The dos and don’ts of scattering ashes in Ontario

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Updated: January 18, 2019

woman scattering ashes in ontario Photo by DnG Photography

As cottagers, we can understand why anyone would want their remains scattered in nature. But for the loved ones left behind, this simple practice can lead to questions, concerns, and unexpected outcomes. Since the last thing you want is to run afoul of the law during an already difficult time, we consulted with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO). The BAO’s main mandate is consumer protection and ensuring that people understand their rights and responsibilities before entering into contracts with funeral homes and other licensed organizations. The BAO helps you determine what you can and can’t do when honouring someone’s final wishes to have their ashes scattered in Ontario.

Don’t expect soft, powdery ashes

First off, if you decide to go this route—or if you’re upholding the wishes of a loved one who made the decision themselves—you should know what to expect when you open the urn. Anyone who’s stirred the soft ash beneath a campfire or cleaned out a wood stove might be shocked to find course, gravelly, sand-like substance mixed with bone fragments of the dearly departed inside of an urn. Of course, the texture of the remains means they won’t drift cinematically into the wind when you sift them over a boat’s hull or scatter them at a favourite sunset spot. For this reason, some loved ones prefer raking the ashes into the soil.

Do bring a friend

Everyone grieves differently, so even if you’re at peace with the loss, there’s no way to know how you’ll react when you open the lid of the urn (especially considering what we just said about bone fragments). To keep you steady in the storm of emotions, consider having another loved one present for support.

Do bring wipes

Despite the sand-like consistency and the presence of bones, the finer bits of ash have an unfortunate tendency to stick to skin. So if it’s windy, you can expect some of the remains to end up on your hands, wrists, and (if you’re at the cottage) shins. Wipes and water will help, and you’ll definitely want to stay upwind.

Do scatter freely on unoccupied Crown land

Approximately 89 percent of Canada is Crown land, which means you have plenty of beautiful scattering sites to choose from. These include the Great Lakes, provincial parks, and conservation reserves—all of which are permit-free scattering zones for cremated remains. And if you want to scatter remains on private land, be sure you have the owner’s permission.

Don’t allow repeated ash scattering on your property without a licence

This probably isn’t on your to-do list, but if any entrepreneurial souls with lakefront property are thinking of starting an ash-scattering service, know that landowners who allow repeated scatterings on their property will need to establish that land as a cemetery.

Do check the bylaws before scattering on municipal land

If your loved one had a favourite municipal park or beach, it’s not necessarily off limits to scatter ashes there, but you’ll need to check the bylaws first. And if you want to scatter them in a registered cemetery, you’ll first need to purchase rights to do so.

Do consider setting some aside

Unless it runs contrary to the final wishes of your loved one, you might consider setting some aside for children or grandchildren who wish to preserve memories in their own way. Some companies have specialized in making smaller urns and lockets to contain tiny amounts of remains.

Do you have questions concerning death care in Ontario? Contact the Bereavement Authority of Ontario for help.