Resources for the Bereavement Sector - Neglected Cemeteries and Burial Site Discoveries

Neglected and Abandoned Cemeteries

The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services will continue to be responsible for legislation and regulation, and for burial sites, war graves, cemetery closures and abandoned cemeteries. For information, contact the ministry toll-free at 1-800-889-9768.

A municipality may order a cemetery operator to repair and restore a cemetery that is not being kept in good order. If an operator does not comply, the municipality can then have the necessary work done and recover the cost from the cemetery operator.

Cemeteries can also be declared abandoned by a judge of the Superior Court of Justice, Ontario. A cemetery owner or operator, a local municipality, the Registrar of Cemeteries or the Crown can submit an application to declare a cemetery abandoned if:

  • The cemetery owner cannot be found or is unknown
  • The owner is unable to maintain the cemetery
  • The owner is not a licensed operator and there is no licensed operator for the site.

If a cemetery owner submits an application and a judge decides not to declare that cemetery abandoned, then the cemetery owner is responsible for the cost of that application.

On the other hand, if a judge decides that a cemetery should be declared abandoned, he or she may or may not order payment for the cost of the application. If payment is ordered, then the municipality is responsible for the costs of applying, including the cost of surveying the lands in question. Once a cemetery has been declared abandoned, the municipality becomes the owner of all of its assets, rights and obligations.

To learn more about applying to have a cemetery declared abandoned contact the office of the Ontario Registrar of Cemeteries at 1-800-889-9768.

Burial Site Discoveries

A burial site is land containing human remains outside a cemetery setting. Burial sites can be discovered accidentally or during an archaeological assessment.

Anyone who discovers a burial site outside a cemetery setting must report the discovery to the police or the coroner’s office. If the police and coroner decide that the site has no forensic interest, the Registrar of Cemeteries will be notified of the discovery. The site then comes under the jurisdiction of the Registrar, who will notify the site’s landowners of their obligations under the FBCSA.

The Registrar may require the land owner to determine the nature and origin of the site using the expertise of a licensed archaeologist. Once that’s determined, the Registrar will declare the site to be an indigenous people’s burial ground, a burial ground or an irregular burial ground (i.e. a site where there is no evidence of an intentional burial). The Registrar will then notify representatives of the person or persons who are buried at the site.

Once the representatives have been notified, the landowner and the representatives of those buried at the site will receive a Notice of Declaration. The notice will name the parties involved in the matter who will be required to negotiate a site disposition agreement.

The site disposition agreement will describe how the burial site will be handled. For example, the site may be established as a cemetery or the remains may be disinterred and re-interred in a cemetery within the municipality.

If no site disposition agreement can be reached, the matter will be referred to arbitration.  The decision of the arbitration panel is binding.

For details on the process and handling of burial sites you can refer to The Best Practices Guide as well as the Act and Regulations and their plain language guides.

Resources for the Bereavement Sector