A call for greater accessibility to Grey Mountain Cemetery was issued to the City of Whitehorse during its March 21 city council meeting.
Marney Paradis addressed council by phone as a delegate. Her presentation followed questions raised by Coun. Ted Laking a couple of weeks earlier on the issue.
In response to Laking’s concerns, city administration had prepared a report recommending that no changes be made to service levels at the cemetery through the winter when vehicle access is by request only, though able-bodied residents can walk in.
The report highlighted the high cost of regular snow removal as well as on-site staffing.
Paradis began her presentation by telling council she was disappointed in the report.
“I think that if the report had been done through the lens of accessibility, it might have acknowledged limitations that are currently in place,” she said.
Paradis said she would like to see the city open the cemetery gates to vehicles on a regular schedule through the winter months to allow for residents to drive in, rather than requiring a call to the parks department so someone can be there to open the gates when they want to visit.
She suggested even offering the service once a week could make a big difference and take the onus off those with mobility challenges to have to call and make arrangements to be there at a certain time.
Her own family, she said, has stopped making requests through the winter to visit her father’s grave by vehicle because its impossible to know if a family member’s chronic pain will flare up and force them to cancel a graveside visit.
“It feels like the burden should be shifted to the city to make cemeteries more accessible,” she said, arguing the request to have the gates open once a week, in addition to following through on visiting requests at other times, does not seem to be asking for much.
Paradis also acknowledged a statement in the report that parks staff have built strong relationships with regular winter visitors to the cemetery, noting that while the relationship with parks staff is good, that’s not what the matter is about.
Landon Kulych, the city’s manager of parks, spoke on the report later in the meeting, noting that while the parks department asks for 48 hours notice to accommodate those wanting to visit the cemetery by vehicle through the winter, it will often accommodate requests with less than 24 hours notice.
The 48 hours allows for time to ensure resources are available, clear snow if needed and for time if a request comes in on the weekend when fewer staff are working.
“The parks department often meets them in less than 48 hours,” he said, also noting staff are willing to rebook any requests if a family can’t make the original time booked.
Throughout his report, Kulych highlighted the challenges in opening up the cemetery to vehicle access through the winter, noting or the cemetery to be plowed regularly with the snow hauled away (as there is no location for large amounts of snow on the site) it would cost approximately $56,000 per year and additional equipment would be needed.
Currently winter maintenance at the cemetery is approximately $8,000.
“The second major factor to consider is on-site staffing,” Kulych said.
Cemeteries that are open year-round elsewhere typically have staff on-site. In this case, there are no facilities at Grey Mountain Cemetery that could accommodate workers.
“There is no building containing office space or basic amenities such as heat, internet, washroom facilities, or running water on site. Significant capital upgrades would be required to achieve this.”
The current model is cost-effective and provides a high level of service, Kulych said.
Security was also cited as a concern, with Kulych pointing out the site is isolated and sees little traffic. There have been instances of vandalism, recreational vehicles, fires and “other undesirable activities not suitable for a cemetery.”
Security cameras aren’t an option at the site as electricity and internet would be required.
“Site security was a major consideration for the winter operational model for Grey Mountain Cemetery.”
A number of council members voiced their preference to improve vehicle access to the cemetery through the winter with Coun. Kirk Cameron suggesting that if opening it once a week is too much, perhaps allowing for vehicle access around major holidays such as Remembrance Day, Christmas and the like could provide greater access.
“It gives that opportunity for a routine and a set schedule when individuals but could go there to visit parents or family,” he said.
Coun. Ted Laking questioned whether Whitehorse sees itself as an accessible city.
“I understand that resources are limited,” he said. “However, I think that Councillor Cameron raised a valid proposal …. is there a middle ground? Is there flexibility?
Others voiced their desire for Whitehorse to become a more accessible city, highlighting this as one step that could be taken in that direction.
The issue will come back to council March 28 for a vote.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org