through the ground in winter.
Moore said although winter and green burials are related, they are separate issues and the municipalities could move ahead on either front independently.
“Green burial sections could be created with or without winter burial options,” he said. “Of course, the society is going to encourage them [municipalities] to go forward on both fronts, but they don’t have to happen at the same time for some progress to be made.”
Providing more burial options hinges on wider conversations happening about end-of-life choices.
“We just generally need to be talking about death more often, I think, and treat it more not as a verboten topic, but as a topic we should be talking about because it’s a natural part of life and we’re going to end up there, so we may as well talk about it,” Moore said.
To help people have those conversations, the green burial society is also developing a website, which is to include natural burial options, information on end-of-life planning, grief counselling and other resources. They currently maintain a Facebook page.
Each time the green burial society has an event, they collect names of those who would like to have the option of a green burial in order to demonstrate to decision-makers that demand exists. Moore said anyone who would be interested in green or winter burials should make sure that their councillors are aware.
“One of the things the [green burial] society is doing is trying to talk with the townships about the fact that the demand is really there, it’s just not apparent,” Moore said. “I think there’s lots of people who would prefer green and winter burial, but because there’s no access, it’s not readily apparent to the township that demand is there. I think if people did have a winter green burial option they would choose it as opposed to going forward with cremation.”