/Green burials approved in Algonquin Highlands
Algonquin Highlands township has approved St. Stephen’s cemetery in Algonquin Highlands as the county’s first green burial site. /FILE PHOTO

Green burials approved in Algonquin Highlands

By Alex Gallacher

Upon deliberation by Algonquin Highlands council, in a unanimous vote green burials were approved to be held during the warmer seasons from April to November.

An increasing area of interest, particularly amongst the eco-friendly community, is the concept of a green burial. A green burial or natural burial is when the body of the deceased is buried without cremation, chemical treatment or the use of any concrete. 

The idea behind it is that the body will be allowed to naturally decompose and return to the earth without the help of harmful chemicals. Township staff had been directed by council to consider green burial options back in May 2019, and as of October 21 an update was finally given on the matter. 

In a report from Lyell Bergstrome, operations manager, St. Stephen’s Cemetery was noted as the prime location for green burials to take place in the township. However, based on consultation with other cemeteries that allow for green burials, Bergstrome suggested that the cemetery would need to be expanded. With the current size of cemetery plots measuring four foot by eight foot, the suggested expansion would add an extra two feet to each plot bringing the total to four foot by ten foot. 

When the winter hits, it creates an issue for green burials as a body can only be preserved for roughly 72 hours. In Bergstrome’s report, he stated the township lacks the equipment and staff to facilitate winter burials. While this can be contracted out to outside sources, the concern lies with the liability and the preference of having a member of staff present at the burial. He said that green burials essentially can only be done in the six to eight months of spring, summer and fall periods. 

Bergstrome outlined the request for council to facilitate provisions for green burials in the cemetery bylaw, as well as include the capital required to hold them in the budget for 2022. 

“We should focus on green burials for the winter,” he said. “Having to work around existing occupied plots is very difficult and I would prefer to look at green burials so we can take a systematic approach to selling plots as opposed to having them spread all over.”00

Mayor Carol Moffatt held two separate discussions, as Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen was adamant that the burials shouldn’t be limited to those months only. 

On the winter side, the concerns of liability and the lack of staff were the hot topic. Moffatt addressed that there would need to be more staff available for the 72-hour turnaround time, and that most current staff would be swamped with other various work around the county. 

The council decided in a unanimous decision that more work would need to be done in order to properly make a decision on winter burials. With more and more people choosing Algonquin Highlands as their permanent home, Councillor Jennifer Dailloux suggested that it was an exciting proposal to give residents the opportunity to have winter burials in the township. 

Moffatt was concerned about space, as St. Stephen’s doesn’t have much space, and restrictions could be put in place as to who is able to be buried there.

“I can’t see too many people from outside the municipality wanting to be buried there,” said Deputy Mayor Danielsen. “There are some other spots being considered so I can’t imagine we would be forced to reject any potential people who want a green burial.” 

A new cost recovery plan will be in the works over the next few months, but the township remains adamant to getting green burials approved for the winter months.