Devastating, depressing, neglected.
Those were some of the words used to describe Westbank Cemetery during Tuesday’s council meeting.
A couple of the terms were borrowed by Ingrid Laube, daughter of the late Leonard Crosby, who shared her feelings about the graveyard with council Tuesday.
Twenty years ago, Laube’s father and mother bought a cemetery plot at Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery.
Unknown to her family at the time, her father eventually sold the space and purchased a plot in Westbank Cemetery instead.
“The only reason he did that is so, as my mother aged, she wouldn’t cross the bridge to go visit him,” said Laube.
Crosby passed away in 2010.
Laube said she was “absolutely devastated” the first time she went to visit her deceased father at the Westbank Cemetery.
“I could not believe the condition of the Westbank Cemetery; I was quite upset with my father for doing that.”
Laube knows her expectations of what West Kelowna’s cemetery should look like are not out of the ordinary.
For the majority of the past five years, prior to moving back to Kelowna to be with her mother, she was in the funeral industry and designed monuments and columbariums across Alberta.
“I (have seen), firsthand, cemeteries in smaller communities than West Kelowna that are beautiful.”
She said Westbank Cemetery is currently a depressing place to remember loved ones.
“There’s not even a place to sit—you’ve got to sit on the concrete curbs to visit.
“(A cemetery) is not just a place to bury people, it’s a place for people to mourn, to grieve, to come to terms with the people they’ve lost.”
All members of West Kelowna council agreed with Laube that something needs to be done to liven up the dull cemetery.
Coun. David Knowles said the area, which was established in 1925, is a “devastating place to visit.”
Councillors unanimously voted to approve a Westbank Cemetery Strategy and solicit community input before finalizing it for council consideration and approval.
“This is the first time the municipality has addressed the cemetery issue,” said Mayor Doug Findlater.
“We inherited it about a year-and-a-half ago. Prior to that it was administered by the Westbank Irrigation District.”
The strategy is intended to increase the life of the current cemetery by constructing mausoleums and columbariums—buildings that hold tombs and urns—while converting the graveyard into a self-sustaining operation with profits to be reinvested in cemetery upgrades.
The aim of the plan is to allow the district to provide service at the cemetery until at least 2022 through full utilization of existing land.
The strategy comes at a vital time—there is currently a shortage of land for casket burial plots.
According to a report by Chief Financial Officer Jim Zaffino, there were only 63 available full-size gravesites and 15 infant-size plots as of March.
The vision of the strategy also aims to make the 8.24-acre cemetery a green area with grass and irrigation placed around the current gravesites.
Zaffino said the strategy will also look to improve the cemetery’s sign, entrance and parking lot.
The district has already gathered input from West Kelowna funeral homes and will be scheduling public consultations in the near future.
“I think the input from the public is going to be really important,” said Coun. Gord Milsom.
“I’m glad that we’re addressing this—it’s time.”