(Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Haida Gwaii Funeral Services gets support

Village of Queen Charlotte donates storage facility to non-profit group

Haida Gwaii’s community undertaker will finally have a roof over his hearse.

Thanks to the Village of Queen Charlotte and the Gwaii Trust Society, the islands’ volunteer funeral services group now has an open storage building west of Kagan Bay and a $5,245 grant to enclose it. The former water-treatment building will be renovated to store a hearse, coroner’s supplies, and morgue equipment.

For Matthew Pierce, it is one more step to make sure Haida Gwaii continues to have a volunteer-run, non-profit funeral service once he and long-time community undertaker George Westwood are fully retired.

“The way of death here on Haida Gwaii is quite special,” Pierce said while standing by the building with his dog Jasper.

“There’s no artifice involved. There’s no AstroTurf, people bring their own shovels to burials. It’s very special what we have here compared to what you get in the big cities.”

In June, Pierce, Westwood and a third director formally registered Haida Gwaii Funeral Services as a non-profit society and several others have come forward to help. One of them is Jean Marc-Cyr of Sandspit, who recently milled and donated new cedar planks to hold caskets and help steady pallbearers during burials.

The motto of Haida Gwaii Funeral Services is Non moralis ad lucre mortuis. In the words of George Westwood, it means “It’s not good to get fat off the dead.”

The group provides free funeral services islands-wide, with the exception of a flat-rate rental for the hearse. After a legal kerfuffle that reached the floor of the B.C. legislature a few years ago, the province is working to formalize a community undertaker licence that will bring such non-profits out of what it still a legal grey zone.

“We basically do all the services the big boys do, except we don’t do embalming,” Pierce said, adding that it’s rarely necessary even for open-casket funerals.

Pierce said Haida Gwaii funerals are evenly divided between burials and cremation. The closest crematorium is in Terrace, he added, and many families are unaware they can get a permit to bring their loved one’s remains there by themselves, saving money and keeping families involved.

Unless open-air funeral pyres are allowed again, Pierce said he himself would prefer a burial.

“There’s a really special moment during burials,” he said. “After the remains are lowered into the ground, you see smiles finally come on people’s faces.”

“They relax. They’ve been under tension that long — since when that person got ill to when they died. And now they’ve been laid to rest.”

Just Posted

Houston homicide suspect remanded in custody

A Houston man accused of the second degree murder of Elija Dumont… Continue reading

Council briefs: The Village of Queen Charlotte

More money for village in third-quarter, new equitable gift giving policy

William Griffin arrested in Houston homicide

RCMP have now arrested William Griffin, the man wanted in connection to… Continue reading

Family of Terrace man killed in hit-and-run plead for tips, one year later

Cameron Kerr’s family says the driver and passengers tried to cover their tracks

VIDEO: UBC exchange students offered $1,000 to help with leaving Hong Kong

The university said 31 of its students were attending four universities in Hong Kong

‘Actors can play any roles’: Debate over ‘colour-blind’ casting after Victoria lawsuit

Tenyjah Indra McKenna filed a complaint over racially-motivated casting

Infants more vulnerable to measles than previously thought: Canadian study

Babies typically don’t receive the measles vaccine until they are 12 months old

Shatner, Obomsawin among 39 inductees to Order of Canada today

Shatner is being given one of Canada’s highest civilian honours for his 60-year career

John Mann, singer and songwriter of group Spirit of the West dead at 57

Mann died peacefully in Vancouver on Wednesday from early onset Alzheimer’s

Teacher tells B.C. Supreme Court that student was ‘happy’ to watch smudging ceremony in classroom

Case being heard in Nanaimo over indigenous cultural practice in Port Alberni classroom

VIDEO: B.C. high school’s turf closed indefinitely as plastic blades pollute waterway

Greater Victoria resident stumbles on plastic contamination from Oak Bay High

B.C. mayor urges premier to tweak road speeds in an ‘epidemic of road crash fatalities’

Haynes cites ICBC and provincial documents in letter to John Horgan

South Cariboo driver hits four cows due to fog

The RCMP’s investigation is ongoing

Most Read