News / Canada

As Vancouver cemetery space dwindles, burial prices run upwards of $50K

Vancouverites have long complained about the high cost of living in this city.

But as graveyards fill up and land prices soar, it’s also becoming one of the most expensive places to die.

In some Metro Vancouver cemeteries where vacancy is running low, asking prices for in-ground burial plots with space for two caskets can run as high as $52,000, while a double crypt mausoleum can come with a price tag as steep as $60,000.

According to industry experts, that high cost of burial is only going to keep rising as graveyard space continues to dwindle in a city already notorious for its sky-high real estate prices. They say the issue highlights a need for more designated cemetery land across Metro Vancouver, as well as changes to provincial legislation that control how cemeteries can sell burial plots.

“We’re going to hit that wall eventually,” said Glen Hodges, manager of Mountain View Cemetery in Mount Pleasant. “The space that exists is basically the space we already have, so as those cemeteries start to fill up … that puts pressure on those cemeteries in terms of pricing that remaining space.”

At Mountain View, Vancouver’s only cemetery, Hodges said there are only 700 or 800 graves still available for casket burials.

The cost of a burial plot is $22,500, he said, which includes space for up to two caskets, up to eight cremated remains and up to four grave markers, one of which can be an upright monument.

While the price may seem exorbitant, Hodges said the fee is “good value” considering families can reuse the burial plot for future generations, placing two new caskets every 40 years. Mountain View Cemetery is the only cemetery in Canada that allows families to re-use burial plots every 40 years, he said.

“But those funds have to be dedicated up front,” he said.

At private cemeteries in Metro Vancouver, families don’t have the option of reusing a burial plot and the cost can run even higher.

In Burnaby, the cost of a double-depth burial plot at Forest Lawn Memorial Park ranges from $11,750 to $50,000, while a double-depth plot at Ocean View Burial Park ranges from $30,000 to $52,000.

Those fees have been rising about three per cent every year, and are determined by supply and demand, said Blair Wallin, B.C. market director for Dignity Memorial, a U.S.-based corporation that owns and operates 1,600 funeral, cremation and cemetery service providers throughout North America, including the two Burnaby cemeteries and Victory Memorial Park in Surrey.

In cemeteries with few vacancies, Wallin said the price is higher, especially if the plot has a good view and is in a good location.

Customers can also add embellishments like building a privacy wall or hedges that drive up the cost, he said.

While the price may not be feasible for everyone, Wallin said customers can also opt for an above ground mausoleum, which ranges in price from $7,200 to $26,000 for a single crypt and $11,000 to $60,000 for a double crypt.

Other options include choosing a cemetery with more space or in another part of the city further from the urban core, he said.

“It may not be at their first choice … but there’s a variety of options,” he said.

In Abbotsford’s municipal cemeteries, the total cost of burial is $2,624 for residents and $5,048 for non-residents, while at Chilliwack Cemeteries, the total cost starts at about $5,400.

In Surrey’s municipal cemeteries, the price range is similar, with a burial plot ranging between $3,075 and $4,175 for residents, and $4,175 and $5,575 for non-residents.

But as graveyards continue to fill up, however, Wallin said cemeteries are grappling with ways to meet demand.

He urged governments to look at setting aside lands for future cemetery development.

“Families are going to want to continue to choose to memorialize their loved ones and to have to place to focus their grief,” he said. “So the dedication of lands to accommodate that critical need, that’s the solution.”

Peter Nobes, director of the Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, which operates cemeteries in Surrey, New Westminster, Chilliwack and Hope, said he believes the high cost of burial is driving families to choose the less expensive option of cremation, which is roughly a quarter of the cost of casket burial.

In 2012, the cremation rate in B.C. was almost 83 per cent, while the national cremation rate was 63 per cent, according to statistics from the Cremation Association of North America.

While cremation is an accepted mode of interment within Catholicism, Nobes said the church is concerned people may be making burial decisions solely based on economics.

For Hodges, the high cost of burial underscores a need for the B.C. government to look at changing B.C.’s cremation, interment and funeral services act, which currently allows cemeteries to only sell two spaces in a double-depth burial plot to members of the same family.

If burial plots could be sold to two strangers who don’t mind sharing a grave, or if someone could consent to having their grave made available to another individual after a period of time, Hodges said casket burial could become significantly more affordable.

“That would completely change the economics of the cost to those people,” he said. “It’s a game changer for areas like Metro Vancouver where space is at a premium.”

In some European countries where space is at a premium, governments have addressed issues of limited grave space in similar ways by leasing burial plots, rather than sell it in perpetuity, he said.

But the clock is ticking for the laws to be changed, Hodges said.

“We only have 700 or 800 plots left,” he said. “If we sell all those out before the change comes in the legislation, it’s not an option for us anymore.”

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