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Why Port Coquitlam is adding hundreds of cremation plots to its cemetery

Scattering gardens, columbaria, and green burials — the way people are memorializing their deceased loved ones is changing.

Port Coquitlam will be adding 500 cremation plots in various locations throughout its peaceful cemetery for residents to honour their loved ones.

The cemetery located at 4150 Oxford St. —  where hometown hero Terry Fox is buried — has been providing memorial options for residents since the 1960s.

But a 25 per cent increase in internments over the last few years  — particularly cremations — has resulted in a shortage of spots for people to bury or memorialize their loved one's remains.

"What we’re seeing is actually more demand for cremation plots," said Josh Frederick, the city's director of engineering and public works. "It could be a cost factor, it could be traditions, different cultures and what people prefer."

Because of its popularity, the Port Coquitlam cemetery has run out of niches in its columbarium and has no more boulder memorial plots or pedestal niches for cremations.

It also needs to increase the number of in-ground burial plots for cremated remains.

To meet the demand, the city is adding two 80-niche columbaria to store urns containing cremated remains. 

As well, it will be adding 300 in-ground cremation plots as well as 40 boulder monument plots and landscaping in a forested area dotted with flowers and ferns.

Costing $185,000, the expansion will be paid out out of cemetery revenues, Frederick said. 

The project will expand the life of the cemetery for 10 years.

Green burials more sustainable

Port Coquitlam is also conducting a review of its space and future needs, with the possibility of adding green burial plots in an undeveloped portion of the cemetery.

Green burials mean the deceased can’t be embalmed nor placed in a traditional wooden or plastic casket. Rather, the loved one goes into a bio-degradable box and the body naturally decomposes.

According to the Green Burial Society, the burials are "a statement of personal values for those who seek to minimize their impact on the local and global environment.”

The city is eager to stay up to date with the needs of families and green burials are becoming more popular, said Mike Por, the city's public works superintendent responsible for the cemetery.

Port Coquitlam' 10-acre cemetery is in a natural setting, surrounded by trees and partly forested. It’s also the "semi-permanent" home to five bears. Deer are often seen trotting through the burial grounds, munching on flowers left behind by loved ones.

Roses are their favourite, Por said, but deer also enjoy carnations.

Supporting families of loved ones interned in the Port Coquitlam cemetery is important to Por, who has been in the role for just two years.

He said the changing demographic of Port Coquitlam means that the cemetery has to adjust to new customs and the review will be looking into how cultural burial needs can be accommodated.

For example, some cultures require internments to be close to soil, without a concrete lining or resin box, said Por, who has been studying cultural preferences, while some Asian cultures seek to burn paper to send the deceased off into the next world.

“We want to make it more inclusive and definitely space planning will be part of that — and devising services for a more diverse community,” said Por.

Growing demand for burial space

Expanding the cemetery is part of a growing trend in the lower mainland where scarcity of land is creating challenges for some Metro Vancouver cemeteries.

Last fall, Aldergrove opened what is the Lower Mainland’s first large cemetery in more than 60 years. It will serve the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver regions. 

Next door in Coquitlam, the city expanded its cemetery in 2020 with 93 double full-burial crypts, new plots for cremated remains, a green burial area and a scattering garden to meet the need for up to 10,000 internments over the next 25 years.

However, Port Coquitlam's needs are much more modest, with approximately 120 internments a year, up from 40 to 70 internments a few years ago.

All the services provided are described online, from full internments to cremation plots, a columbarium, pedestal niche or boulder memorial. Prices range from $1,877 for a cremation plot, $4,165 for an adult plot to $6,880 for a boulder memorial.

The cemetery offers a range of other options as well, including a scattering garden, plaques in a memory book, benches, picnic tables and tree dedications.

— with a file from Business In Vancouver (BIV), Tri-City News