Cremation fuels demand for memorial benches in Courtenay

Memorial benches flank the pavilion at Simms Park

Memorial benches flank the pavilion at Simms Park

The rise of cremation in the Comox Valley has meant a rise in the number of memorial benches that citizens want to install to remember their loved ones.

Courtenay has a waiting list of over 100 people who want to buy a memorial bench.

The issue came up at the last city council meeting when both the Courtenay Rotary Club and the Comox Valley Road Runners requested approval for installing memorial benches at Simms Park.

The Rotarians wanted to install a bench by Aug. 29 in memory of Don Larson, an active Rotary Club member and former president until his passing.

Larson was instrumental in the building of the Simms Park Pavilion in 2005 using his construction management skills to lead the club through building it.

The Rotarians said they were aware of the city having a hold on further placements of memorial benches, but asked the city to consider all the many projects the club had worked on, including the pavilion, lights at Lewis Park and the Water Park.

The Road Runners wanted a bench in memory of significant members who had passed away.

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“The siting is important as we stage our annual Memorial Run on these walkways each year before our AGM,” the club wrote.

Dave Snider, city director of recreation and cultural services, said the existing memorial bench program has been on hold for about a decade now.

Snider said the existing benches are considered to have a life span of 10 years. Many of these benches are now in declining condition.

“If we go back 20 or 25 years, a lot of people were buried, with a tombstone. These days, there is 92 per cent cremation in the Comox Valley. People have scattered the ashes, and then realized there is no place to go,” he said.

One problem with letting Rotary and the Road Runners place benches in Simms Park is “jumping the queue” on the waiting list, where numerous others have also requested a Simms Park bench.

In the past, though, Courtenay Rotary has been allowed to place benches without special permission or going on the waiting list because of their work for the city.

Snider said other communities have “tribute” programs where citizens can buy a tree, picnic table, bench, rocks, “a number of things” to pay tribute to someone in a specific location, and with a specific cost attached.

He said staff are working on a new policy for the memorial bench program, but in the meantime suggested council could make a decision on the Rotary and Road Runners requests.

Many councillors said they’d like to approve those requests, especially the Rotary Club’s.

“I do feel a bit torn here,” said Counc. Bob Wells. “I’m leaning toward making sure we do the program right moving forward.”

Counc. Rebecca Lennox said even if council approved the Rotary request, there was hardly any time to get the bench ordered and installed by Aug. 29.

Counc. David Frisch said he’d be interested in seeing a full staff report on the bench policy, which he said offers a great opportunity to honour loved ones who have died.

A motion to approve the Rotary and Road Runners’ requests was defeated. Council instead chose to direct staff to prepare a report on the options and implications of providing a new tribute program in line with the former bench program.

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