City of Merritt approves common grave for over 50 unclaimed remains
Merritt city councillors have agreed to allow the burial of nearly 54 Merrittonians’ unclaimed cremated remains in a common grave.
During a regular council meeting on Aug. 7, council authorized a variance to the bylaw that would allow the remains to be buried in one grave site at the Pineridge Cemetery. Council also agreed to forgive the cost of the plot ($450) and the administration fees associated with the burial.
Paul Wright, former owner of the Merritt Funeral Chapel, said he was prompted to make the unusual request after his family sold the local business to a large organization.
“The new owners are not willing to take responsibility of the unclaimed cremated remains, so it’s our responsibility to deal with them,” Wright said.
The funeral home has held the 54 remains — some of them up to 40 years — waiting for a family member to claim them. The family inherited most of the remains from the previous owner when they purchased the business in 1988.
Wright, whose family also owned and operated Schoenings Funeral Home Services in Kamloops, says it’s not common for cremated remains to sit unclaimed, but adds that it happens more often than people might think.
“In 1995 we buried close to 300 unclaimed remains in a common grave in Kamloops,” he said. “Frankly, I can’t believe it myself.”
Under the agreement with the City, Wright will pay for the opening and closing costs of the grave and provide a liner and a list of names in the order the remains are placed in the box, which will cost about $2,000 he said.
Technically, though, Wright doesn’t have to incur the cost of burial. The B.C. Cremation, Internment and Funeral Services legislation specifies that a funeral provider may dispose of unclaimed cremated remains as long as the remains are unclaimed for at least a year and the operator has provided sufficient notice (the Merritt Funeral Chapel advertised twice in the Herald and waited 30 days before proceeding).
However, Wright says he prefers to deal with the remains respectfully.
“We could scatter them or get rid of them, but we’ve chosen to bury them at our expense,” he said. “We’re going to have a minister there who will deliver a committal service, so we’ll do it very respectfully.”
None of the councillors opposed the motion to authorize the one-time variance, though Coun. Dave Baker questioned whether it would set a precedent.
“This is a highly unusual circumstance — it’s a once in 40-year deal,” said CAO Matt Noble, adding that the City of Kamloops had set a precedent for allowing common burials in similar circumstances.
After the meeting Mayor Susan Roline said it would have been a shame for locals to be buried outside of Merritt.
“I know a lot of the people on the list from growing up and from my years in the bank,” she said. “In many cases they were the only ones left in their family.
“Now if someone comes looking for them, they’ll be able to find them.”
The remains were initially scheduled to be buried at Hillside Cemetery in Kamloops on Aug. 15. Instead, they will be buried in Merritt’s Pineridge Cemetery on Aug. 15 at 2 p.m.
If next of kin were to come to reclaim an individuals’ remains, the City would recover the remains for a fee and allow them to be interred under normal circumstances, Noble’s report to council said.