Waterloo Region Record
WATERLOO REGION — It's upsetting for Matteo Caccavelli to visit the cremation plot of his wife's parents at Parkview Cemetery in Waterloo.
He says Alexander and Owena Rennie's cremation gravestone is regularly grown over with weeds and grass. Sometimes it's hard to find.
"They purchased their burial plots from the City of Waterloo, who in turn agreed to provide a service which was to maintain the beauty of their final resting place in a dignified manner," Caccavelli said. "The City of Waterloo has not done this and thus has betrayed the trust and wishes of the Rennies, of those who have died.
"It's sacred ground and yet it's being ignored."
The quality of maintenance at Parkview is unacceptable to Caccavelli. He's not alone in his concerns.
"We typically will see concerns from our customers relating to maintenance," said Bryce Crouse, cemetery services manager in Waterloo.
He said cemetery staff are "deflated" by complaints because they work hard to keep up with weeding and other care. It's an ongoing battle.
At Parkview and Mount Hope cemeteries, the grass is cut weekly and staff trim around the monuments every second week, Crouse said.
At Parkview in July, many horizontal markers were observed with grass grown partly over. At Mount Hope Cemetery, some were completely grown over and nearly impossible to read.
Those gravestones are being revamped this summer by a team of summer students. They are lifting and resetting them to be more visible, Crouse said.
That's welcome news to Doug Smith.
He's something of an expert on cemeteries after photographing more than 50 of Canada's 16,000 cemeteries as part of a nationwide volunteer project to digitize every grave in Canada.
It's called CanadaGenWeb's Cemetery Project.
While photographing gravestones at Mount Hope Cemetery in Waterloo, he said maintenance at large cemeteries can leave something to be desired.
"The term perpetual care is just public relations," he said. "They cut the grass and that's all they think they have to do."
In 2013, $113,000 is budgeted to pay for weeding, flower bed maintenance, trimming, mowing and lawn-level marker resetting at Parkview and Mount Hope in Waterloo. The overall operating budget is $1.6 million.
Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran spends her fair share of time at Parkview. Her father is buried there.
She said Caccavelli's complaint is "one person's opinion."
"This year (the city has) had two complaints and a lot of it is around the fact that because there's been so much rain, we've had a lot of weeds and grass growing because of the weather conditions," she said.
Halloran said this is the first time she's received complaints about how the cemetery looks.
Family members like Halloran have a role to play in keeping cemeteries tidy. Certain items, such as permanent plantings, may be forbidden because they fall into disrepair.
Cambridge, Waterloo and Kitchener are home to 14 active municipal cemeteries with more than 260 acres of land. Kitchener and Cambridge each have six and Waterloo two.
They each have different procedures for maintenance — but their challenges are the same.
"Have we had complaints? Of course we've had complaints," said Lorelei Eckel-Braun, manager of cemeteries at the City of Kitchener.
In Cambridge, communications director Linda Fegan said it's been a difficult year for maintenance. This year's wet weather means grass is growing faster and thicker.
Cambridge has a cemetery operating budget of about $1.3 million. Grass is cut weekly to every 10 days.
The grass is cut at Kitchener cemeteries once a week. Trimming is done as often as possible along with other work.
"Probably the biggest maintenance nightmare for cemeteries is trimming, trimming around all the markers and all the flat markers — when that's not done that generates a lot of complaints," Eckel-Braun said. "That's a very, very labour-intensive job.
"Sometimes you can't get to it is quick as you want to because the reality is that our first priority is completing burials."
Statistics Canada estimates about 3,200 people die in the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo census metropolitan area each year.
Weeds are another complication since herbicides and pesticides are banned, said the cities.
"I think every cemetery would always have customers that come in (to complain)," Eckel-Braun said. "It's just like anywhere that you go there's varying levels of expectations and different perspectives on reality."
That reality can vary significantly depending on the cemetery.
Cemeteries come in many different forms and that can affect how they're cared for, particularly when they become inactive, said Marion Roes, past-president of the Waterloo Historical Society.
They may be owned by cities, churches, cemetery boards, families or individuals.
"There's some of them that could be abandoned because they're old or they're no longer used and maybe the church that was with them is gone," she said.
Smaller, older cemeteries or family plots may go a long time without anyone to care for them.
One example is the Old Christner Cemetery in Wilmot. It was historically used by three families in the area and, after falling into disrepair, has been maintained by the township since about 2004, according to the Waterloo Region branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.
Care of active cemeteries in local cities is funded by fees municipal cemeteries charge for their services.
In Waterloo, cemetery services fees increased 8.8 per cent in 2012 and 2013. The city said it's to make up for historical underfunding of older sites.
Forty per cent of every dollar paid goes into a fund for care and maintenance, as mandated by provincial legislation. The rest is revenue.
The interest from the fund pays for upkeep, while the principal will keep the cemetery maintained when it's closed and no new cash is coming in.
Eckel-Braun said low interest rates mean less cash flow from the maintenance trusts.
"Definitely, there's pressure to do more with less, to be creative to find ways to tackle problems so that you can maximize revenues and reduce costs," she said.
About $1 million is spent yearly to keep up Kitchener cemeteries.
Several of the cemeteries now cared for by local cities date back to the 1800s, including Mount Hope.
The cemetery has its origins in the 1800s when Waterloo and Kitchener (Berlin at the time) teamed up to build a community cemetery. It's shared to this day.
But the age of a cemetery means little to Caccavelli.
He said this isn't a service where he can take his business elsewhere.
"It's not a place where you can get up and go," Caccavelli said. "Your options are minimal."
He hopes the city will step up its standards.
"My in-laws paid for their final resting place in good faith and now that faith has been broken in terms of what the city has promised to do."