Green burials close to happening in AH

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Terry Moore says he can see light at the end of the tunnel as his years-long mission to bring green burials to Haliburton County turns another corner.

Moore and his wife, Shirley, have been advocating for green burials since 2019. Following the passing of their son, Kyle, the Moores realized there were no environmentally-friendly burial practices available to County residents. They formed the Haliburton Highlands Green Burial Society and began educating people about the age-old practice.

“Traditional burials as we know them today are the furthest thing from green – they involve using different chemicals and toxins that eventually leach into the earth. Cremations release horrible emissions into the atmosphere… we wanted an alternative,” Moore told The Highlander.

By comparison, green burials are extremely simple. Bodies are typically wrapped in a biodegradable shroud, or placed in a biodegradable casket, then laid into a grave site. The spot remains unmarked, meaning it can be used again in future.

Moore has been working closely with Algonquin Highlands for more than two years to establish a green burial section at St. Stephen’s cemetery on Buckslide Road. Since March, he’s sat on a committee with municipal staff, councillors, and like minded activists to try and establish rules and criteria for green burials.

“We’re making really good progress from a vague idea into an operational plan. We’re encouraged and hopeful there will be a functional plan for green burials by this time next year,” Moore said.

Adam Thorn, the township’s public works director, said he’ll be presenting options to Algonquin Highlands council in September. He noted staff have identified three potential layouts that could see between 135 and 240 green burial spots opened at St. Stephen’s.

Deputy mayor, Jennifer Dailloux, has been a strong voice on the committee.

“I’m hugely in favour of green burial spaces, I think it’s a fascinating concept. We’re so divorced from death in our culture… from accepting the reality of death and decay, that our bodies will decompose and return to nature. Our culture struggles with that,” Dailloux said. “I think green burials bring us a step closer to the normalcy of those things. It doesn’t seek to preserve us; it’s a return to the earth in the most natural, environmental, and economical way possible.”

She said once council approves a plan – it supported the concept of green burials last summer – the township will need to get a new bylaw approved by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario to open green burials to the public. Council will also need to establish fees and determine how spots will be allocated.

Moore said conversations with other municipalities are ongoing. Highlands East is still yet to approve a plan for green burials at its Deer Lake cemetery, despite sitting on a draft bylaw for over a year. Municipal clerk Robyn Rogers said the draft bylaw would need to be readdressed by the current term of council before it can be approved. Pre-pandemic, there were talks to establish a green burial-specific cemetery in Minden Hills, but that has quietened down recently, Moore said.

“Once one of the townships takes the lead, irons out the details and goes through the learning curve to get something up and running, then my sense is that’s going to release a demand for this. If we can provide proof of concept, I think the other townships will come on board,” he said.

While not a sure thing, Moore said he’s hopeful Algonquin Highlands will also sign off on year-round burials. Currently, the four townships in Haliburton County do not permit burials between November and May.

Should green burials get the go ahead from council next month, Moore said his team can start assisting with design plans for the St. Stephen’s site. He’s already contacted the Haliburton County Master Gardeners to come up with ideas to “make sure the site looks as green, feels as green, and is as green as it possibly can be.” He wants to install a gazebo and a mural, explaining the benefits of green burials. A communal memorial stone, to record names of those buried, is also being proposed.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on this file, so we’re delighted things are finally moving. People would like to see green burials become a reality. We’re almost there,” he said.