Grave considerations trouble North Cowichan

North Cowichan’s decision to get tougher on graveside memorials is not sitting well with some area residents. - Ashley Degraaf
North Cowichan’s decision to get tougher on graveside memorials is not sitting well with some area residents.
— image credit: Ashley Degraaf

Where do you draw the line on graveside mementos?

That's  an issue officials and leaders at North Cowichan are tackling at the Mountain View Cemetery site. Council is scheduled to vote today on a bylaw that would limit personal items left at the cemetery.

"We've had a sign up listing limitations to what you can put at the cemetery for many years, but it has been loosely enforced," said Mayor Jon Lefebure Tuesday. "We understand this is a very important place for people...but there are some things there that are a hazard to our employees."

While safety hazards have been brought to the attention of staff, time and cost factors have also sparked discussion — such as maintenance workers having to move items around before and after mowing the grass.

The cemetery  has two signs asking visitors to keep the site clean. More specifically, they highlight "artificial wreaths, or potted plants on the grave plots are permitted from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, that planted shrubs, flowers or use of glass containers are not permitted and all flower/plant arrangements and wreaths may be removed at the discretion of the cemetery staff."

"Unfortunately, the trend has been that the public has increasingly installed or placed personal items such as landscape rock, edging/fencing borders and planted flowers, trees and shrubs within the cemetery grounds," wrote Parks and Recreation director Ernie Mansueti in a staff report. "Other personal items include vases, photos, and hanging pictures in trees with fishing wire.

"In most cases, the public expectation is that these items will be maintained by municipal staff. Realistically many of the items do not withstand the elements or are removed by others."

North Cowichan resident Katherine Hendrickson wonders why the issue is coming to the table now, five years since her husband passed away from cancer and was buried at Mountain View Cemetery.

"I have visited the cemetery many, many times with flowers, baskets, solar lights and an angel, left there for him by myself and his family members and friends," she wrote in a letter to the News Leader Pictorial.

"I have seen how many times people have grieved for their loved ones when I've been there and I can't imagine why now, after five years of being allowed, for all of the mourners who come there for comfort and leave notes and things of remembrance for their loved ones.

"What harm is there in people showing their love for someone who is no longer here?"

Duncan's Johanna Mellor feels the same.

"My 17-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter (and several friends) are buried at Mountain View Cemetery. I paid for their plots. I will bring them whatever I want to," Mellor wrote in a letter to the News Leader Pictorial.

"The point is where is the respect?" she added in an interview Monday. "If they're trying to save money, they can do it in different ways."

Lefebure didn't know off the top of his head how much is spent annually on maintenance at Mountain View, but said cost savings is the "least of their worries" and a small part of a bigger picture.

"We've heard other cemeteries are facing the same thing," he said. "I think honestly we create the rules and then we try and be as reasonable as we can."

The new policy, if passed, would be that only solar lights, fresh and artificial flowers or wreaths are permitted at the cemetery, effective March 1.

Folks concerned about  particular mementos already at Mountain View, or thinking of placing one are urged to call the muni's general number, 250-746-3100, and speak with staff about what's reasonable, allowed, and not allowed.

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