Death is big business in Canada, where the funeral home industry is worth over a billion dollars. But as expenses rise and people become more conscious of environmental impacts, more are considering less expensive options.
Leading the way in alternative choices are green burials, which do away with the commonly held practices such as embalming, sturdy caskets and gravestones.
Calgary's newest cemetery, Prairie Sky, opened in September 2021 and was the first cemetery in the city to begin offering green burials.
Since then, there has been a surge of interest and nine green burials have taken place.
"It's been very well received, surprisingly even for myself," said Gary Daudlin, cemeteries management lead with the City of Calgary. "I'm impressed."
Not only is the practice of placing a deceased person to rest different through a green burial, it also does not look like what most people would consider a typical cemetery.
Daudlin said there are no components that impact the space, such as gravestones, adding that it's hard to tell the space for green burials is part of the cemetery.
"It's a natural space. Anything that would be in that space would be ecological or leave a footprint in the cemetery space," he said.
"The space itself is natural with natural planting, so it would be a natural grassland, and will remain that way in the cemetery space."
The space at Prairie Sky currently has capacity for about 1,000 burial plots. If the interest continues to grow, Daudlin said they can continue to find more space.
Anyone interested in a green burial can speak to a funeral home about it or reach out to the city, he said.
A more traditional way to handle death
Calgary is not the only municipality in Alberta offering green burials. Cemeteries in Edmonton and Lethbridge are also among cities with space for the alternative option.
Other places across the country are also joining the movement, but the uptake has not been the same everywhere.
Richard Rosin has been a funeral director for 40 years, and is president of the Green Burial Society of Canada. In his hometown of Winnipeg, there are no designated spaces to offer green burials and he has to travel far to offer the service.
But when he advocates for it and people hear what a green burial is, he said there's typically a positive reaction.
"It's been, wow. This is amazing, this is exactly what we want," Rosin said.
Despite being in the funeral industry for decades, Rosin is in favour of moving back to a more traditional way to handle death.
"It's the way we taken care of our dead before there was ever a funeral industry. It's only been a couple of generations where there's been a funeral industry," he said. "When we think about it and really seriously think about it without being all icked out about it, we start to realize that's how it used to be, it should be that way again."
It is also a more ecologically friendly way to handle death, and allows people more time to spend with their deceased loved one.
Then when mourners observe the space where people are buried, they see how human life has transitioned so peacefully back into nature.
"You should be able to drive by and not know it's a cemetery. You see a beautiful meadow and you just see a sign of the cemetery," Rosin said.
"It becomes a natural part of the natural environment that it's in."
Daudlin agrees this is a crucial part of the service. At Prairie Sky, there is an option for people to buy a granite memorial stone placed in a communal space at the cemetery.
However, there will be no markers in the field where bodies have been placed.
"As we become more educated as to our impacts to the earth, I think people are looking at ways to minimize that and burial is one of those options," Rosin said.
As he waits for more options in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in particular to become available for green burials, Rosin is heartened to see a healthy interest in Alberta, just as there are options for people of multiple religious beliefs.
"It's not going to be for everybody, but at least give the opportunity to offer," he said.