A cemetery might seem a strange place to choose for a summer morning walk, yet the Delta History Hunters clearly thought otherwise. A lively group of 25 people gathered for our July 25 outing at the Boundary Bay Cemetery, on the east side of 56 Street, Tsawwassen. Vern Munroe, the Cemetarian, arrived to greet us and tell us about South Delta’s 4.5 acre cemetery.
The earliest graves date back to 1886, with between 15 to 20 of them unmarked. It is not unusual for cemeteries to have a few unmarked graves from pioneer times. There are now about 173 internments a year, averaging about 2 a week. There is also a small cemetery at Brookwood, which has a couple of interments a year.
The older headstones are a mix of flat tablets and uprights, but modern ones are almost all flat. Upright stones make it too difficult to maneuver the back hoe around when digging new graves. However, pillow markers, that lie flat but have a bit of a slope to them, are now allowed. The cemetery is very well cared for, both by the Corporation of Delta staff and by the many visitors who come to pay their respects and place flowers. The grass is cut once a week in the summer and the upkeep is paid for by Delta. Vern is on duty about 7.00 am to 2.30 pm, five days a week.
Burial lots are sized according to whether it is a full burial or a cremation. The average grave site is 8 ft by 4 ft by 8ft deep, while cremation lots are 18 inches or 2 ft square (for some reason all sites are still in Imperial units). It is not possible to reserve a lot or purchase ahead of time, although a double lot can be bought when one person in a family dies. A full burial lot has room for four subsequent cremations on top, so this is an option for some families. Vern showed us a recently prepared cremation lot, with the box liner in place, ready to receive the urn. There are plans by the Municipality for a cremation wall, with room for name plaques and a common urn for the ashes. A boulder garden in the wooded area may also be created, similar to the one at Valley View cemetery. As yet, there are no “green” burials in South Delta, and these ecological options would need a new, large location. The Royal Oaks cemetery in Victoria has this type of burial.
After hearing all about the technical aspects of being buried, we strolled around the peaceful lawns of the cemetery. Tall trees ring the park-like setting and the ground rises gently to a cliff top, with partial views east to Boundary Bay. Two young Bald Eagles circled around overhead. The older graves, with rather ornate headstones, are at the upper, eastern side of the cemetery. Here were Wilsons and Kirklands and other well-known Ladner names. We were interested to see a whole section of Chinese graves, with inscriptions in Chinese characters, many of them dating around 1964. A separate part of the cemetery is reserved for babies.
After thanking Vern for his tour, we scattered into small groups as we studied the graves and found names that we knew. The tour lasted about an hour and was extremely interesting and I think we all learned more about how death is handled in Delta. We were reminded how important it is to let our families know what we want for end of life care and celebration.
Most of the group then headed off to enjoy the sunshine, although a handful of us gathered for coffee at Petra’s café on 12th Avenue.
Some useful resources:
- To locate someone’s grave, consult staff at Delta Municipal Hall. They have the master plan of who is buried where. As yet, this information is not online.
- Information on Boundary Bay cemetery can also be found at the website “findagrave” http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=2146965. Anyone can enter information on family members buried at this site by registering for free. There is room to upload a photo and an obituary.
- An upcoming course, “My Voice” on preparing yourself and your family for practical issues around death will be taking place soon in Ladner. Watch for notices in local newspapers.