City considers cemetery options

The Grey Mountain Cemetery Master Plan may include culturally specific areas, a pet cemetery and green burials.

The Grey Mountain Cemetery Master Plan may include culturally specific areas, a pet cemetery and green burials.

But it’s still in the design stage.

“All we’re looking at is what ideas people like and some possible layouts,” said landscape architect Ryan Hennessey.

Hennessey presented some of these ideas to council on Wednesday for feedback.

The cemetery was built in the 1960s and became Whitehorse’s sole resting place in the 1980s with the decommissioning of the downtown Pioneer Cemetery.

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation maintains its own separate cemeteries, as do other local First Nations.

Available space in the Grey Mountain Cemetery is declining quickly because of an increase in the number of interments and the pre-purchase of plots.

Last year, an entire year’s worth of plots were snapped up by two families within a two-week period.

“The current cemetery and burial options do not meet the needs of all sectors of the city’s population,” said Hennessey.

“The population of Whitehorse is becoming more culturally diverse — and it is also aging.”

City planners consulted the cemetery staff, the public, churches and funeral homes.

Staff asked for more space for operations, better control of access and a more effective means of managing water on the site.

Stakeholders asked that the cemetery be open on weekends and that the site be made more park-like, with more trees and amenities such as picnic tables and benches.

The public asked for larger plots and larger or custom monuments and more low-impact burial options.

Using these suggestions, two concepts for the expansion of the cemetery have been created.

Concept 1 includes a large woodland area and reroutes existing hiking trails to the perimeter.

A unique cultural section would also be included to accommodate different burial customs and traditions.

Planners are not yet sure what would be included or allowed in the cultural section. It could include First Nations’ spirit houses.

The Kwanlin Dun has been considering expanding its own cemetery.

Customs such as funeral pyres will not be allowed because of a fire ban on that side of the Yukon River, among other reasons.

“Maybe we could float the pyres down the river,” suggested councillor Dave Stockdale.

Concept 2 allows for trails within the site and offers a memorial garden for the scattering of ashes.

It also offers a pet cemetery.

“I really like the idea of a pet cemetery,” said mayor Bev Buckway.

“I know there’s been talk of that for some time now.”

As revealed by a rough layout, the pet cemetery would be separated from the other cemetery services by a patch of woodland.

A combination of the two concepts will likely be chosen, allowing for both a memorial garden and pet cemetery as well as a culturally specific section, said Hennessey.

Other ideas included mausoleums and columbaria — rooms where funeral urns can be stored and displayed.

Specific sites for green burials were also suggested.

Green burials or eco-cemeteries allow remains to decompose in a more natural way.

The body is generally laid to rest in more biodegradable wooden caskets without the preserving chemicals used in embalming.

Green burials are thought to be more environmentally friendly. This is a growing trend in Canada.

Calls for feedback will continue throughout December.

Comments on the plan can be directed to Doug Hnatiuk at the city’s parks and recreation department.

The final draft of the proposal will come to council for approval before the end of February.