(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

RCMP searching for missing Lax Kw’alaams resident

Public urged to help in search for 42-year-old Lawrence Maitland

Queen Charlotte highlights the year that was in 2018 Annual Report

A number of works projects were completed, as well as improvements at the youth centre

Boon Docs, life as a rural doctor tickles the funny bone

Haida Gwaii’s Caroline Shooner draws observations from the medical field

President and CEO leaving Coast Mountain College

Burt will say goodbye to CMNT come September

Marathon day on Haida Gwaii

Totem to Totem race looks to set another participation record

VIDEO: Young couple found dead in northern B.C. had been shot, police say

Chynna Noelle Deese of the U.S. and Lucas Robertson Fowler of Australia were found along Highway 97

VIDEO: Man found dead near B.C. teens’ truck could be linked to a double homicide

RCMP said they are looking for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, of Port Alberni

Latest plan is to fly trapped fish by helicopter over Big Bar slide

Multi-pronged plan set in motion to freesalmon blocked by landslide in the Fraser River

Family of missing B.C. senior with dementia frustrated with situation, heartened by community support

Nine days since Grace was last seen the question remains: ‘How can an 86-year-old just disappear?’

Unsealed record suggests U.S. man convicted of murdering Vancouver Island couple left DNA on zip tie in 1987

William Talbott is set to be sentenced Wednesday in the murders of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg

Coast Tsimshian sign historic stewardship agreement

Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla plan to work as one to preserve traditional lands

Okanagan Air Cadet challenges gender-exclusive haircut policy

Haircut regulation inspires challenge around gender identity

VIDEO: Bystander training gains traction as tool to prevent sexual harassment, violence

Julia Gartley was sexually assaulted after an event, and no one stepped in to help

Two brands of ice cream sandwiches recalled due to presence of metal

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a recall on Iceberg and Originale Augustin brands

Most Read