SURREY — Surrey's three civic cemeteries contain roughly 350 gravesites that do not have memorial markers identifying those buried.
While the Ministry of Social Development has a program that pays for the interment of individuals whose families can't afford a burial or cremation, the program doesn't cover the installation of a memorial marker.
City of Surrey staff have partnered with a local business to provide free markers to families receiving help from the ministry in the future. More than 30 families have already been assisted.
Now the city is launching a sponsorship program to get markers for the 350 unmarked graves.
"It's not just a patch of grass," said Anna Terrace, Surrey's cemetery co-ordinator. Currently, unmarked graves are just a grassy area with no indication that someone has been buried at that spot.
"Imagine if you're a family member coming in, and you haven't been here for a while. There's really nothing to identify that they're even here," she said, which is very important for visiting and things like leaving flowers.
"We're very proud to be able to provide this program to families. Being a city cemetery, our focus is on the community and doing what we can to help."
Terrace first thought of the program last November, when a woman called into the office who hadn't been to her husband's grave in quite some time.
When she went to visit him, she couldn't find his grave.
Terrace met with Stonemarks Engraving, and the business offered to provide a marker to families assisted by the ministry in the future, at no charge.
"I can only imagine, putting a name with their dates - when they were born and the end - that dash in the middle signifies their whole life. I can only imagine if I was in that situation that I would be honoured and thankful and just glad that a program like this is available."
Terrace said it's important for the community as well.
"I think it's important for our community to recognize our community members. How many times do you walk through a cemetery and take a look at the names and dates and wonder who that person was. We don't need to know their financial status, it's proof that they were here and they existed. It's very important that as we walk around the cemetery, and when we're standing in a specific spot that we recognize that was a lifelived, and deserves recognition regardless of financial status."
Terrace said to her knowledge, Surrey is the first city in North America to do a program like this and said she would love to see other municipalities follow suit.
Owen Croy, Surrey's manager of parks, said the project is interesting from a genealogical perspective.
"It's kind of neat to be able to know who is in the city cemeteries. If you go to some of our pioneer cemeteries that have been operating there for 100 years, it's really kind of neat to stroll through a little bit of history."
Croy said he hopes the project will help people see cemeteries in a brighter light.
"People have maybe some dark thoughts sometimes, or sad thoughts, associated with cemeteries. Other people are now recognizing cemeteries as a place for remembrance in a very positive way. We hope that this maybe moves us to more remembrance in a positive fashion."
The city is hosting an event on Oct. 29 at Sunnyside Lawn Cemetery from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Family members will be present to witness the installation of memorials on the gravesites of their deceased relatives.
"Really, by raising awareness through this modest event, we will be able to start identifying people who may be able to philanthropically contribute toward this really worthy program.... This might strike a chord with some people," Croy said.
Those wishing to get involved and donate can call the city's cemetery office at 604-598-5770 or email email@example.com.
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