October 2012 Archives

October 2012 Archives

Space diminishing in Montréal cemeteries


A Brief Statement


The two largest cemeteries in North America, the Mount Royal Cemetery Co. and the Notre-Dame des Neiges cemetery, are both located in Montreal. The cemeteries are the burial grounds for more than "500 notable figures, from author Mordacai Richler to assassinated Father of Confederation Thomas D'Arcy McGee."(Cohen) Located on Mount Royal, the cemetaries are amongst Quebec's "most precious religious, cultural, and environmental sites" (Cohen), not only the resting place for Titanic survivors but premiers, ministers, mayors and hockey legend Maurice Richard as well.

But, alas, even the most beautiful and well-known cemeteries must encounter some bumps along the way. As the years go by, vandalism, union strikes and, what this paper focuses on, space issues are all realities the Mont Royal and Notre-Dame cemeteries deal with.

This backgrounder will focus on the two Mount Royal cemeteries unavoidable future struggles with burial space.


Some Cemetery History


Both cemeteries, one reserved for Catholics and the other for Protestant English, have the same pattern historically speaking with their development. They can be broken down into three phases, starting with their opening in the 1850's.

The first phase can be called the rural phase, lasting about 50 years. There were many complicated rules put in place, like Sunday interments being banned completely, making it difficult to visit the grounds on that day: "Sunday was reserved for card-carrying plot owners, and relatives of the poor in the Free Ground gained admittance only with a special pass"(Young), no one else was to enter the cemeteries at all.

This all changed with the welcoming of the second phase, which began when the cemeteries decided to hire their first superintendent. Roy (superintendent) "favored the lawn plan and flower beds that would eventually evolve in the 20th century into the memorial garden" (Young), he played extra attention to the landscape of the cemetery in order to make it an aesthetically pleasing place for visitors. Roy also was the first in 1902 to found the first crematorium on Montreal. When he died in 1958 they opened Sundays to everyone.

The Quebec Quiet Revolution marks the beginning of the third and final phase that leads till the present. They turned the cemeteries into a visitor focused project, where "Bird watching and walking tours were promoted, bilingual signs installed, and terraced burial gardens developed for growing Orthodox and Asian clientele." (Young)

They started selling monuments and memorial plaques and the cemeteries run this way ever since.


Current space issue


Though both cemeteries are two of the largest in America as previously stated, their popularity makes them also two of the most densely populated cemeteries around, with over a million graves. The Mount Royal cemetery spanding over 68 hectares and the Notre-Dame des Neiges at 134 hectares will not be able to accommodate many more burials, "there simply is not any space left on the mountain" (Johnston).

Mount Royal has only 2 hectares available and don't see any burials being possible past the year 2018. This causes a huge issue for the baby boomer population, who the majority thought the mountain would be their final resting place.

If a solution to the space issue is not found, the cemeteries will have a huge problem awaiting them when the time comes. Suburban smaller cemeteries might be the only place the future Montrealers will be able to find room for themselves.


What will happen in the future?

The only solution to the space issue if pretty obvious, they need to expand. They need to find a way to be able to accommodate all the future clientele.

Mount Royal especially has a language issue, because even if they expanded to land east of the mountain, their English clients would not want to be buried in the east French area of Montreal. They though they "had found a way out of its land conundrum in 2002, when it purchased 39 hectares in Senneville"(Johnston), but that plan is still under discussion, because the residents of Senneville do not want a cemetery taking up land and not paying taxes. Both Cemeteries will have a hard time finding a space of land large enough to be able to expand to.

The other option the cemeteries could use to maintain the clientele of their cemeteries, if is they promote cremation much more. The cemeteries have even said that "only the deceased who are cremated will be eligible" (Johnston) once the grounds are full. This solution would reduce the space issue and is a trend that is becoming more popular.

Finally the cemeteries have come up with a plan to help keep space available over time. "Mount Royal cemetery will not be guaranteeing patrons burial in perpetuity... People will buy terms of up to 99 years, or shorter"(Johnston), beaning after their terms are up the grave will be vacated to make room for new burials. This is a trend already very popular in Europe and becoming an option in North America.

Regardless which option will work the best for either cemetery, it is something they need to take care of before it is too late and all the space is gone.

By: Julie Bourdeau


Visit our community forum!



OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID