Press Reports

Green burials offered at St. James Anglican Church in Roseneath

by Karen Longwell, Northumberland News

ROSENEATH — Perched on a hill overlooking the countryside, a little historic church is going green in a unique way.

The cemetery at St. James Anglican Church is poised to offer green burials in the community thanks to the efforts of parishioner Gerald Beavan, 78. Mr. Beavan, who came to Canada from England in 1974, said his grandparents were buried in simple pine boxes without all the additions of modern funerals. He wants to offer that simple, environmentally friendly type of burial to a community he has called home since 1978. He came up with the idea to create a place in the church’s cemetery for green burials about five years ago, he said.

“The idea is you go back to the old way of burial,” said Mr. Beavan.

After a piece of land was donated to the church, it took about four years to get the approvals for the cemetery, he said. The church, which also has traditional gravesites, is now ready to sell the 500 plots available for the environmentally friendly burials.

The green burials will be done without concrete cribs or vaults, no embalming and the coffin will be biodegradable, Mr. Beavan said. The gravesites can be marked with traditional headstones, he added.

Concerns about climate change drove Mr. Beavan to look for a green burial option, he said. Although many people believe cremation is a green alternative, Mr. Beavan said he read the energy used in one cremation is enough to heat a house for a month.

Cremation is one of the worst end-of-life green options, according to Roger Short, a biology professor at the University of Melbourne, a member of Australia’s Natural Earth Burial Society. Mr. Short measured the environmental impact at a local crematorium about 10 years ago. He discovered a body burned in an 800 C furnace for an hour produced an estimated 160 kilograms of carbon dioxide. On average, a car must drive 300 kilometres to burn just 100 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Formerly a farmer and Agriculture Canada staff member, Mr. Beavan has always had an interest in preserving the planet.

“We are destroying it,” he said.

The cemetery is open to anyone and at $600 for a plot, the burial is also an economical option.

“The main thing is people have an option that they can afford,” he said.

Mr. Beavan said the gravesites will be less expensive to maintain. The grass will be cut only once or twice a year, he said.

Both he and his wife Myra Beavan plan to be buried in the green cemetery, he said.

Reverend Bryce Sangster, who divides his time between St. James, St. George’s in Hastings and Christ Church in Campbellford, welcomes the addition of a green cemetery.

“It’s moving in the right direction,” said Rev. Sangster.

While eco-cemeteries are rare in Ontario, Roseneath is not the first Northumberland community to have one. In 2009 Cobourg’s Union Cemetery on Elgin Street became Ontario’s first to offer a natural burial site.

The non-profit, nondenominational eight-acre cemetery was established in 1867, said Michel Cabardos, superintendent at Cobourg Union Cemetery. He said people were asking for a greener, simpler option and since there were none available, Union Cemetery opened a green burial section. Customers come from across the province to purchase the plots, said Mr. Cabardos. Similar to Roseneath, the green burial bodies cannot be preserved with embalming chemicals and bodies must be buried in a biodegradable shroud (typically made of cotton) or casket (Ontario poplar). At Union the headstone is replaced with a simple stone, a plant or nothing.

The green plots cost the same as those in the traditional cemetery in 2009 but it takes a lot more work to maintain the plots, he said. Everything is done by hand — the grass is cut with a scythe and they dig by hand, he said.

“We try to be as eco-friendly as possible,” he said.

The practice of offering green burials is still relatively rare in Ontario. Michael de Pencier, a magazine publisher and director of Canada’s National Burial Association, said contemporary burial practices are pretty well entrenched and it may take a while for society to change.

A study about Canadian natural burials, conducted by Asa Goldman, a student at Georgian College, found that 42 per cent of 149 seniors polled were unlikely to choose a natural burial. Christians largely opposed the concept, and the idea appeared more popular among those aged 25 to 44.

Most provinces, including Ontario, allow burials only in registered cemeteries, so starting a green burial site means creating a new cemetery or adding to an existing one. There are also municipal approval issues — a town can reject a new cemetery on a variety of grounds, be it zoning or simple lack of interest.

— With files from Torstar news service