The Town of The Blue Mountains (TBM) plans to explore the logistics of creating a natural burial section in the Thornbury-Clarksburg Union Cemetery.
“We hope The Blue Mountains endorses a natural burial ground, providing an end-of-life option, which is eco-friendly,” said Diana Dolmer, member of the Climate Action Now Network (CANN) during a deputation to TBM council earlier this week.
In a natural burial cemetery, the body is buried in a biodegradable casket or shroud, without embalming or a vault; the burial is shallower than in a conventional burial ground, in order to maximize the benefit to the soil (approximately three feet); the soil is naturally regenerated and the carbon footprint is close to zero.
“We can try to live as green as possible and we would like the opportunity to be green to the end of our lives and to offer that option to others,” Dolmer said.
Above ground, the land of the natural cemetery is restored to its natural ecosystem and individual headstones are replaced by a communal marker.
“A natural burial site fits with the sustainability goals of our town's key documents. Our natural assets in the Blue Mountains are of inestimable value, and natural burial does its part by protecting ecosystems and regenerating the soil,” said CANN member, Rosemary Gosselin. “It is simply good business.”
Dolmer said the practice is becoming increasingly more popular as it is more eco-friendly than cremation and conventional burials and allows the individual’s final resting place to be in nature.
Currently, there are no stand-alone natural burial cemeteries in Ontario, but there are two in Canada – both of which are located in B.C.
TBM’s neighbouring municipality of Grey Highlands recently approved a request from a private resident looking to establish what could eventually become Ontario’s first stand-alone natural burial cemetery.
Within the province, there are currently four ‘hybrid’ natural burial cemeteries – located in Niagara Falls, Picton, Cobourg and Waterloo. These are labelled as hybrids as they are adjoined to traditional cemeteries.
According to the Natural Burial Association, Guelph, Hamilton, Haliburton Highlands and Owen Sound have also recently approved hybrid models.
For TBM, converting a section of the Thornbury-Clarksburg Union Cemetery into a natural burial cemetery would require various approvals from the Medical Officer of Health and the Bereavement Authority of Ontario.
CANN members pointed out that creating a hybrid can sometimes be a more simple process than creating a stand-alone cemetery, because, assuming this is on land already zoned for cemetery use, hydro-geological studies may not be required, and if the care and maintenance fund for TBM’s cemetery is healthy, no additional funds would be required.
The group added that the ongoing maintenance costs of natural burial grounds are considerably less than their conventional counterpart.
“Eighty per cent of the cost of running a municipal cemetery is devoted to keeping the grounds from reverting to nature. Rather, we envision and invite naturalized communities to be shared with the living,” added Gosselin.
CANN representatives have also presented their natural burial proposal to TBM’s sustainability committee and provided a public presentation during a recent event held by TBM’s Tree Trust organization.
“I'm very happy to support this. Certainly, natural burial is more common in Europe than here. But, I think it is a good way to give back into the environment,” said TBM Mayor Alar Soever.
At the council meeting held on Tuesday, TBM council members passed a motion to refer the presentation to the town’s community sustainability plan that is currently underway, as well as asked the community services department to prepare a staff report on the logistic and financial implications of establishing a natural burial section in the town’s cemetery.
“We are looking at bringing forward a request for addition to the  budget, that would look at the current and existing conditions and the logistics around where's the most appropriate location within the existing space that's available in the cemetery,” said Ryan Gibbons, director of community services for TBM.
Gibbons suggested the most likely location for the natural burial cemetery within the Thornbury-Clarksburg Union Cemetery would be a three-to-five acre plot on the far east side of the cemetery lands.
According to Gibbons, the plot is approximately three to five acres.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca