By Trevor Busch
Vauxhall Cemetery’s version of ‘musical chairs’ in relation to the selection of a site for its new columbarium continued at town council’s most recent meeting.
In late May, a site that had been previously selected and received preliminary support from council, pending final approval, has now been determined to be unfeasible.
“The site that we approved by motion at the last meeting, it turns out once we went out and surveyed where the property lines of the cemetery are, it’s just physically impossible to place it within the cemetery boundaries there, and the M.D. wants it to be within the cemetery boundaries rather than on M.D. lands,” said Coun. Richard Phillips, speaking at town council’s June 5 regular meeting. “The columbarium itself could not overlap without re-zoning that as cemetery. So the site that was approved does not work.”
A columbarium is a place for public storage of cinerary urns (urns holding a deceased’s cremated remains). The term comes from the Latin columba (dove) and originally referred to compartmentalized housing for doves and pigeons, called a dovecote.
Vauxhall Cemetery Committee had originally sought permission to install a columbarium along the south edge of the cemetery, at the bottom of the main path off the eastern entrance, during council’s April 3 meeting.
While this spot was considered ideal, it would have placed the columbarium on Municipal District of Taber-owned land, and council could not give permission to build on that spot, instead recommending a spot at the end of the north path at the east end of the cemetery.
An ensuing back-and-forth between the Town of Vauxhall and M.D. of Taber over the responsibility for the decision continued throughout April, with the M.D. eventually placing authority in the hands of the town as the operator of the cemetery facility.
In a follow-up with town council on May 25, the cemetery committee explained they still believed their original site would be the best place for the columbarium, however, in their new proposal they adjusted the exact location so the columbarium would now sit on the tree line, with about three feet of concrete bed sitting on M.D. land.
An alternative site for the columbarium in open space at the end of a grave row was recently canvassed informally with members of the cemetery committee, according to Phillips.
“At the cemetery clean-up last week (May 29 – June 2), a large number of the cemetery committee members were out there and were looking at alternative sites. They’ve not yet voted on it as a committee, but the majority favoured a site that I think is ideal. There’s three rows that are short rows with empty space at the end of them. We staked it out and it fits very nicely, and the columbarium certainly wouldn’t obstruct views. It’s just over six feet tall, and a little over seven feet in diameter — it’s not a huge thing. That would be my suggestion as the best place, the majority of the committee favoured it.”
The columbarium weighs about 14,000 lbs, so it needs to be placed on a solid foundation. The committee estimates it will cost $46,000 it install, including work and landscaping.
Coun. Martin Kondor questioned the proposed alternative placement for the columbarium, suggesting this might violate the intentions of neighbouring families whose loved ones are interred near the site.
“My only thing is, when the cemetery got built or whatever, we should have asked whoever is on that end. Maybe they bought that end, they want the end plot, so they can sit on the grass, or sit there, who knows. I don’t know whose graves are there, I have no idea. But maybe they wanted that grass there so they could have an open space here at the end of their grave. You don’t know. It probably wouldn’t be a big deal to just to ask people that are at the end of the row, make sure it’s fine. I’m pretty sure they’ll probably say it’s fine. I know that’s the reason I picked a grave, because it was open at the end, and if they put something there I wouldn’t be very happy when I came back.”
Kondor went on to suggest his concerns — and potentially those of other families — need to be addressed prior to any final decision being made on placement.
“I don’t want to be a pain in the butt about it, but there might have been a reason why somebody wanted it, because it was on the end and they could sit there. I don’t know. That’s why I bought on the end, I bought all five on the end, so I got nobody that can go on the end.”
Following discussion, Phillips suggested the matter was not currently of the utmost urgency and that town council could wait for an official endorsement of the alternative site from the Vauxhall Cemetery Committee. No motion was tabled by town council on the issue at the June 5 meeting.