North Huron Council seeks input on cemetery bylaw
BY DENNY SCOTT
After a lengthy debate, North Huron Township Council, during its Monday night meeting, decided to seek input on its cemetery bylaw before opening the document for changes.
Director of Public Works Jamie McCarthy provided a report to council as she was directed during the last budget process outlining past changes to the document, which was updated in 2018, and possible changes in the future.
She said the only concerns that had been raised in the past three years were those of hours, with the cemetery only being available for interments at regular price points Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday 7 a.m. to noon. There were also additional charges for interments outside of the spring, summer and fall.
She noted that, if council wanted to make any changes, it would be similar to a planning process where comments would be sought from residents and funeral directors in the catchment area and meetings would need to be held. The changes, she said, could take months to be put into effect.
Councillor Anita van Hittersum said that the hours for public work assistance are very short and wondered what led to that, asking if schedules couldn’t be rotated to help out.
“No one has a funeral at 7 a.m.,” she said.
McCarthy said that, if hours were a concern, council could go through the process of notifications and meetings, but reiterated that it would take months to complete.
“We have two staff members covering the Wingham and Blyth cemeteries,” she said, adding those weren’t the only responsibilities of the staff members.
She said the hours had been established in 2019, and that there were few complaints since then.
Council then discussed a letter from Dayna Deans, owner of McBurney Funeral Home in Wingham, which McCarthy hadn’t received yet. Aside from commenting on how frustrating the hours of operation are, Deans also criticized the spring and winter storage timelines, and a 25-year limit being put on disinterments.
“In regards of not allowing a disinterment of a body after 25 years, I truly do not know if this is something you can even enforce and I would strongly encourage you to seek clarification from the [Bereavement Authority of Ontario],” Deans wrote. “A body is property of the family [and] I do not know that, if they agree to pay the fees for the disinterment, that you can say they are not allowed because of a time frame.”
Deans went on to say that local public health organizations can force disinterments regardless of bylaws and that, with buried vaults, there was likely no reason to have such rules, citing a recent move of two bodies to the Wingham cemetery where the vaults were in perfect condition.
“From about 1970-2012 vaults were standard and mandatory for a burial in Wingham so you shouldn’t run into the issue much,” Deans said.
Furthermore, in the letter, Deans said that North Huron needed to compare their bylaws to local cemeteries instead of larger centres as she claimed staff had done in the past.
“Wingham needs to stop pushing the cemetery to the side and get it operating like the rest of the cemeteries in our area,” Deans wrote. “Wingham cemetery has become the laughing stock between funeral homes, vault companies and other cemeteries because of [the] ridiculous rules to save a dollar.”
In looking for a solution, van Hittersum asked if there couldn’t be more staff time dedicated towards cemetery issues to address some of Deans’ concerns.
McCarthy said that selecting locations for graves was only able to be done by one staff member currently, with one more staff member soon to be trained on it. Other responsibilities, however, like physically digging graves, could be done with help from other Public Works staff members.
Councillor Paul Heffer said that, as part of council’s due diligence, it should give consideration to changing the situation.
“Wingham is a growing, retirement town,” he said. “I feel we should look at an overhaul.”
He said the issue may take time, but that council owed it to the ratepayers.
Councillor Kevin Falconer asked why only two cemeteries were detailed in McCarthy’s report on the issue, with other council members suggesting there were several more cemeteries in the township.
McCarthy said she would look into the issue.
Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip said that providing cemetery services is just that, a service, and council needed to decide whether that was a service to which more resources needed to be directed. Seip also believed that the “law of averages” would see enough services happen during the regular operational periods that those beyond it could be charged the same amount and the “law of averages” would balance the issue.
He also suggested that there could be different fees for people in the communities and those from outside it.
After significant debate, council received McCarthy’s report, then directed her to research comparator data with other municipalities and cemeteries and prepare a report for council to consider before looking at amending the existing bylaw.