Green Burial is:
- a statement of personal values for those who seek to minimize their impact on the local and global environment.
- a spiritually fulfilling alternative to conventional burial, especially for people who are mindful of the cyclical nature of life.
- an environmentally sensitive practice where the body is returned to the earth to decompose naturally and contribute to environmental renewal.
A body is prepared for Green Burial without embalming and buried in a biodegradable shroud, simple container or casket made from natural fibre, wicker or sustainably harvested wood.
This form of burial has been practiced since the dawn of human civilization.
The Woodlands at Royal Oak
Royal Oak Burial Park is located in a Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem, with the surrounding forest characterized by a mix of Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, Red Alder, Bigleaf Maple and Western Red Cedar. Arbutus and Garry Oak also grow where conditions permit. The Woodlands at Royal Oak complement the Burial Park’s existing forest ecosystem.
As burials occur, a selection of native trees, shrubs, perennials, groundcover and spring bulbs are planted in clusters on and around grave sites. Families can choose some of what will be planted on their gravesites by selecting from a range of approved native plants offered by the Burial Park. For some graves, a young tree may be chosen from an adjacent tree nursery and any remaining open space is restored with native grasses and wildflowers.
Over time, each of area of the Woodlands will develop into distinct “forest room,” with their own unique character, yet blending with the surrounding natural environment.
The Woodlands at Royal Oak Burial Park opened in October 2008 and was Canada’s first urban green burial site. Woodlands expansion will occur as the first phase becomes fully utilized.
A Woodlands grave may be used for the burial of one person in a shroud, or a biodegradable container or casket. Cremated remains, in an un-enclosed state or in a fully biodegradable urn may also be buried in the Woodlands.
Woodlands graves are arranged to be used sequentially in a manner that works with the natural character and terrain of the site. Graves are assigned by the Burial Park only when a death has occurred and according to the sequential use plan.
For every burial, a permanent record of all pertinent details, including the precise location, is created and this record is maintained, as required by law, in perpetuity at the Burial Park office.
Only human remains that are not embalmed may be buried in the Woodlands.
For Green Burial the body must be enclosed in a fully biodegradable shroud, casket or other container.
Families are encouraged to have graveside committal services and they can arrange to participate in the in the filling in of the grave. Many families find participation in the complete graveside committal process a meaningful and important part of their bereavement journey.
Conventional, individual memorial markers or monuments are not used in The Woodlands. Instead, communal memorial boulders, created from B.C. sourced stone, have been placed in various locations throughout the Woodlands.
The memorial boulders have room for simple inscriptions to record the names of the persons buried in the area nearest each boulder location.
As the Woodlands become fully utilized and the memorial plantings mature, a walking path will be created that meanders through the Woodlands connecting all the memorial boulders.
Planting & Maintenance
To create a diverse, balanced mix of plantings in The Woodlands, the Burial Park carries out all planting activity according to an established planting plan. The trees, shrubs, wildflowers and groundcover used in the Woodlands are typical of native species found on lower Vancouver Island.
Tree, shrub and wildflower planting is done seasonally. Following a burial there may be a period from a few months, up to a full year, when the ground is left to settle before any planting can occur. This may mean that a burial that takes place in late winter may not have memorial plantings on the grave until the following fall.
Not every grave can have a tree planted on it. Trees must be planted with sufficient room for them to grow and create a healthy tree and contribute to the natural canopy for wildlife movement, forage and habitation. Families are offered a choice of plantings depending on the location of the grave, and they may be allowed to participate in the planting of their selections.
On recent graves, leaf mulch or natural woodchips are used to suppress grass, invasive plant species and weeds from establishing themselves before the memorial plantings are made. This cover contributes organic material to the soil and eventually breaks down.
The goal is to always maintain Woodlands areas in as natural a state as possible; it is nonetheless necessary for the site to be managed and kept accessible, especially during the operational phase. Groundcover will be trimmed from time to time and weed control will be carried out periodically to ensure that trees and plantings can flourish. Ivy, blackberry, broom and other invasive species will be monitored and removed as needed to stop them taking from hold.
Herbicides and pesticides will not be used at The Woodlands. Normally rain is the only form of watering that will occur, but artificial irrigation may be used to assist in establishing memorial plantings.
Access for graveside services is provided along a gravel roadway and only cemetery and funeral service vehicles are permitted into the Woodlands (visitors can only access the Woodlands on foot). As more and more graves are used in The Woodlands, these roadways will be removed and reclaimed for additional grave space.
When fully utilized, access into The Woodlands will be along a walking path. A few small clearings with seating will be maintained for visiting and quiet contemplation in a secluded setting. Woodlands visitors are welcome during the regular visiting hours of the Burial Park.
Visitors are discouraged from seeking out individual graves. This limitation is in place because as trees, shrubs and ground cover are planted and mature, unrestricted access would be detrimental to their survival, as well as to the ecosystem of the area as a whole.
Some of the key benefits of Green Burial are:
- Efficient land use - based on more burial sites created through the elimination of easements required for memorials and infrastructure and eventual reclamation of roadways.
- Biodiversity and habitat enhancement - through the planting of indigenous plant species, and creating nesting sites and natural habitat for birds and other animals.
- Natural storm-water permeability and retention - through the reduction of hard or paved surfaces associated with conventional burial sites.
- Restoration and conservation - in perpetuity, of the area allowing the site to mature over time and integrate visually and functionally into the surrounding natural landscape.
- Elimination of pesticide and herbicide use – as opposed to those chemicals used in conventional landscape settings.
At the Burial Park there are three fees to consider:
- Right of Interment: the price for the right to use a Woodlands grave, which includes a contribution (required by law) to the Burial Park Care Fund;
- Interment: the fee for the Burial Park to open the grave, prepare it for the burial service, fill in the grave, the plants and the staff to do the plantings on the grave surface, and staff to perform related administrative and maintain permanent records;
- Memorial Inscription: the fee for the Burial Park to have an inscription made on a memorial boulder.
Non Burial Park fees: may include: local funeral home to arrange for the transfer, sanitary care and refrigerated shelter of the deceased; prepare legal documentation and acquire the burial permit; provide a selection of biodegradable shrouds, caskets and containers; coordinate remembrance services as directed by the family and transfer the remains to the gravesite for the committal and burial.