The Changing Landscape of Burials – What You Need to Know

By Shelly Chamaschuk, Team Leader of Wills, Estates & Trusts

Considering alternatives to a traditional burial is a growing trend. Some people are influenced by a changing philosophy about the environmental impacts of burial, while others see it as a matter of space. As the population grows and development abounds, a traditional gravesite that may one day be moved – even in several generations – is less appealing.

“Green” Burials and the Law

A quick web search will yield a number of alternatives to traditional embalming or burial:

  • Natural burials that involve no chemicals or embalming, as well as untreated caskets (or no casket at all).
  • Biodegradable urns planted along with a tree.
  • Alkaline hydrolysis or “water cremation”, a dissolution-based alternative to traditional cremation.

The Alberta Cemeteries Act governs cemeteries and the burial or final resting place of human remains. Among the rules set out in the Act are the following:

  • That if burial is the chosen option, it must be in a cemetery; and
  • The permitted alternatives to burial are cremation (by incineration only), or donation of the body to a post-secondary institution.

This means that as you consider alternatives to a traditional burial of remains or cremains, it is important to keep in mind what the law allows. For example, while some provinces (such as Saskatchewan) allow water cremation, it is not yet permitted in Alberta.

Scattering Ashes

In Alberta, there are no requirements about what must occur with cremated remains. As a general rule, scattering ashes is not against the law. However, different rules apply depending on the location.

The Government of Alberta recently announced updated guidelines respecting scattering ashes on provincially owned lands and waterways. Municipalities may also have rules governing if and how to scatter ashes on municipal lands, and whether permission is required. In some instances municipalities have dedicated spaces within cemeteries specifically for scattering ashes. On private land, the landowner’s consent must be obtained.

Honouring Your Loved One’s Wishes

Ensuring you understand the rules respecting alternatives to traditional burial will allow you to plan for your future or honour the life of your loved one in a way that is meaningful to them and is also within the limits of the law.∎

If you have questions or would like advice, reach out to our Wills, Estates and Trusts team.

This post is meant to provide information and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should consult a lawyer. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this post to be outdated.