(Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)

(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.”

Queen Charlotte

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
41 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Cases have gone up in Northern Health in the past week, as they have all over B.C. (K-J Millar/Black Press Media)
Northern Health reports new highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day

Nineteen cases were reported to Public Health last Tuesday (Nov. 17)

FILE – British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wears a face mask as she views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Masks now mandatory in all public indoor and retail spaces in B.C.

Many retailers and businesses had voiced their frustration with a lack of mask mandate before

(Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared Thursday.
COVID-19 outbreak at LNG Canada Project site

14 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at this time

A man has been arrested after a Nov. 11 break and enter at the Sandspit Airport, Queen Charlotte RCMP said in a media release on. Nov 17. (Black Press Media files)
Man arrested after Nov. 11 break and enter at local airport

Queen Charlotte RCMP investigate recent spate of break and enters

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

An accountant at the Adventure Hotel is in hospital in Kelowna

Most Read