Published Opinion in Le Devoir
The green plan for Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery is real and it works
By Jean-Charles Boily, CEO of la Fabrique de la paroisse Notre-Dame de Montréal
In an article published on July 20 in Le Devoir, it is suggested that the Green Plan for Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery is a "show-off". After nearly three years of work and investment, we believe that a clarification is necessary.
Since 2020, we have undertaken the most important green shift in the history of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery in order to reduce our ecological footprint and contribute to biodiversity on Mount Royal, while ensuring the respect, enhancement and development of natural environments. Reduction, recovery, recycling and reuse are at the heart of our ecological thinking, fueled by the desire to innovate in order to better meet the current and future needs of our clientele, visitors and community partners.
Eliminating Water Waste
The Cemetery began by discontinuing its antiquated water system in 2020, where frequent breakage and leaks were causing a tremendous amount of water waste each year. We installed 22 water tanks on site, including rainwater collection, to accommodate visitors who add seasonal plants to their loved ones' yards, which ideally could gradually become perennials.
Green Initiatives and Customer Support
We have also proposed the conversion of a large grassy area (93,000 m2) into a space for perennial native plants and the creation of green burial areas that allow those who choose cremation to replace the installation of a monument with the planting of a tree of a quality native species. Both of these projects have attracted the interest and support of sustainability experts. We consulted more than 4000 clients on these projects in March 2021, as well as on the possibility of making visitors responsible for the recovery of their waste in order to reduce the volume of residual materials left on the site each week. These changes were supported by over 80% of our clients.
Remembrance Grove, A True Success
We announced the creation of the Remembrance Grove in order to respond to clients wishing to make an ecological gesture at the time of their death by returning their ashes entirely and quickly to nature through a magnificent tree that will grow over the next generations, in an exceptional and protected site on the slopes of Mount Royal, for the best memory of their loved ones and the pleasure of visitors. By the end of December 2021, the hundred or so trees planned for Phase 1 had been reserved, and more than thirty are already growing. Phase 2, which began in the spring of 2022, has already resulted in the reservation of more than forty new trees.
New Ecological Restoration Spaces
In the summer of 2021, the Cemetery and the University of Montreal began creating ecological restoration areas to enhance habitat quality and biodiversity on Mount Royal. In each area, the lawn was removed and replaced by seeding with a mixture of native species selected from information provided by the City of Montreal's specialized services. The results of this project will help inform future transformations of the cemetery grounds. The Artists' Union and the Artists' Foundation have agreed to participate in the transformation of their respective grounds into spaces that will soon be covered with perennial native plants and flowers.
The Cemetery continues its efforts
Our green plan is not yet complete, and we still have much work to do. But the measures we have implemented have included reducing our gasoline consumption by 14,000 liters, 22,600 liters of diesel, 245 tonnes of salt, 134 tonnes of gravel from 2020 to 2021. We also planted 305 new trees outside the Memorial Grove.
The Cemetery is an NPO that has experienced heavy losses for several years, particularly because labour costs represent approximately 80% of its operating expenses. Our 90+ operations staff are paid over $30/hour on a regular basis, plus 50% in benefits, for a 37.5 hour work week, spread over four days per week. They are responsible for the maintenance of the grounds, trees, roads and buildings. Cemetery maintenance continues to be a priority and a good portion of our operations staff is dedicated to this work. We are diligent in dealing with all requests to our customer service department. We hope to reach an agreement that will allow us to balance our budget and ensure the sustainability of our institution.
Each year, we serve approximately 4000 bereaved families who choose our cemetery as their final resting place. We hope that this place of rest and recollection will become more beautiful, less noisy, less polluting, and contribute to the biodiversity of Mount Royal for the future of our planet.