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Cemetery works set to be complete by late August

By Melissa Schilz, Postmedia Network

Petrolia is planning to have upgrades at Hillsdale Cemetery completed by late August. The town’s five-year restoration project will also be coming to a close this year. Melissa Schilz/Postmedia Network

Petrolia is planning to have upgrades at Hillsdale Cemetery completed by late August. The town’s five-year restoration project will also be coming to a close this year. Melissa Schilz/Postmedia Network

A new columbarium in Petrolia’s historic Hillsdale Cemetery could be completed by late August, according to report brought to town council.

Deputy Clerk Mandi Pearson said the goal is to begin selling columbarium niches by September; but the work will depend on weather conditions as well as official written approval from the Bereavement Authority.

“They’ve given us verbal approval, we’re just waiting on that piece of paper,” Pearson said. “We’ve been doing what we can in the background as we get towards that…it’s on schedule.”

With Hillsdale Cemetery considered a Lambton County landmark, home to the graves of oil barons and others, Pearson said it’s important to care for the grounds and ensure the integrity of the land is kept.

While the historic aspect is a key feature, Pearson said cemeteries and the services they offer will also be changing to keep in step with society’s needs. She said the town has worked with the Needham-Jay Funeral Home to research trends and ideas for the project and to obtain feedback on what residents may want in the future.

Work at Hillsdale will see a fair amount of landscaping. Once the columbarium is in place the town will be working on gardens as well as a water feature.

“The big trend that we noted was serene and well-landscaped, not cold and harsh, that’s what we’ve aimed to do with this project,” Pearson said. “We want to make sure that it isn’t a barren cement pad.”

Pearson said the town is taking advantage of the fact that Bear Creek is positioned close by, adding to the scenery and to a calm atmosphere. The columbarium will be positioned so the niches will be facing east and west, so those people visiting will have a view of Bear Creek, of wildlife, and a peaceful place.

“Whenever I go out there, I’m always amazed, we have three cranes that live back there,” Pearson said. “It makes your mind just kind of stop, you can hear the birds, you’re not near the road.”

The aim of the project is to create a peaceful place for people who are grieving that will complement what is already there. Pearson said the culture surrounding death has changed over the years – people need the grieving process as a healthy part of accepting the loss of a loved one.

“It was identified that there was a market gap, so I hope we will have filled that, because it isn’t something that is always thought about,” Pearson said. “Being a historic cemetery…we have that serenity, and if we can keep accomplishing that I think that will help significantly for families that we serve.”

Pearson said when it comes to funding cemetery works, that can be an area people don’t always consider, but a cost does come with operating and maintaining the grounds. At a recent meeting with MP Marilyn Gladu and MPP Bob Bailey, Petrolia, Alvinston, Oil Springs, Wyoming and Watford all agreed it was an area that is often forgotten. Pearson said government should be looking at grants for communities to help assist with the cost of protecting the heritage of cemeteries.

“We inherit historic cemeteries, but we don’t inherit historic monies,” she said, noting that they are taxed by the province to keep a certain standard. “We always like to do more improvements, but we are restrained by funds.”

The town budgeted $50,000 for the project and at the moment the numbers seem to be on par. This year will also mark the end of a five-year monument restoration project, which allotted $5000 per year to repair between 10 and 15 stones each year, including the Englehart monument and the sarcophagus.

 

mschilz@postmedia.com