'Death is something they don't want to hear about': St-Bruno residents unnerved by crematoria proposal

It's not that people in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville are against cremation. 

"It's in my own will," says Anna-Marie Blyth. "I've had five of my dogs cremated. I still have their little urns."

But Blyth is one of a group of residents in the city of 26,000 on Montreal's South Shore who are lobbying against a proposal to build a new funeral home with two crematoria just down the street.

"We think it should be in an industrial area, not a residential neighbourhood," said Blyth, noting the building on Parent Street would stand about 25 metres away from a home on adjacent De Mésy Street. 

Supporters of the project say opposition to it has ballooned out of proportion after a few residents expressed concerns at an information session in the fall. 

"Everybody wants to be cremated, or just about, but they don't want it in their yard," said Louise Hamel, who also lives a few doors down from the site of the proposed crematorium.

Hamel and her partner, Huguette Raymond, say they'd rather have a funeral home and crematorium there than a fast-food joint that stays open late.

The site is already zoned commercial, and Highway 30 passes by just 100 metres away. There is a Tim Hortons just down the road, and Hamel and Raymond say truckers park their semi-trailers on Parent Street, as a result. 

"I think the autoroute gives more pollution than the crematorium will," Hamel said.

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On Monday, the municipality will release three studies it commissioned after hundreds of its citizens signed a petition opposing the crematoria project. The studies evaluated the potential impacts on the environment, health, property values and traffic in the area.

City Coun. Isabelle Bérubé says the city wanted to proceed with caution.

"Clearly, the residents aren't yet reassured. And it's also our responsibility to be prudent," she said. 

The delays have upset the funeral home owners, however. 

The Coopérative funéraire du Grand Montréal, which also runs a funeral home and crematorium in Longueuil on Cure-Poirier Boulevard, has threatened to sue the city if it doesn't vote to grant the construction permit. 

'No social acceptability'

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Alissa El-Hachem, another opponent of the project who lives on De Mésy Street, says she is grateful the city commissioned the studies. 

"They say we're not going to smell anything, but we have doubts," El-Hachem said. 

"There is no social acceptability for this project, and I don't think there's ever going to be social acceptability," she said.

El-Hachem and a number of neighbours knocked on people's doors and distributed letters to gather support for the first petition. Now there's a second petition in the works, in the lead-up to Monday's meeting.

"We're just not happy with it. It doesn't fit in our neighbourhood," El-Hachem said. 

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Mathieu Houle, the funeral co-operative's director of operations, says it's the first time he's encountered this kind of opposition to a crematorium project.

Plans for this funeral home fall within the city's existing bylaws, he said.

The two crematoria, made in Quebec, would be fuelled by natural gas and surpass Canada's strict environmental standards, he said.

Hamel feels her neighbours' fears fed into each other. 

"People are panicking," she said. "Death is something they don't want to hear about."