Sunday, September 6, 2009

Making Cemeteries Relevant: Part 2, Innovation in Toronto

In recent years, more and more families have chosen to scatter their cremated remains in scenic or meaningful spots because a cemetery was not the kind of place they wanted to place them or visit them. The gothic rows of markers and monuments are no longer relevant to many families.They have become reminders of death when families want reminders of life. Even those who still make use of the traditional cemetery don’t often spend much time there after the burial.
funeral cemeteries
Unfortunately, something very important has been lost in this transition, and most of us don’t even realize what we’re missing. We need a place to come to for comfort during difficult times, to mark special occasions, to feel a connection, and often, to maintain a relationship and dialogue with our loved ones. When that place is accessible, and comfortable for us, we develop a connection with the place that strengthens the connection we have with our loved one. The challenge for cemeteries today, is to provide the kind of environment and features that will not only meet the needs of families when death occurs, but bring them back again and again to maintain the connection with their loved one.
This is what Norris Zucchet and his team have accomplished at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. When Mr. Zucchet came on board as CEO of this Cemetery organization, he faced two serious challenges, his flagship cemetery was running out of room (it was projected that there was only room enough for a few more years of burials), and the cemetery was not a place that interested the fastest growing segment of his market. Similar challenges are faced by many funeral homes and cemeteries, but unlike most, the Mount Pleasant team did their homework. They conducted extensive research to determine what options and features would appeal to their customer base, and brought in new ideas and techniques from other industries. By truly listening to families and finding ways to serve them better, they were able to make their cemetery relevant. They created the kind of environment that reminds families of life, nature and the spirit of their loved ones. Not only that, they were able to extend the lifespan of their cemeteries and transform underutilized space into highly sought after areas for the burial, interment and scattering of cremated remains.

funeral cemeteries
Cremation Garden
The cremation garden at Mount Pleasant incorporates many features that were researched and market tested by Mr. Zucchet's team. It offers many different options for interment and memorialization. Research showed that the families in Toronto want this kind of variation, serenity and liveliness. Landscape architects and contractors used ideas and techniques from residential projects and other disciplines in creating this inviting space. The water features, natural beauty, and intimate areas are a sharp contrast to the traditional cemetery design. This is the kind of environment that brings families to the cemetery and encourages them to come back again.
funeral cemeteriesMemorial plaques are incorporated into the railing.
The Mount Pleasant team remained flexible as they implemented their designs. A code mandated bridge railing was transformed by the addition of memorial plaques. Many families, who have scattered cremated remains in a distant place, find that they need a setting like this where they can visit and connect with their loved one. The plaques are a response to this need.
funeral cemeteries
Market research determined that families wanted indoor and outdoor options throughout the seasons. This conservatory incorporates columbarium niches into the pillars that support the vented glass roof. Even during the harsh Ontario winters, it is a place filled with warmth, light and life.
While many of the options, such as the conservatory, are unique to Mount Pleasant, similar ideas are taking root other leading cemeteries. In fact, the Mount Pleasant team visited many innovative cemeteries all over North America before putting their plan together. What I find most noteworthy, though, is that they didn't just see some great ideas and incorporate them into a design - they gave their community choices and asked them what they wanted. This is the approach that is often missing from funeral service and cemeteries; listening.
Tastes and customs change. One family will have different ideas from the next. One region will follow different traditions than another. However, when we make the effort to listen and respond with creativity and compassion, we will always remain relevant to the families we serve.
To read Part 1 of this series, visit
For more information on the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries, visit

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.