Visiting the final resting place of a loved one has never been possible at the Lake, at least not officially or legally, however, that may change soon as the Town of Lake Cowichan continues to move forward with plans to construct a columbarium within town limits.
A lack of suitable land within local boundaries has historically prevented the town from building a cemetery, and while those constraints persist, since 2015 the town’s advisory planning commission has been actively investigating the possibility of establishing a columbarium — a memorial site to hold cremated remains.
Such a site would provide area residents the option of interring their loved ones locally, rather than relying on burial services in Duncan or disposing of ashes outdoors, which is illegal under provincial law.
APC chairman Ross Fitzgerald said that since the idea was first floated in 2014 and the commission subsequently began its research, public interest in the idea has been growing.
“There’s already been a few residents of the town asking if they could be listed; they’re holding their loved one’s ashes in an urn at home and would like to place them in a columbarium,” he said. “So a lot of things have to be decided.”
Columbaria are rooms or structures containing niches in which urns are placed and open for visitation by family members and the public. The construction and operation of such structures must meet the requirements set out in B.C.’s Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act.
This Act covers a range of subjects such as rules for disposing of human remains, time frames for cremation, exhumation and disinterment, and requirements for local governments. For example, a municipality must incorporate a company, establish itself as a board of trustees or appoint a board of trustees in order to own or operate a columbarium.
“Right now there isn’t a suitable site that would meet the provincial requirements for a cemetery placement,” said Fitzgerald, noting that the flood plain in Lake Cowichan restricts cemetery options even further. “The town just cannot at this time locate a site for a cemetery that meets the requirements.”
The APC has met with Vancouver Island’s only company that constructs columbaria to gain insight into the actual physical measurements and a sense of what such a structure could look like.
Fitzgerald said the APC is looking into designs that would have around 200 niches and last the town 10 to 12 years before filling up.
He also said the columbarium could have some unintended benefits.
“There is some environmental advantages,” he said, referring to the impact of adding caskets and human remains treated with chemicals like embalming fluid into the soil. “By having to make this choice, the town may be making the best choice for our environment in the future.”
Fitzgerald said the APC was not prepared yet to unveil the sites it is considering, pending public consultation.
However, Town of Lake Cowichan chief administrative officer Joseph Fernandez said they have a possible location by the Greendale trestle, near South Shore Road, on a piece of property owned by the town.
Fernandez said that while the town does own some property outside its boundaries, developing a town cemetery located in Area F or I did not seem appropriate.
“I think usually cemetery services that are provided by a town occur within its boundaries,” he said. “It would have been kind of tough to go outside the town to take care of something… There are jurisdictional problems that could arise; it makes more sense to have the service within your own town.”
The subject of a columbarium is open for discussion at the next public consultation the town will host later this month.
Fernandez confirmed that some of the language in Lake Cowichan’s Official Community Plan needs to be amended in order to assure a columbarium can be authorized on town land.
He also said the town does not expect the columbarium to be a significant cost issue because of the fees associated with interment. It will effectively pay for itself, he said.
“The columbiums that are run by other communities are self-funded. People pay for them,” he said.
For Fitzgerald and the APC, moving ahead on a columbarium should take place after they have had a chance to speak with people from the community, especially the Lake Cowichan First Nation and some of the local churches.
“It would be appropriate to just let them know the intentions of the town, and there’s a possibility we know that some cultures don’t believe in a columbarium idea, and that’s their choice. But you’d want to inform [them] that it may happen anyway,” said Fitzgerald.
At St. Christopher’s and St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, Rev. Brian Wood expressed some skepticism about the prospect of a town-owned columbarium. He said he’d only ever heard of columbaria that are part of a cemetery or part of a church’s property.
“I’d be very leery of it outside one of those two places,” he said, referring to the potential one might fall into disrepair or not be maintained with the same strictness as cemeteries. “When [loved ones] go to visit them, they want to be in a place where it’s nice and clean and looked after, and not surrounded by leaves and crap and not looked after.”
Wood also said it’s important for the town to keep fastidious records of whose remains are at the columbarium.
Betty Jane Kremer, a parishioner at St. Christopher’s and St. Aidan’s, said that while cremation is not part of her own final wishes, she thinks it’s a good idea to have the option available for those who do choose to go that route and for their families.
“My sister-in-law and brother were both cremated and I would like to have a resting place, an identified place,” she said.