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Removal of graveside items by B.C. cemetery staff deemed ‘disrespectful’

Municipal cemetery removes all adornments from gravesites with little notice

If you visit the Hope Cemetery today, you will find there are no flowers, no teddy bears, no mementos of any kind on most of the headstones.

They’ve all been removed, much to the surprise of several people who have loved ones buried there. A handful of them have contacted the Hope Standard to bring attention to the matter, and let others know there have been changes at the cemetery.

District staff posted a sign at the cemetery advises that the removal would be happening, with 14 days notice.

But one concerned resident, who asked that their name not be used, said a better effort should have been made to inform the community that this would be done. That would have given people the opportunity to go and collect cherished items, they said.

Instead, staff collected the items and put them into a large wooden bin in the back of the cemetery, by the maintenance building. In it, there are countless bundles of flowers, notes and cards, photographs, flower stands and more, and none of them are tagged with a plot number or name. There are also flower bundles that have been set aside that are now grown over with weeds between the landscaping bins.

Other items have been put in clear bags and set at the side of the maintenance building. In at least one of those bags, dozens of small insects were crawling over blue fabric hydrangeas. In all of them, condensation is building.

One person who contacted the Standard said that some families spend small fortunes on designer flowers, and ensure they are tasteful and kept in season. Many of the fake flowers in the bin are in perfect shape, and in season.

Mayor Peter Robb said he wasn’t aware of any of these complaints until contacted by the Standard. But when he spoke up with staff he learned that they were following up on other complaints that maintenance wasn’t being done, including mowing and weeding. And to get that work done, he said, staff needed to remove all the adornments.

“It was becoming very difficult to do the maintenance,” Robb said. “Some of them (adornments) were there for years and some gravestones were not being kept tidy.”

The cemetery uses only flat gravestones that are flush with the ground, so any adornments will limit workers from moving around them to weed and cut the grass.

Adornments are allowed, according to the bylaw (No. 1269). But that same bylaw also notes that all adornments will be removed when “their condition is considered to be detrimental to the appearance or beauty of the cemetery.

“Staff was following through on some of the bylaws in place already, they wanted to clean up the cemetery, making it difficult to complete maintenance tasks and distracting from the appearance,” Robb explained.

Everyone who has contacted the Standard has called the way this has been handled “disrespectful.”

“I find this to be so disrespectful to the families,” said Greg Anderson, who comes from Delta to visit his son once a month. “A cemetery is more than just a place to put the people we cherish, it’s a place to come and be with them.”

The mayor agrees that there should have been better notification of the work being done, and is working at directing staff to do better in the future. He was also planning to visit the site himself to have a look.

“I think it could have been handled better, with better communication,” Robb said. “My recommendation to staff was that they should have used other avenues for notification.”

He said there will be a notice forthcoming through the Standard.

Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
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