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Vernon residents vexed by new cemetery rules

The rules prohibit placing trinkets on grave sites and restrict when artificial flowers can be placed
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Wayne Gondor stands beside his father’s grave stone at the Pleasant Valley Cemetery. He is against new rules that will restrict the sorts of items that can be placed at plots in the cemetery. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Arlene Hennessy comes to the cemetery almost every week to pay respects to her loved ones buried there, including her sister, her parents and her cousin.

But how she pays her respects is being controlled by a new rules at the Pleasant Valley Cemetery that will soon come into effect.

Between March 15 and Oct. 15, only fresh-cut flowers will be allowed to be placed on plots, according to the city’s updated cemetery bylaw that was adopted in 2019. Between Oct. 16 and March 14, potted plants, wreaths, artificial floral arrangements and seasonal floral tributes can be placed on plots.

Trinkets such as ceramics, frames, photographs, glass, boxes, toys, baskets or stands are not permitted on plots year-round.

Arlene and her husband Gary are dismayed by the new rules dictating what can be placed at her family members’ headstones, saying with the heat in the summertime, fresh-cut flowers last only a couple days.

“Why would you want to bring fresh cut flowers when it’s 100 degrees out? They’re going to die before you even leave the cemetery,” Arlene said.

“Council as far as I’m concerned made a big mistake because there’s so many people up here that come to a resting spot to care, to love, to remember, and why do they have to take that away from everybody?”

Arlene and Gary have trinkets, including a sentimental coffee mug, at the headstones of their loved ones. They say having to remove them restricts their ability to grieve the way they want to.

“How do you grieve? It’s a place for grieving, it’s a place to come just to be with them. How do you do that if you’re not allowed to bring anything?” Arlene asked.

Currently there are plenty of fake flower arrangements adorning the cemetery grounds, and Arlene doesn’t want to see the cemetery turn into a bare field when the new rules come into effect.

She says she’s talked to people at the cemetery who agree with her.

Arlene also has a plaque welded onto a tribute holder at a loved one’s grave, which presents a potential problem when the new rules kick in. Asked about the welded plaque, city communications manager Christy Poirier said it was a unique situation and advised Arlene to contact operations services and discuss the matter with the manager who oversees cemetery operations.

“They’ll be able to work together to determine what may or may not need to be done.” Poirier said.

READ MORE: Fresh-cut flowers only on Vernon cemetery plots

The city has said that safety, maintenance and environmental impacts were all part of the rationale for the rule changes. Arlene doesn’t see trinkets as a safety concern, and says maintenance operations shouldn’t be a problem as long as tributes are placed “up in the loop holes where they’re not in the way of the lawn mowers or the weed whackers.”

Meanwhile, Wayne Gondor said he wishes the city had done some consultation with the public before signing off on the new cemetery rules.

He says with fresh-cut flowers only lasting a couple days, “nobody can afford putting flowers every two days, that’s just ludicrous.”

Gondor’s dad passed away in 2005 and he has lots of other family members buried at the Pleasant Valley Cemetery. Aside from the new rules, Gondor takes issue with the snow plowing that’s been done in the cemetery, which has left a heap of snow on his father’s plot, and damaged a nearby headstone.

“To me that’s a lack of respect,” he said.

Gondor points out that some trinkets have religious significance, such as rosary beads that Catholics often put onto grave sites.

“Having a rosary on a gravestone is part of a ritual. A rosary is a religious symbol. That is now illegal under the city’s cemetery bylaw,” Gondor said.

The city is providing a grace period until March 14 for families to remove items that are no longer permitted on grave sites.

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Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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