NEEPAWA— Upgrades are underway to beautify Riverside Cemetery in the Town of Neepawa after perpetual care of individual graves was phased out in favour of enhanced care for the space as a whole.
The Riverside Cemetery transitioned away from perpetual care and the maintenance of permanent flowers at individual graves in favour of increased care for the graveyard as a whole, said Manager of Operations Denis Saquet.
“We still have a number of features to keep care off,” Saquet said. “It gives family members and passersby the opportunity to come in and visit old loved ones and family friends.”
From 1955 to 1994 Neepawa bylaws indicated perpetual care funds were used for the “annual upkeep and care of Riverside Cemetery.”
At a town council meeting regarding the Riverside Cemetery in June 2018 a conversation took place regarding the financial responsibility of maintaining “perpetual flowers,” and the program was ruled to no longer be financially viable.
At the time there were 3,809 graves with pre-paid flowers and 3,650 dozen flowers were ordered for 2018, for a total cost was $11,136.15.
The presentation added the cost of flowers does not include labour and had risen from a $5 one-time fee in 1955 to a $1,500 one-time fee in 2017.
The cemetery faced a deficit of $93,200 due to these rising expenses.
The bylaw ending perpetual care with the flower option was enacted in the spring of 2018 with perpetual care officially coming to an end in 2020.
Saquet noted these changes have allowed the cemetery to practice enhanced care, allowing them to better maintain the space as a whole.
Once the flowers were removed, they began work on the entire property, Saquet said, including levelling and re-manicuring the lawn, and the introduction of new tree features.
“We have at least a dozen different species of trees here now, just to try and mitigate the issues of invasive species coming in, some that are more drought-tolerant and just give a whole new look to it,” Saquet said. “In 10-years I hope to have our mini-canopies developing. It will appear like our beautiful residential streets where we have those canopies over our streets.”
He estimates that around 200 trees have been added to the cemetery as part of the re-landscaping.
There are also discussions regarding the creation of reflection seating areas, overlooks, additional flowers beds and a service pergola.
They already see many people entering the cemetery to enjoy the paved paths available and are considering expanding this system to add further paving.
Saquet expects it will be about a five-year transition for the cemetery to reach its full potential.
One of the silver linings of the pandemic is it forced operations to look at different ways to host funerals. This is being incorporated into future plans for the space with the creation of a planned pergola.
“Services could not be held in a traditional fashion so we’re looking at different means on how to accommodate families, especially ageing ones, whether it be radio broadcast services or giving social distancing so people can come,” Saquet said. “We’re trying to evolve the cemetery to accommodate some of these needs.”
Former Neepawa resident Lori Shaskin said she was disappointed to see the current state of the Riverside Cemetery.
She returns each year to pay respects to her parents Helen and Archie Woods, grandparents and other family members who were laid to rest in the space.
“It was quite disheartening to see the condition of the cemetery and the graves. I realize there has been a drought across Western Canada, but I don’t think that excuses the fact that a place like a cemetery still needs to do watering,” Shaskin said. “The grass was brown and there was a lot of weeds all over the graves and in some areas, the grass looked like it hadn’t been cut on a regular basis, the grass hadn’
Years ago the cemetery was a beautiful space because family members paid for perpetual care. Shaskin noted perpetual care was not a mandatory service and could be opted into by families on an individual basis.
“The reason they got rid of the perpetual care was financial— they said they could no longer afford to plant the flowers and continue with that aspect of care,” Shaskin said. “I felt that after being in the Brandon Cemetery, if they [Neepawa] weren’t going to continue with the perpetual care then I think it was really important to keep up the general maintenance of the cemetery in turns of watering and grooming.”
The town now takes care of 9,000 plots in place of the just over 3,000 that had been dedicated to perpetual care, said Mayor Blake McCutcheon.
“This way we’ve gone back to where we can represent the whole community.”
It was a tough decision to discontinue perpetual care, he said, but when presented with the financial costs of the commitment council was left with little choice.
Maintenance of the cemetery has been a challenge for the current council. Since 2018 the Town has faced historic flooding, a generational drought and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The five-year plan for the area has been impacted by the flood, drought and global health crisis, but McCutcheon expects to see the cemetery reach its full potential under the planned increased care for the space.
“It’s been two years of not moving forward as quickly as we thought we would,” McCutcheon said. “Once we get out weeds out, our grass in … This is going to be a gorgeous cemetery.”
» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp
Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun