When a loved one dies and their remains are cremated, a common tradition in Canada is to scatter their ashes. Where to scatter ashes is a matter of choice. However, you must follow a few guidelines so you don't run afoul of local laws and regulations. Here are some tips for scattering ashes in Canadian provinces, including some suggested locations.
In Canada, there are not many restrictions. You can scatter ashes:
Note that some municipalities have restrictions so check with your town or city to ensure compliance with local rules.
One more caveat: Ashes can be scattered on Crown land as long as the space is unoccupied. These rules also apply to Crown land covered by water such as rivers, lakes, and the ocean.
Ontario’s ash scattering rules are consistent with other provinces across the country, as above. You can scatter ashes on your own private land, on someone else’s land, with permission, and in provincial parks and waterways including the Great Lakes. For municipality-owned land, the local or regional municipality should be contacted to check if there are any restrictions, including municipal waterways.
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According to the Nova Scotia provincial government, rules about scattering ashes are similar to those in the rest of Canada. The government website NovaScotia.ca provides this guidance: "There are no legal restrictions on the family scattering the ashes at a chosen spot, such as a body of water, or in the wild. The scattering of ashes on land is subject to the laws regarding property – check for any local or municipal bylaws. It is best to avoid scattering of ashes near watercourses that are used for drinking water."
In Saskatchewan, the sprinkling of cremated ashes does need to occur in an approved cemetery, though if it does occurs in a cemetery, records of the scattering are required.
Ashes can be spread on Crown land and waterways in the province, including provincial parks, without official government approval. The government said in an interview with the Regina Leader Post in 2021 that care must be taken to ensure ashes are not spread near water treatment facilities, intakes or where recreational water activities happen.
Ashes can also be scattered on private land with the landowner's permission.
The general rules outlined in this article for scattering ashes apply to all provinces and territories; however, the rules may vary locally. For example, in Quebec, according to the Funeral Operations Act, Article 71, ashes cannot be scattered in a place where they “may constitute a nuisance or in a manner that fails to respect the dignity of the deceased person.” This rule does not significantly limit location options; it is just a way to ensure the deceased and scattering location is respected.
In a similar vein, before 2019, scattering remains in the water at Banff and Jasper national parks in Alberta was prohibited. Additionally, permission was required to scatter ashes over rivers and lakes in forest and wilderness areas such as Kananaskis and Fish Creek. These restrictions have since been lifted.
Although finding a location that is suitable for scattering ashes is not overly difficult in Canada, there are several other considerations to be aware of.
Many people choose to scatter on property owned by the friends and family of the deceased, such as a family home, farm, or cottage. Some may want to scatter at a location on private property that was significant or had meaning for the deceased. Perhaps it was a childhood home or family cottage that has since been sold. It is still possible to do that, but if permission has been granted by the landowner remember that it doesn’t mean they will allow future access for visitations or memorials. Even if they do, they could sell the property in future and then you would have to reseek permission from the new owner to visit the property.
Also remember that a space chosen to scatter the ashes may not remain in the same condition over time. For example, if you decide to scatter on private property such as a former family home, that land may be sold in the future and redeveloped or changed.
In Canadians cities, old neighbourhoods in urban areas such as Toronto and Vancouver are increasingly being gentrified as land to build becomes limited. If a loved one’s ashes are scattered in the back garden of an older home, it could at some point be redeveloped and the scattering ground may become a paved road, a shopping mall, condominium, or some other development that will destroy, change or obscure the original structure.
If you choose to scatter ashes on public property, the land may also become developed or repurposed, restricted, or inaccessible at a future point. This is increasingly true of municipal golf courses, which are sometimes repurposed for housing.
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For peace of mind, some people might prefer to scatter ashes in a cemetery since these are usually well maintained and preserved for years. Many cemeteries designate an area as a scattering ground. Some cemeteries also keep a record of scatterings, which future generations can access. If you chose not to do so, then it is good to take pictures of the location to capture the moment and so it can be visited in your mind if it is not possible to visit in person in future.
If scattering on water, one useful tip is to scatter the ashes along with destemmed flowers into the water. The flowers will float and disperse slower than the ashes will, so it can be a visual guide as you contemplate the memory of your loved one. Floating flowers are also a nice focal point for taking pictures of the moment.
The environment should also be considered when scattering ashes. The pH of cremated remains is high, and they contain salt. Additionally, human ashes do not dissolve in oceans or lakes. These factors can be harmful to plant life, wildlife, and ocean life; however, scattering ashes is unlikely to have a considerable impact. When scattering on land, only small amounts of ashes will land in a particular area, which should not be enough to harm plant life.
When scattering in bodies of water, the ashes will disperse throughout the water and likely have no harmful effects as long as the body of water is large enough, such as the case with oceans and lakes. Moreover, ashes contain minerals, such as calcium phosphates, that should not cause harm to the water or other aquatic life.
Those who have not handled cremated remains before may be surprised by their consistency and quantity. Ashes are not a fine powder like many may expect. They are often coarse and may even be pebble-like, with the potential for small bone fragments to be mixed in.
It is also essential to keep in mind that ashes stick to the skin. Some may feel that wiping ashes on your clothes after finishing scattering can feel disrespectful, so it is vital to bring something to clean your hands afterward, such as wipes or water and paper towels.
And finally be mindful of scattering ashes down wind, if it is a breezy day. This will avoid any upset if the wind blows them in a direction you don’t want them to go. You also don’t want them to scatter back in a gust of wind toward gathered friends and family.