Montreal

Workers at Montreal's Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery say grass is unkempt, bones exposed due to job cuts

Employees at Canada's largest cemetery say they receive daily complaints about the state of the landscaping. Currently in negotiations with their employer, workers say key jobs have been cut.

Employees at Canada's largest cemetery say they receive complaints daily

Frederic Collin visited his family's plot on Father's Day only to find it in a state of neglect. (Submitted by Frederic Collin)

On Father's Day, Frederic Collin went to Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery in Montreal to pay respects to his grandfather and his late mother.

He happened to be there on the same day workers were protesting outside, claiming job cuts have left the grounds in a state of neglect.

​Collin told CBC he's noticed the drop in services compared with previous years.

"It looks like if it was an abandoned cemetery or something," he said. "It's like a wild garden."

"I've never seen it that way in the last.. well, ever."

Patrick Chartand, vice-president of the union representing cemetery workers, said the employees no longer have enough staff to properly take care of the land and grave plots.

"The grass is up to your knees. It's crazy," he said.

Chartrand said employees have been hearing complaints daily about the state of the cemetery.

"There's a lot of anger because the grass is not cut," he said. "Our clientele is worried and angry and we understand."

Patrick Chartrand, vice-president of the union representing cemetery workers, says he understands why families are upset by the conditions of the cemetery. (CBC)

Chartrand said 26 jobs were cut in the last year, primarily in landscaping work.

Worse than long grass, Chartrand says the cemetery has a well-known groundhog problem which sometimes results in bones being dug up and splayed around the surface of the cemetery.

"People don't expect to see this when they come. They don't expect to see holes, grass long, even bones sometimes, groundhogs, when they dig, they dig everything out."

His union is currently in contract negotiations with their employer, the Fabrique de la paroisse Notre-Dame de Montréal.

The Fabrique is a non-profit organization that oversees the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery and Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal.

$100-million deficit

In a statement, the organization said that the cemetery is operating with an accumulated $100-million operating deficit.

The Notre-Dame Basilica is also running at a deficit of $8.5 million.

The employer says the jobs had to be cut in order to address the cemetery's $100-million deficit. (CBC)

The Fabrique said in a statement the numbers were confirmed in an external audit and and the information was shared with all employees in November 2020.

"The cemetery's operating losses stem from the fact that expenses exceed revenues by about 40 per cent each year on average. The cost of remunerating staff assigned to operations and maintenance activities and customer service represents almost 75 per cent of the cemetery's annual operating revenues," according to the statement.

The Fabrique confirmed that in March 2021, some seasonal salaried positions would be abolished.

"All activities must be reviewed to reduce and eliminate the annual operating deficits over the next few years to ensure the sustainability of the Basilica and the Cemetery."

With files from Chloe Ranaldi

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