British Columbia

Dozens of people's ashes remain unclaimed at Vancouver Island cemetery

Hatley Memorial Gardens recently posted a newspaper ad listing the names of 30 people who were cremated more than a year ago but whose remains haven't yet been picked up.

Hatley Memorial Gardens has given families until mid-August to claim ashes

Hatley Memorial Gardens tries to contact families for at least a year before the unclaimed ashes are interred in a common burial ground. (Hatley Memorial Gardens)

Cremation is a common funeral practice in British Columbia but sometimes those ashes end up forgotten and unclaimed. 

Hatley Memorial Gardens, in Vancouver Island's Colwood, recently posted a newspaper ad listing the names of 30 people who were cremated more than a year ago but whose remains haven't yet been picked up.

"We're asking for help if anyone recognizes or can provide us with information to help us make contact with these [families]," said Patrick Downey, the Western Canada director for Arbor Memorial, which owns and operates Hatley.  

Leaving behind someone's ashes isn't a common occurrence, he said, but it can happen.

After someone's death, the person's next-of-kin or representative has to fill out a form authorizing the cremation — which includes contact information. 

But on occasion, calls, e-mails and registered letters sent using that contact information go unanswered. 

If the unclaimed remains listed in the advertisement aren't collected by mid-August, they will be interred in a common burial ground at Hatley.  

"When we are unsuccessful at many attempts over the course of a year [to contact families], what we deem is appropriate is to provide a final resting place for the individuals," Downey told CBC's All Points West.

'Have your wishes known'

Once the ashes are interred at Hatley, they won't be able to be claimed. 

"Anyone who comes later can be directed to the space within the cemetery so that they could visit the resting place of their loved ones," Downey said. 

"But at that point we would not be able to retrieve those remains."

Ultimately, he said, it's up to the individual what they want done with their remains after death — but those wishes have to be made clear beforehand. 

"If the wishes are recorded by the deceased … that is binding on the funeral provider to honour those wishes," Downey said. 

"We encourage everyone to have that discussion at some point in time and have your wishes known. Then there would be no need for [this] situation." 

With files from All Points West

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