The City of Vancouver wants to put you in your grave.
Not immediately, mind you. At least not until after you pay this year’s property taxes.
Seriously, though, they’re okay if you want to hang on here for a while. Just let them know you are alive and well, for now, but that you still want to take your final nap in that restful parcel in Mountain View Cemetery that you or a relative paid for more than 70 years ago.
The municipally run cemetery, the only burial ground for humans in Vancouver city limits, recently advertised in local newspapers in an attempt to run down 200 individuals or families whose prepaid burial plots--ones that were sold before 1940--have never been used.
The ads are an advance notice for a grave-reclamation project, only the second time this has been done in the history of the venerable graveyard, which is a century-and-a-quarter old.
“The cemetery is as old as the City of Vancouver: 1886,” Mountain View manager Glen Hodges told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. He said the initial reclamation, in 2010, yielded 156 graves.
“The provisions for the process are in the provincial act that governs cemeteries,” Hodges explained. (Those interested can check out Section 25 of the Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Regulations of the Province of B.C.)
The not-for-profit final resting place--which stretches, approximately, from Fraser Street in the east to Prince Edward Avenue on the west, and between 31st and 41st avenues, north to south—isn’t trying to grab a cash windfall, though, even though Hodges said the value of a burial plot these days runs about $22,500, on average.
“We’re the only cemetery within the City of Vancouver,” he said, “and the availability of space is starting to shrink. I think the rationale is because cemeteries are landlocked and run out of space. The Lower Mainland has a very small amount of cemeteries compared to most other major urban centres.”
He added that all taxpayers foot the bill for maintenance of unused plots. “Many of them that were bought in the past 70 years here have been heavily subsidized by ratepayers.” He said the cemetery has the “hopeful goal of becoming fully self-sufficient”.
“We’re trying to make up for more than 100 years” of not being very responsible economically, he said.
Hodges said there are three criteria for reclaiming plots: the grave has to be vacant; the purchase must have been made more than 50 years ago; and the original purchaser must (at the time of reclamation) be 90 years of age or older.
He added that using the 1940 starting point should put the city in the clear, given that it’s probable not too many 17-year-olds purchased graves back then.
Prior to the Second World War, people tended to buy multiple plots. Often, as individual or family fortunes changed, people “moved on” and the graves, and knowledge of them, fell by the wayside.
“It looks like many of the graves we have reclaimed meet that criteria,” Hodges said.
He noted that after advertisements directed at the purchasers have been published in local newspapers and advisory letters have been mailed to the owners’ last known addresses, the cemetery has to wait three months before final reclamation can take effect.
Don’t think, though, that if your forgotten-about but bought-and-paid-for plot is reclaimed by the city that your spirit is doomed to wander, gravelessly, for eternity (or end up crammed into a Cloverdale columbarium). “If a rights-holder does come back, they [the reclaiming cemeteries] have to provide an alternative site of equal or greater value,” Hodges explained.
The latest reclamation is aimed at 200 families and individuals but accounts for many more burial spaces. “We’ve advertised 200 names,” Hodges said, “but those names are connected to 599 grave sites.”
The reason for this, he explained, is because Mountain View, unlike most private cemeteries, allows for multiple interments in the same plot. Hodges said up to two caskets can be placed in each grave, and another may be added after 40 years.
That is possible because Mountain View does not require grave liners, often made of concrete, as do most private concerns. He said this makes the city-run facility “unique in the Lower Mainland”, can save as much as $1,000 per burial, and means that his graveyard has been offering relatively trendy “green burials” for more than a century.
Mountain View also permits as many as eight receptacles for individual cremated remains to be interred in a single plot. Hodges said that cremation is the preferred interment method of about one-third of Mountain View's long-term residents. “The province of B.C., I believe, leads North America in its cremation rate.”
If that holds, he said, Mountain View has about another 100 years of capacity, meaning that a lot more of us will be able to join the community of 150,000 already there.
So if your family name is Abercrombie, Farquahar, Hamasaki, McDougall, Quann, or Young, check out vancouver.ca/cemetery/.
There could be some grave news in store for you.