Would you like a natural burial ground in your community?

Launching a natural burial ground in your community

All around Ontario there are individuals and groups who would like to see a natural burial ground in their community. Some people have property they’d like to convert to a natural cemetery, others are looking for land, or trying to persuade their conventional cemetery operator to create a green burial section. The following resources may be of help:

Overall Process

No one said it was going to be easy,  but it’s worth it in so many ways. Here’s a document that provides an overview of the process and approvals that are required in Ontario.

Download Developing a Natural Burial Ground


Here’s the Ontario legislation which cemeteries must follow. It’s called the Funeral, Burial and Cremations Act.

Government Oversight

The organization that approves cemetery applications and maintains standards is the Bereavement Authority of Ontario.

Their role is to protect the consumer. You’ll find a wealth of information on their website about all aspects of deathcare.

Green Burial Council

The Green Burial Council is a robust organization which supports green burials across North America and beyond, offering both accreditation and education. Even though the material caters to a US audience, it’s a great resource. There are documents, conferences and peer to peer online forums and you can sign up for their e-news.

Here’s a sampling of their documents:
Found under Education Tools:
The Case for Green Burials
The Science: Soil and Water
Basic Tenets of Green Burial Cemeteries

Found under So You Want To Start A Green Burial Cemetery

Opening, Closing & Maintaining a Green Cemetery
Start-up Tips for Green Burial Cemetery Operators

Green Burial Society of Canada

Green wash exists in the cemetery business just as it exists in other sectors. If you want to ensure you are engaging in best practices, reach out to The Green Burial Society of Canada.  They provide accreditation across Canada so people know it’s the real deal.

For Hybrids

Rather than create a stand-alone natural burial ground, you may want to start by encouraging a conventional cemetery to create a green burial section. There are some wonderful hybrid cemeteries in Ontario. Here are some tips:

  • gather names of people in your community who are supportive of a natural burial ground
  • reach out to the Natural Burial Association for documents that explain natural burial and can augment your pitch
  • contact your town councillor and/or urban planner and see if you can find a champion to consider creating a hybrid in a municipally owned cemetery
  • contact the privately owned cemeteries in your community. The Natural Burial Association can provide you with documentation that promotes the cause.


Common Questions

  • What about winter burials?+

    Winter burials are possible (perhaps with exceptions in the extreme north), however they require additional time, planning and probably additional equipment.   In many cemeteries, backhoes with jackhammers are used to break through the frost line, whereas others will use ground warming mats or heating devices to reduce the frost.  Some cemeteries will open lots in sections in advance of the winter, in order to accommodate “at need” services.  This of course limits the location of the plot.

    With respect to a mini excavator, many contractors and cemeteries use this machine for the opening and closing of a grave while others use a backhoe or alternative.

    Safety is an important consideration. Shoring (boarding up the sides of the grave as well as ground that borders the grave) is necessary, especially when there’s wet or muddy soil, ice or unstable ground.


  • What soil conditions are optimal for natural burial?+

    A cemetery isn’t approved if the water table is too high. Flood zones are not permissible as well as land near wells. Aside from that, you’ll find every soil type in the cemeteries around Ontario, including thick clay, sandy loam, meadow and wood lot. It helps if the land is somewhat flat. Open fields and meadows are conducive to natural burial.

    Woodlot is also an option. To protect the trees, there can’t be as many burial plots/acre,  but people love the idea of their final rest being among the trees.

  • What about location?+

    Cemeteries require road access. Zoning is also a big consideration. Since cemeteries don’t pay taxes, municipalities aren’t likely to approve a cemetery in an area designated for development or residential. Zoning changes from municipality to municipality, but most cemeteries fall under Open Space/Industrial. You might be asking ‘but it’s a green burial ground’ however planners still see it as a cemetery.

    A cemetery between two protected environmental areas would be perfect! It provides a nature corridor and is unlikely to be designated for development.

  • Does the timing of the application matter to the municipalities?+

    By law, municipalities in Ontario must have a statutory 5 year official plan review, and at this time they must consult with the public. Make natural burial a part of the initial discussion and public consultation. Gather champions to go to the public meetings, and make sure natural burial is a topic on the survey if your municipality issues a survey.  Find at least one councillor who understands what natural burial is, and can present the concept at town council meetings.


  • Is there a way around the $100,000 upfront Care and Maintenance Fund requirement?+

    There may be a little leeway in the $100,000 sum, given that green burials are significantly less expensive to maintain. But we can’t count on that. One way to eliminate the fund requirement altogether is to partner with an existing cemetery.

  • Can graves be re-used?+

    Within Canada, only in Quebec and a cemetery in Vancouver,  are their bylaws allowing for grave re-use.  NBA is advocating for this in Ontario. Why:

    • Municipalities will be more inclined to approve a new cemetery if they know it’s always going to be financially sustainable (otherwise they legally have to assume responsibility)
    • Some people want to be eco-friendly, but aren’t sure about the land that full burial takes up – even if it’s natural land that’s being protected. They like the idea of the land being reused.
    • Natural burial grounds works of passion – for people and the planet. Why not ensure that it can be a safer business proposition because it will always generate income?

    Grave re-use legislation is a top priority for NBA. If you would like to contribute to this lobby effort, please get in touch.