Subsidized unmarked graves at Oshawa’s Union Cemetery will remain nameless

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Published March 23, 2023 at 2:55 pm

Three-dozen unmarked social services graves at Oshawa’s historic Union Cemetery will remain nameless after the City’s Community and Operations Services Committee voted to keep the status quo Monday.

There was a staff option on the floor for the City to fund the $28,000 cost of the markers for the unmarked graves but was defeated (Councillor Brian Nicholson cast the only dissenting vote) as the social service graves are already subsidized. Provincial guidelines allow the Region of Durham to provide just $1,300 for burial services, with the actual graveside cost tabbed at $3,015, leaving the City – mandated by the Province to provide the service to those without the necessary funds – on the hook for $1,715 per grave.

The fees have been unchanged since 2014.

A third option, for the City to keep the status quo but have staff prepare a report for next year’s budget on the financial implications of providing the markers, was not discussed.

The operating expenses of Union Cemetery are supported by revenues from the sale of products and services, income from the perpetual care and maintenance trust fund, and the municipal tax levy, as outlined in the Union Cemetery Business Plan. Grave markers make up one third of total revenues.

John Gray, who chairs the committee, said the perpetual care trust fund set aside to maintain the cemetery when all the lots are sold – the estimate is eight to nine years – is just under $1 million.

“That’s not a princely sum,” he said, pointing out that the City will have fund the entire cost of maintaining the lots in perpetuity when that money runs out.

Besides, he added, Social Servies are the mandate of the Region and called on Durham Council to lobby the Province for an increase to the subsidy.

“It’s not a lack of compassion on the part of Oshawa,” he said of the committee’s decision not to fund the markers. “It’s a lack of compassion on the part of Durham Region.”

“We have a deep responsibility to our future taxpayers as well.”

Nicholson said he will press for a review at a future Regional Council meeting. “It’s not sufficient.”

Union Cemetery, established by United Presbyterian Minister Robert Thornton at the corner of King Street and Thornton Road in 1837, is the only active cemetery owned and operated by Oshawa, though the City does maintain eight inactive pioneer cemeteries around town. Union Cemetery has been operated by the City since 1922.

Union Cemetery offers traditional burial lots, in ground cremation lots and niches. There are currently more than 27,400 interments and a remaining inventory of 562 lots.

Eighty-nine of those buried at the cemetery are subsidized graves but 53 of those sites have subsequently been memorialized by family members. The City of Oshawa remains the interment rights holder for these lots.

There are several municipal and private operators of cemeteries in and around Durham Region, including three major private operators: Arbor Memorial, Mount Pleasant Group, and Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Services.

All these cemetery operators provide burial options for Social Service recipients but not all provide it in Durham and none of them provide complimentary markers or memorials.

Arbor Memorial, for example, is the largest cemetery owner and operator in Canada and owns two cemeteries in Durham – Mount Lawn Funeral Home and Cemetery in Whitby and Pine Ridge Memorial Gardens in Ajax. They do not, however, offer Social Services assisted burials in the Region. Interments are provided in these cases at cemeteries in Kingston and Stoney Creek.

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