Flooded Apex graveyard leaves Iqaluit resident with a sinking feeling
“I should be able to come here with my family, without having to be scared that they’re going to fall through the earth”
Iqaluit’s five-year-old municipal cemetery in Apex is flooding again, and one resident is calling the $1.33-million graveyard a risk to public safety.
Over the most recent long weekend, Courtney White took her three-year-old daughter to the graveyard, so the young child could visit her father’s grave.
But while walking through the muddy graveyard to the newly dug lot, White, in one unfortunate step, found herself plunging through the earth up to her knee.
Thankfully her young child was walking behind her, White said, though on another occasion her daughter did sink through the mud.
“My kids just lost their father three months ago and I can’t even bring them here feeling safe,” said White, who was clearly frustrated. “I walked up to his grave and she sunk up to her knee, so I grabbed her fast before she could keep going in. It’s quicksand—you just go right through.”
The man, who White wanted to leave unnamed, died in May, leaving three young children.
“It’s not fair to families who are already grieving. We don’t need to deal with this too,” she said. “I should be able to come here with my family, without having to be scared that they’re going to fall through the earth.”
The Apex graveyard was built in 2013. That site was chosen over another location near the Road to Nowhere, because the Apex area could hold more burial lots.
Nunatsiaq News visited the graveyard with White on Aug. 12. While tracing her steps over the grave, White again fell through the mud to her knee, by accident.
“You can’t tell what’s a hole and what’s not. It’s like one big sinkhole,” she said.
The ground beneath her hadn’t looked unstable; in fact, the area of the graveyard she visits with her children seems drier than other lots.
That evening, there were planks of plywood laid down to cover the muddiest parts of the cemetery walkway and a heap of soggy plastic wreaths and flowers littered the end of the path.
The rows between many of the graves at the Apex cemetery were rutted from the summer rain and filled with muddy water. More plywood planks sat half-floating in front of graves where the puddles were the deepest.
“I’ve noticed in the past few months, there’s always more trash here,” she said. “There are broken crosses. This place is getting vandalized.”
The graves at the cemetery are a minimum of four feet deep and have at least two feet of ground covering the casket, according to information provided by the City of Iqaluit.
Having seen White, who is tall, sink down to her kneecap, it would be easy to imagine that a person could sink down to where a casket is if they did walk over a gravesite.
While the cemetery falls under the purview of the city’s department of public works, maintenance at the site is contracted out to a local caretaker.
“The city as well monitors the site and continues to address the issues to work towards compliance,” the city said in a statement.
“These past few weeks have been exceptionally wet, and as a result water accumulation at the cemetery site has been problematic. The saturated ground has caused flooded grave plots and mucky conditions on site,” that statement also read.
The city said it plans to address the problem this week, and longer-term solutions are being considered “that will assist in water drainage and mitigation of the mucky conditions present currently.”
City officials have been working on plans to drain the site annually for a few years now.
In 2015, then-mayor Mary Willman apologized for the unforeseen problem that she said was likely to plague the city each spring.
In 2016, Iqaluit’s current mayor, Madeleine Redfern, said councillors may need to be brought up to speed on the graveyard dilemma.
And yet last year, despite the water problems, the cemetery won a “National Award of Excellence,” when the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects heralded the graveyard as being “purposely designed to transform the community’s perception of what a cemetery can and should be.”
The cemetery’s bowhead whalebone arches and breathtaking view of Tarr Inlet might have inspired this award.
But while the Apex cemetery could be called a tranquil space for grieving city residents during the winter months, White says the state of the graveyard during the summer months wouldn’t be seen as acceptable in any other city.
“The city knew it was like this. It’s just getting worse and they’re continuing to bury people here,” she said. “Something has to be done.”