Trevor Crean stands on the future site of Heritage Gardens, a new co-operative cemetery which he said will offer sustainable and more affordable burial opportunities, while helping groups who reserve sections of plots raise funds. (Tracy Holmes photo)

New South Surrey cemetery ‘aims to keep families together’

Co-operative burial ground to open next spring

Proponents behind South Surrey’s newest cemetery say they are all about helping families stay together after death – respectfully, affordably, efficiently and sustainably.

“We want to encourage families to use the maximum amount of space,” said Trevor Crean, project manager for Heritage Gardens, explaining that a key option of the new cemetery will be the ability to inter up to 10 family members in each grave.

“(It) will be significant because now you’re keeping everyone together.”

The “sustainable community cemetery” concept, said Crean, is about making a difficult time a little less difficult.

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Under development on 8½ acres in the 19000-block of 16 Avenue – the former site of Huckleberry Farm & Garden Centre, immediately west of the City of Surrey’s Hazelmere Cemetery – Heritage Gardens, said Crean, is the vision of his father, Tom, who is former co-owner of the family-owned Kearney Funeral Services.

Crean, 32, said his father sold his interest in the business to other family members last fall to embark on this new venture with his son and another partner.

Rezoning of the site to cemetery from general agriculture was the subject of concern for neighbours two years ago. At a public hearing, one woman told council that prospective buyers of her home backed out when they learned a cemetery was proposed for across the street.

At that time, plans called for an existing shed to be repurposed for maintenance and operations, while an existing residence would become an office, reception and indoor gathering space.

Services proposed at that time included “green” or non-coffin burials, niches for urns containing cremated remains, and both traditional and non-traditional services.

While council sent the application back to staff so that issues including traffic could be addressed, city minutes show the rezoning received third reading in December 2015, and final adoption last May.

Crean said he believes council’s initial hesitation was around the general difficulty in society to accept death.

“I think anything that acknowledges that it happens is kind of frowned upon,” he told Peace Arch News. “Death is a part of life, like it or not.”

Noting that a recent survey showed existing private cemeteries in the Lower Mainland charge up to $57,000 for burial plot – and up to $23,000 for a municipal plot – Crean said many people are turning to cremation because they see no other choice.

“Depending on where they go for services, they’re getting rolled for a lot of money that they should not have to pay,” he added.

“People deserve the right to an affordable burial option. We want to make sure that families know they deserve options and we want to deliver those.”

Crean confirmed that non-commissioned sales staff, no requirement for cement casket vaults or liners and a “green burial” section are key components of Heritage Gardens. Nearly three acres of the site has been ceded to the city.

The cemetery is also a co-operative. For groups wanting to create a ‘Neighbourhood Garden’ to honour their history and contributions – including faith, union and service organizations that reserve at least 25 plots – eight per cent of the cost will be returned.

“On 25 graves… we would be able to donate just under $11,000 back,” said Crean.

For those curious as to how 10 family members could be placed in one plot, Crean said it is a respectful arrangement: no more than two caskets, and up to eight cremated remains per grave.

In the green sites, if desired, space in each plot can be re-used as the remains biodegrade.

“There’s soil between everyone. We’re not piling them up like Lego,” he said.

At the same time, there’s no requirement to inter more than one person in each plot.

“You can use it for grandpa’s casket, or you can use it for the whole family.”

Crean said it’s hoped the cemetery will be ready to open next spring. Grading work is anticipated to get underway this month.

Reservations, he said, opened last week, and the first 2,500 who sign up online (heritagegardenscemetery.com) will save $1,000 on the cost.

Crean acknowledged that promoting preparing for a death can be an awkward conversation, and that the co-operative model in particular is “really difficult for people to wrap their head around.”

But the conversation, he said, is “a lot easier to have now than when somebody has passed away.”