North

New Iqaluit cemetery bogged down with water problems

Iqaluit's new cemetery has been steeped in controversy since planning began more than ten years ago, and since burials began at the site the issues have only gotten worse.

'When we went to bury the body... it started to float,' says Gusta Kootoo

Brian Pearson, Iqaluit's undertaker, says 'the wet, boggy, messy' condition of the new Apex cemetery need to be dealt with to protect the dignity of the funerals. (Tamara Pimentel/CBC)

The flooding at Iqaluit's new cemetery is just the latest in a long list of controversies since the city began planning for the project more than 10 years ago. 

But for Gusta Kootoo, whose nephew's plot had to be drained before his body could be interred, this is more than a political issue. 

"When we went to bury the body... it started to float," Kootoo said in Inuktitut. "Our relatives, all of us, we were hurt."

"My whole family was upset." 

When the family of Marty Gendron gathered for what was meant to be a solemn ceremony, they took in the beautiful landscaping of the new Apex cemetery: the custom gate, the whale-bone arch and the carefully laid stone markers. 

But when they looked into the plot, all they could see was nearly a metre of muddy water.

"So I talked to the undertaker: 'you can't put a body in that. We've got to do something,'" Kootoo said. 

The workers at the site threw stones on top and continued the burial, but the coffin wouldn't stay down.

"[It] started floating, so we had to take the coffin back out."

No closure for the family

In the end, the city was called in to dig out more of the grave and, an hour later, Gendron was buried. But, by that point some of the relatives couldn't attend and even the minister was not available. 

Kootoo says because of the way the service was handled, he doesn't feel any emotional closure.

"This was not a proper burial," said Kootoo. "You need to pump the water out before a burial, when there is water in the plot you cannot lay them to rest in water."

Brian Pearson, the city's undertaker, says "the wet, boggy" nature of the new cemetery's soil makes it impossible to complete a tradition: family members throwing the first shovels of dirt into the grave. 

"When the terrain is great lumps of stone and rock and mud and clay it makes it difficult," said Pearson. "It's the last act on the part of the family saying goodbye to their loved ones." 

Be prepared or fix the problem

Both Pearson and Kootoo agree that there are two things the city could do to make sure this never happens again: pump out the water to prepare the plots before the families arrive, or remove the clay base in the cemetery and improve the drainage. 

"The dignity of the funeral and the dignity of the family have to be foremost certainly in my view. They have to be respected," said Pearson. 

"Let's hope it doesn't happen again."

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