Ivan Emke 2005

University of Newfoundland

‘Bury me in the cold, cold ground’: the demand for winter funerals in two Newfoundland communities

This is a case study of evolving burial policies in two Newfoundland communities, where the most where the most contentious current issue relates to the burial of bodies during the winter season. Cemetery associations argue that it is too expensive to clear the snow and dig through the frozen ground, all the while avoiding damage to other monuments.  On the other hand, some community members argue that they should have the right to winter burials, to assist with closure (instead of having to wait for a burial in the spring, which may or may not be accompanied with any formal ceremony).  This paper focuses on an analysis of the debate in two communities; in one, a group of citizens have been lobbying the local cemetery association for the right to have winter burials (between November and April all bodies are kept in a temporary vault, to be buried in the spring).  In the second site, a recently-constructed winter vault has encountered some popular opposition, and the cemetery committee has been forced to reconsider its position. This paper looks at how the arguments are constructed by the two sides, using economic rationality on one hand versus therapeutic needs of the bereaved on the other hand.  In addition, there is consideration of the possible role of the economic interests of the cemeteries, the churches and the funeral directors.  Finally, the paper looks at the history of winter burial in these (and surrounding) sites to provide some local context for the debate.  The data is gathered from interviews with clergy, cemetery workers, funeral directors and citizen activists.


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