Unclaimed cremains present a dilemma to Bashaw funeral home

Request to store 42 urns in underground vault was denied by town council

Some Central Alberta funeral homes are facing a awkward dilemma — what to do with ashes from cremations that haven’t been picked up by families of the deceased?

Five years ago, a provincial law was enacted requiring all funeral homes to only store ashes for a five-year period, then dispose of them in a manner that’s inoffensive to the public.

This leaves many funeral homes in a tight spot. The Bashaw operation, for instance, has 42 urns — some of them unclaimed since the 1970s — that the staff now don’t know what to do with.

Marlon Wombold, president of the Bashaw Funeral Home, said he doesn’t want to scatter the ashes in a commemorative cemetery flower bed, as he’s heard some other funeral homes are doing.

There’s always the chance family members will come forward, asking for their relative’s cremains, he added. “One option is to discard them, but I can’t do that in good conscience…”

Wombold recently asked Bashaw town council for permissions to put the 42 urns into an underground vault in the local cemetery that was constructed more than a half-century ago.

The 37-square-metre chamber was once used to hold coffins until the ground thaws, allowing for burial. But with warming equipment now used to unfreeze cemeteries in the winter, the room has been unused for the last 15 years.

Wombold thought the vault would present be a dignified storage solution that still offered the option of handing back the cremains if a family requested.

But town council denied his request. Some councillors were uncomfortable with the idea. Wombold was instead advised to purchase 42 cemetery plots and have the urns properly interred — an unfeasible solution because of the cost.

He doesn’t believe the provincial law will present a problem going forward. From now on, Wombold said relatives will be advised as to what kind of disposal methods will be used if they don’t pick up the cremains in five years.

But the historic problem persists — and Wombold will attempt to appeal to the town again.


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