Crystabelle Fobler and Ilan Highton in front of the re-planted Phase 1 of the Woodlands green burial area at Royal Oak Burial Park, where trees and shrubs cover the unmarked burial sites. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Green burial numbers set to peak in 2018

Some in the industry unhappy with green burial

It took a decade but the green burial option at Royal Oak Burial Park is catching on the way its creators expected.

With no embalming done, no caskets and no headstones, the green burial option at Royal Oak Burial Park is a passive option for humans to return to the earth. The Woodlands area of the 54-hectare cemetery opened in 2008 and has had 215 burials since. Executive director Crystabelle Fobler withheld the specific numbers for the past two years but said they’ve hit a peak number of green burials for 2017 and are on track to supersede that for 2018.

However, at its start, the green burial concept at the not-for-profit was challenged by some in the funeral industry, said Lorraine Fracy, manager of client services. It’s one of the reasons the movement has been so slow to pick up despite existing outside Canada for at least a decade.

“Unfortunately, the majority of our profession both the funeral and cemetery side are for profit,” Fracy said. “We experienced a lot of negativity, even from our local funeral homes when the [Woodlands] opened. They’d say ‘you’re taking away embalming, you’re talking away fancy caskets, you’re taking away headstones, you’re taking away liners, you’re taking away big services because the bodies [aren’t] embalmed,’ so they saw this as a great big negative.”

In green burial, bodies are wrapped in a biodegradable shroud or in a light, wooden casket free of metals. The biodegradable caskets use sustainable products only, and there are no grave liners.

The Woodlands, like the traditional burial park, offers double depth burial (in phase two only). Another element that makes the green burial at Royal Oak unique is that once an area is full, it is remediated with plants and shrubs, and returned to a natural state such as a Garry oak meadow. Instead of a headstone all names of those buried in the Woodlands are etched into a piece of large stone on a path along the edge of the meadow.

What Fobler and the Royal Oak Burial Park administration discovered in recent years was that the public didn’t understand exactly what a green burial meant.

“The green burial shows up in obituaries as a ‘Woodlands burial’ and nobody really understood what to expect, especially with the shrouded body,” Fracy said. “We very quickly realized probably 50 per cent of our ‘pre-needs’ were people who attended a green burial and came into our office for the very first time and said ‘that’s exactly what I want.’

“We’ve had bodies shipped to us from other provinces because the families felt their own cemeteries were behind the times.”

Royal Oak Burial Park would like to see more green burial sites in B.C. but cite space and resources as key challenges.

“A lot of cemeteries are [municipally] run and we’ve had engineers, park managers, city planners, all come out and tour our site,” Fracy said. “They’ve been super enthusiastic, they went back to their place to show how easy it is, but a lot of times there’s no funding or desire.”


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