Highlands East has become the first local township to offer winter burials – but only on a temporary basis due to COVID-19.

Council approved a bylaw Dec. 8 to contract CemeCare, which provides winter burials to several municipalities. The move stems from the direction of the Bereavement Authority of Ontario, which has asked for cemetery operators to offer burials as far into the winter as possible. This is to alleviate body storage capacity due to concerns about increased deaths due to COVID-19.

Coun. Suzanne Partridge praised the move and said it is something the environment committee has hoped to enact.

“I highly recommend that we do this,” Partridge said. “It will be a wonderful service to the people in our community so they don’t have to wait until the spring.”

Previously, no local townships have offered winter burials due to difficulty working with frozen ground. Burials are usually closed off from November to May, with families needing to choose other options or store their loved ones to get a local burial. There is no cost for the municipality, but those who use the service will have to pay CemeCare. Clerk Robyn Rogers said it is about $1,250 for the opening and closing of the grave.

She further said the Emergency Operations Centre has discussed the issue.

“There are so many conditions that can really affect whether to do it safely or not,” Rogers said. “It’s somewhat of a backup plan, I guess. If we can’t do it and we have an influx of individuals, unfortunately, passing away, that we do have a plan in place to be able to bury these individuals.”

Green Burial Society welcomes news

Haliburton’s Green Burial Society has pushed for winter burials alongside environmentally-friendly ones. It hosted a winter burial workshop Feb. 4 with councillors from all local townships to encourage them to adopt the practice.

CemeCare presented at the workshop. Society president Terry Moore said even though Highlands East is planning this as a temporary measure for now, it is welcome news.

“Hopefully, that will encourage more opportunity for it to be offered,” Moore said. “Hopefully, it’s the toe in the door, that will open the door wide to get year-round green burial options in place.”

He said townships need not necessarily contract the service out and they could do it internally but added CemeCare is a way to offer the service at a modest cost for now. “Good on Highlands East for moving on it.”


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