A Natural Cemetery
There is a small but determined number of people in Manitoba (including
myself) who are interested in creating a natural cemetery. I have become
more aware of and more interested in natural burial in the past few years.
After being in charge of the burial of a friend in a traditional cemetery in
December, I am more determined to get a greener option available in
Manitoba and sooner rather than later.
My friend had preplanned and prepaid his funeral to be buried in a traditional
casket in a traditional cemetery with a traditional headstone, and as his
executor, I followed his wishes. But at the time he made these plans, there
was no option for a natural burial and as I write there are limited options in
First, what is a natural cemetery?
Imagine a natural park setting. Trees, bushes, marshes, natural grasses and
wildflowers. Some small paths, maybe a picnic table or a bench. Definitely
lots of wildlife: butterflies and other insects and lots of song birds in the
summer, and chickadees and nuthatches in the winter; some small animals
like mice and fox; and larger animals like deer and coyote and occasionally
And you cannot tell, but there are bodies buried here too. It is not obvious
because there are no traditional headstones and the grass is not manicured:
in fact the natural grasses, wildflowers and bushes are now growing on top
of the buried body.
The purpose of a natural cemetery is to allow people to return a body as
naturally as possible to the earth. It is an alternative to burial in a traditional
cemetery and also an alternative to cremation. It is a place to be buried
'naturally'; not harming the earth in doing so.
Those buried in a natural cemetery are not embalmed (too toxic to the
earth); I talk about embalming later in the article.
Those buried in a natural cemetery are buried in a plain pine box with rope
handles (no metal handles, no un-natural finish); or in a cotton shroud (a
burial cloth). And if someone has already been cremated, the cremated
remains ('ashes') could be scattered or buried in a natural container.
In a natural cemetery there may be natural markers that don't intrude on
the landscape: a flat indigenous stone that may be engraved.
With today's technology, the GPS coordinates would be recorded so family
and friends know where the body is buried even years after the burial spot is
covered by natural vegetation. And there will be careful records kept of
A natural burial is usually a less expensive option than a conventional burial.
What makes a natural burial different from a financial perspective, is that
the costs are better allocated, with money carrying on the legacy of the
deceased by protecting green space instead of the mark-up on expensive,
unnecessary materials (casket) and procedures (embalming). Cremation is
typically a cheaper option, but all of the environmental costs are not
factored in: it can be quite emission intensive.
If you are intrigued and interested in such a place, please let me know as it
seems 2020 will be the year a natural cemetery may finally get 'off the
ground'. It's possible a non-profit organization will be created soon to get
this vision or dream in the works. If you are interested in being part of the
organizing or just on the 'contact list' let me know.
As of right now, your options for a natural burial are limited. There is at least
one municipal cemetery in Winnipeg that has 'one corner' of the cemetery
for 'natural burial'. But this is not really a natural cemetery since it is still in
a manicured traditional cemetery.
I want to touch on the subject of embalming. I spoke of my friend who died
earlier in December and was buried in a traditional casket in a traditional
cemetery. One thing I held my ground on was 'no embalming'. The funeral
director initially said it was required, but I knew it was not. Even though my
friend was buried six days after he died, because it was a closed casket
during the service and there was no viewing, there was no need to have his
body embalmed. I encourage you to find out more about what's involved in
embalming before you agree to have it for someone you love or yourself.
Embalming fluids that use formaldehyde are not only expensive and terrible
for the environment they are also dangerous to the morticians involved.
I will acknowledge that a natural burial will need to occur within a few days
of a death (before the body starts to decay too much). The funeral home
does keep the body in a very cool environment to slow down the rate of
decay, but there is still limited time. If a viewing is desired, another way to
slow down the decay is to place the body on dry ice.
To create a natural cemetery, there are many details to review and hurdles
to overcome, but at least there seems to be many people with enough drive
to finally get this dream started.
Anni Markmann is a Personal Income Tax Professional and Certified Financial
Planner; living, working, and volunteering in our community. Contact us at
204.422.6631 or 36 Dawson Road in Ste Anne (near
Clearview Co-op) or firstname.lastname@example.org