Flower pots, ceramic angels and other items placed on graves at Summerland’s Canyon View Cemetery were removed earlier this month and taken to a nearby municipal property.
The removal, which was done as part of a larger maintenance and cleanup effort at the cemetery, resulted in an outcry from the public, especially from those who had left the items at the graves.
At a meeting of Summerland council on Monday, several of those affected by the decision asked why the items had been removed from the cemetery.
“I was absolutely shocked,” said Pat Horner, whose father, Steve Dunsdon, is buried at the cemetery. “It used to be such a serene place to go. This is a violation.”
Donna Waddington was also disgusted by the removal of the items.
“I find it very disrespectful for the living and the dead,” she said. “It hurts.”
Margaret Lynum, whose husband is buried at the cemetery, said the items had been placed on the cement pad, not on the grass.
“Why can’t we do what we want with this piece of cement?” she asked.
“This decision was ill-advised to say the least,” said Chris Beaton.
Alicia Jelen said she could not understand why the decision to move the items had been made.
“I just can’t understand how someone could do this,” she said.
Members of council were outraged by the removal of the items.
“The kind of cleanup you’ve seen has never been done before,” said Mayor Janice Perrino. “We know what happened was wrong. We know it was a mistake.”
Dave Hill, public works superintendent for the municipality, said he is responsible for the decision to remove the items.
“There wasn’t even a thought in my mind we would have such an outpouring of sadness,” he said. “How we can resolve this I’m not quite sure.”
He said the cleanup was advertised on March 22 and March 29. Notices were also placed at the cemetery.
More than 2,000 people are buried at the cemetery and the municipality does not have a complete database with contact information for the next of kin for each of them.
Perrino said the notice could have been handled more effectively and should have been included in the municipality’s monthly newsletter.
Hill said Summerland and other communities have regulations restricting what may be placed at a grave. Summerland’s bylaw was revised in 2007.
Members of council want to ensure a similar incident does not happen in the future.
“Isn’t it possible to have a little more flexibility?” asked Coun. Lloyd Christopherson. “I think somewhere along the line, we have to come to a compromise here.”
Coun. Orv. Robson said the removal of the items makes the cemetery look bleak.
“It looks like a moonscape right now,” he said. “We need to have some beautification there.”
Coun. Peter Waterman apologized for the lack of sensitivity shown and asked council to revisit the bylaw.
“Perhaps we should be examining what we do in beautification and who’s responsible for it,” he said. “It’s extremely meaningful to the families what’s put there.”
“My heart goes out to the public and also to the staff members who had to do the job,” said Coun. Martin Van Alphen. “I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant. I personally think the bylaw needs to be readdressed.”
A resolution to revisit the bylaw was passed unanimously.