The Anglican Cemetery at Chilliwack is on a hillside on Hilllcrest Drive

The diocese has to decide whether it wants to keep a cemetery it almost forgot.

The Anglican Cemetery at Chilliwack on Hillcrest Drive on Little Mountain has been in existence since the late 1800s when the land was donated to St. Thomas’ Anglican Church in town.

The small, six-acre cemetery was right beside the much larger International Order of Odd Fellows cemetery (about 18 acres) and the Royal Canadian Legion cemetery (4 acres). The three cemeteries indeed look like one – no fences mark them off.

In years past, parishioners from St. Thomas, and later from St. Peter’s in Rosedale and St. John’s in Sardis, would form a work party once or twice a year on “Cemetery Day,” to tend the graves – mow the grass, clean the gravestones. So would the Odd Fellows and the veterans.

But, as time went on, as Canadians became increasingly mobile, those available, willing and able to do the work dwindled. Since 1998 a private company, Chilliwack Cemetery, has taken care of the I.O.O.F. and the Legion properties, and recently the company has tended the Anglican part – for a fee.

In 1972 ownership of the cemetery was transferred from St. Thomas’ to the diocese, but the St. Thomas’ church secretary continued to be the person selling plots and maintaining records. The diocese almost forgot about it. Last year, though, the cemetery returned to consciousness when a problem arose: apparently someone claimed someone else had been buried in their plot, and a lawsuit threatened.

The Rev. Eve Wiseman, the interim priest at St. Thomas at the time, straightened things out, but it was agreed that the cemetery had not been given proper attention. A new 9-member board of directors took over in December, headed by Kay Pitcairn. Bylaws were re-written in January of this year and approved by diocesan council.

Early this year, all headstones and markers were power washed, and all fallen and broken markers were repaired. The board is holding regular meetings and financial statements are now sent to the diocese on a regular basis. A standard schedule of fees for plots for both full and cremated remains has been published.

Robert and Kay Pitcairn of St. Thomas’, Chilliwack, members of the Anglican Cemetery board

But a problem remains – money. While after each interment money (in recent years) has been set aside in a trust fund for maintenance, it’s far less than needed. Business Administrator Mike Wellwood said the income from the trust fund is about $3,000 a year, but the annual cost of maintenance about $18,000.

The cemetery is active and accepting burials. Any Anglican clergy, parishioners, or their immediate family members in the diocese may be interred in the cemetery. Depending on location, plots range in cost from $900 to $1,400. Add to that the cost of the burial and a required concrete burial vault, and the price is abut $2,160 to $2,660. The burial of cremated remains is less. Half of the approximately 1,400 full-sized spaces are used, nearly 300 are reserved, but 400 are available.

The total is far less than in other cemeteries, especially those close to cities, said Robert Pitcairn, where the price can range up to $10,000.

It should be possible to sell the Anglican cemetery to the private operator, Pitcairn said, if that is what the diocese wants to do. However by making some money in improvements – building a columbarium for urns, setting aside a wooded area for scatterings, and creating a memorial garden. He estimated it would take an investment of about $50,000.

Improvements would give people choices. “I do believe Anglicans want to be buried in consecrated ground,” he said.

Last month Diocesan Council agreed to purchase some investments held by the cemetery, which will free up about $22,000 for current operations.

Meanwhile, the cemetery board plans to create a business plan for continued Anglican ownership of the cemetery. A hard decision on whether to keep the cemetery and invest in it, or to sell it, may come before Diocesan Council next year.

Robert Pitcairn says that if the Anglican Cemetery is continue to be church-run, investment in such things as a columbarium – with niches for urns of ashes – are needed. This structure is in the neighbouring Chilliwack Cemetery