March 9, 2015

Scattering the ashes of the recently departed is a rising trend in Vancouver despite the practice breaking both civil and canon law.

"It is against canon law for the simple reason that it comes back to the Church's position that it is all about reverence and care for the body" or the cremated remains, said Peter Nobles, director of Catholic Cemeteries in Vancouver.

"It is about a reverent and dignified disposition of the human person. For our brothers and sisters, our cemeteries are a reverent place of prayer and a witness to our faith."

Civilly, doing so is often illegal as British Columbia law requires permission from the landowner before ashes are scattered on a property. However, a blind eye is often turned to the practice.

The Vancouver area boasts North America's highest rate of cremation at 83 per cent in general, though Catholic Cemeteries only cremates about 40 per cent of its deceased. But each year that number is on the rise, said Nobles.

"The other 60 per cent are full body but we are trending quickly towards the cremation wave so our mix has been changing every year," he said.

With more cremations, scattering the cremated remains has grown in popularity. Nobles sees two key reasons.

"In the Lower Mainland there has been a massive trend towards cremation primarily because of economics," he said, noting the cost of funeral plots has increased in step with rising real estate prices in Vancouver.

There is also the glamorization of the practice in media.

"Hollywood, in many movies, has kind of romanticized the notion of spreading the ashes in some beautiful spot. (So now) people are taking cremated remains and they are dumping them in the parks and in the streams and in the beautiful mountains."


Beyond canon law and civil reasons, Noble has a personal reason for opposing the trend.

"I live in northern Vancouver which is a beautiful neighbourhood where this is occurring more and more," said Nobles.

"I am a father of two kids and I really don't want my public parks and my hiking trails to become graveyards. That's why we operate cemeteries.

"Our bond with the dead continues after they die," he said.

"The cemetery is a place of great importance, it is a place of witness, it is a place of community."