Natural (Green) Burial

As people become aware of the environmental impact of both conventional burial and cremation, natural burial is becoming a choice in more communities. Rather than being new, this is a return to an older, simpler way of returning bodies to the earth. Here in Canada, burials must take place only in a designated cemetery, and graves are not re-used. Bodies interred in a natural burial section nourish the soil, feed new growth, protect the space from development, and become part of a living ecosystem indefinitely.

On Cortes, the cemeteries in Whaletown and Manson’s Landing both have an area designated for natural burial. In the cemetery in Manson’s Landing, a fence is being constructed around the natural burial area and after this is in place, it will be available to the community. (Update Oct 1, 2022: the fence is completed and the area available). In Whaletown, there have been two natural burials to date.

In a natural burial the non-embalmed body is clothed or wrapped in biodegradable material such as cotton, linen, or wool. Optionally, it is placed in a biodegradable box preferably made from locally sourced materials. The grave is dug shallow enough to allow for rapid natural decomposition, but deep enough so the body will not be disturbed by wildlife.

On Cortes, each natural burial grave is marked with a driftwood marker. Families are welcome to plant native vegetation above the grave, and place whatever is meaningful on it, as long it is biodegradable. In the future a memorial structure will be built in each cemetery; a permanent place to commemorate those buried in this area.

The simplicity of a natural burial encourages (but does not require) the participation of family members and friends who can prepare the body, wrap or dress it, optionally build the box, transport it to the cemetery, and lower it into the grave. This can be a very personal, honest, and low-cost alternative to conventional practices. Community-led death care volunteers can guide and support families who wish this. Browse for more information.

The first green burial site in Canada opened in Victoria in 2008, as part of the Royal Oak Burial Park. The Denman Island Natural Burial Cemetery, opened in 2015, was Canada’s first exclusively green cemetery. Campbell River, Quadra, Cumberland, Parksville, Salt Spring, and Victoria are neighbouring communities which offer both conventional and natural burial.

The Whaletown Community Club (WCC) volunteers manage the burials in the Whaletown Cemetery, and the Southern Cortes Community Association (SCCA) volunteers, the burials in the cemetery in Manson’s Landing. Contact information can be found in the Community Bulletin Board section of the Cortes Phone Book. The cemetery is available to Cortes residents past and present and, thanks to the many volunteers who have been involved over the years, the conventional and natural burial plots are free.

More information about natural burial can be found at

“I thought the earth remembered me, she took me back so tenderly …” Mary Oliver

Written by Margaret Verschuur