modern cemetery

Designing a New Style of Cemetery

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Traditional cemeteries are beautiful places with lush trees, elegant headstones and vintage architecture loaded with historical significance and old world charm. They’ve provided an essential service for generations, but looking to the future, these sacred places are filling quickly, and offer few options for tomorrow’s families.

As times change, Canadian cemeteries are changing too. Today’s new perspective is to become more than a tranquil place where loved ones are buried.

As our population grows, design has evolved to embrace a widening variety of cultures, beliefs and lifestyles. Personal expression can now demand unlimited choice for lasting remembrance. So, as new technologies arise, fresh ideas are incorporated into the plans. Those plans must also consider regulations, roads, operations and environmental sustainability.

Modern cemetery design must think beyond a place to lay a grave; it must be a vibrant celebration of life, family, history, individuality - integrated within a shared community.

Incorporating all this takes a special kind of know-how.

“We make our plans looking 100 years into the future. “ says Michael Allcock, Design Manager at Arbor Memorial. “We develop the master design around key factors and then build in phases, as needed.”

Allcock explains that a new cemetery is often situated on lands beyond a city’s limits. It’s anticipated that the city will grow to meet, or even surround the grounds, creating a haven of protected green space. Once the land is chosen and zoning bylaws met, designers look at its practical requirements and study the demographics of the specific societies the cemetery is destined to serve.

“We create a strategy by evaluating needs, but remain flexible to change, especially when it comes to customer-focused design considerations.” says Allcock. “We want to go beyond meeting the minimum.”

Through analysis, designers will decide if crematorium, mausoleum and niche structures should be incorporated. Funeral homes and receptions centres can also be built right on cemetery property, a new innovation made possible by recent changes to legislation. Buildings are designed and the sections are mapped by balancing the needs of the people with the technical requirements of operations.

Existing geographic assets, such as woodlots, are included wherever possible. In many cases, the cemetery will incorporate a natural area, creating a nature path dotted with engraved cremation rocks, plaques, and benches for quiet reflection. It’s perfect for visiting and ideal for those wishing a less formal style of interment.

Ponds, natural or constructed, attract wildlife and provide a lovely place to stroll, paint, walk the dog, or ride along a bike path. Ponds also serve double-duty, providing irrigation and managing storm water drainage.

When a new section is scheduled, landscape designers join the team. They understand the climate, soil and wildlife, and choose the ideal trees, ornamental plants and flowers to flourish there. The spotlight is on “gardens versus graveyards,” says Allcock. “Colours, shapes, and even the fragrance of plants are chosen to commemorate specific cultures at important times of the year, and provide beauty in every season.”

Here is a list of some flowers, berries, bushes and trees that may attract wildlife and butterflies:


  • Purple cone flower (flower)
  • Russian Sage (flower)
  • Aster (seeds)
  • Grasses (seeds)
  • Lobelia (flower)
  • Monarda (flower)


  • Dogwood/Cornus (flower, berries)
  • Lilac (flower)
  • Service berry (flower, berries)
  • Butterfly Bush (flower)
  • Cranberrybush/ Viburnum (flower, berry)
  • Ilex/ Holly (berries)
  • Junipers (seeds)


  • Horse chestnut (flower, nut)
  • Redbud (flower)
  • Native Cherries (flower, cherries)
  • Maples (seeds)
  • Hickory (nuts)
  • Oaks (nuts)
  • Pines, spruce, fir (seeds)

Modern cemetery design invites connection with families and communities, shares amenities with its municipality, and offers options for every personality to be forever remembered - the way they want to be remembered. Check out this infographic for more about the modern cemetery.

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