Ashes to ashes: Why more Islanders are choosing cremation

When it comes to the end of the line, will you be "ashes to ashes," food for worms or something else?

'Who wants to lie in the dirt and become worm food?'

'Efficient way to dispose of the dead,' says Islander Ilona Berzins Batchelor of why she has already prepaid for her cremation. (oTaToRo/Shutterstock)

When it comes to the end of the line, will you be "ashes to ashes," food for worms or something else? 

Many more Islanders are choosing to be cremated rather than placed in a casket and buried — according to the Cremation Association of North America 33 per cent of Islanders now ask for cremation, compared to eight per cent a decade ago.

I asked people on Facebook and Twitter if they've chosen to be cremated, and why.

"For me, it's a more environmentally-friendly alternative, especially in contrast to all the chemicals used to prepare the body for viewing in the conventional Western tradition. I don't want any part of that," responded Ivy Wigmore.

"Who wants to lie in the dirt and become worm food? Cremation just seems the most logical way to handle a body post-death — environmentally, spiritually and financially," commented Dave Stewart of Charlottetown. 

'Efficient way to dispose of the dead'

Don't want a funeral and didn't want my dead body on display made up to look nothing like me.— Ilona Berzins Batchelor 

"Important issue as we boomers become seniors," noted Cheryl Wagner of Charlottetown.

Demand for cremations has quadrupled in P.E.I. in the last decade. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

"I want them to harvest any part of me that could be of value and burn the rest. No headstone or marker of any kind anywhere. Scatter me in Wales," added Pam Stevenson. 

"Prepaid for our cremation years ago. Don't want a funeral and didn't want my dead body on display made up to look nothing like me," shared Ilona Berzins Batchelor of Emerald, P.E.I.  "Cost was a factor, efficient way to dispose of the dead."

'Place to go to memorialize'

There are currently two crematoriums on P.E.I. — one in Kensington, and one at the Belvedere Funeral Home in Charlottetown. An application by Charlottetown Hennessey-Cutcliffe Funeral Home to add a crematorium led to city council this week considering whether to change a bylaw to allow all funeral homes in the city to do the same. 

While many Islanders are opting for cremation, Belvedere Funeral Home owner Faye Doucette says most families still choose to inter remains in a cemetery. (Submitted by the Clyde River History Committee )

"The talk is out there that we are using up good ground, putting chemicals in the ground," said Belvedere Funeral Home owner and funeral director Faye Doucette.

While more people who use Belvedere are choosing cremation, Doucette said most families still choose to inter their loved one's cremated remains in a burial plot in a cemetery. 

"They want a place to go to memoralize … to really remember" she said, adding most customers will have a visitation and viewing of the body, but are choosing cremation before burial. 

"I think there's a lot more healing can take place with a funeral, with some kind of ceremony," Doucette said — she's shepherded thousands of families in her long career. 

Unclaimed ashes

Doucette is not sure what she thinks of the trend, she said. 

Faye Doucette is the owner and a funeral director at the Belvedere Funeral Home in Charlottetown. (Faye Doucette/Facebook )

Cremation may be a less expensive option than burial in a plot, she said, but adds it is difficult to compare the two — some customers who choose to cremate a family member's body do so with no a wake or a funeral, whereas most who are dealing with a body will choose a wake and funeral, adding expense.  

Families do see cremation as "being easier," she said, and as noted above, "more efficient," but Doucette believes it is a more complicated topic than most families realize. 

"We have a whole lot of cremated remains that are unclaimed," Doucette revealed, as some families never pick up the ashes — something that can't happen with a body.

Other options

A handful of Islanders are also interred above ground in a mausoleum, or have their cremated remains interred in a crypt, Doucette said. 

Some people want to be buried in little more than a shroud and return to the earth in an unmanicured meadow. (Metropolitan Cemeteries Board/Government of Western Australia)

In some other provinces, there also funeral businesses that will dissolve your body in an alkaline solution in just a few hours, leaving only bones which are ground to a powder. It's described as a green option — artificial joints and other surgical hardware are recovered and donated to hospitals in developing countries.

"I used to think cremation, but that's another big waste of energy. Perhaps vertical burials will be next? Less land, no fuel," tweeted Darcie Lanthier. 

"I want tree cemeteries to be more popular," commented Elyse Cottrell of Charlottetown on Facebook, who saw one in Buffalo, N.Y. 

"You're cremated and they plant a tree with your ashes … People can visit something of you if they want — your tree. Forests and forests of protected trees."

The founder of P.E.I.'s Green Party, Sharon Labchuk, has what may be the most environmentally-friendly suggestion of all: bury her in her back yard woods. "Cremation contributes to climate change and air pollution," she said.  

That is not possible, however: burial permits are issued only to funeral directors, and without a burial permit a body cannot be disposed of in any manner, according to the province.

"That means bodies must be interred in a legal cemetery or crematorium," said David Ferguson of P.E.I.'s Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association. 

There are currently two crematoriums on P.E.I. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)


Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email