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A headstone at Mountain View a city owned cemetery in Vancouver March 29, 2012. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
A headstone at Mountain View a city owned cemetery in Vancouver March 29, 2012. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

In Vancouver, real estate to die for Add to ...

It’s some of the hottest real estate in one of Vancouver’s most in-demand neighbourhoods, and it’s up for sale for the first time in nearly a quarter century.

Located in the heart of Mount Pleasant, it features winding walkways, mature trees and tasteful gardens, quiet neighbours and heritage charm, and offers a veritable oasis from the non-stop din of the city.

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But before you pull out your chequebook, be aware that the property does have its downsides. The view from inside is terrible, the price isn’t cheap – at $703 a square foot, it’s steeper than many of the area’s more luxurious homes – and it comes with one decidedly unfortunate residency requirement: You must be dead.

Ever since 1986, when the city’s only cemetery, Mountain View, reached its maximum capacity and cut off sales, anyone wanting to buy a burial plot in Vancouver came up cold. Their only option was to head for the suburbs and secure a spot in Burnaby, New Westminster, Coquitlam, North Vancouver or beyond – places they may never have even visited in life, let alone chosen as locales to rest in peace.

But a section of B.C.’s Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act allows cemeteries to “reclaim” graves and sell them to new buyers – and Mountain View saw it as an opportunity to get business back up and running.

So as of this year, those wanting to stay in Vancouver even after taking their last breath of salty sea air can once again secure a plot in the picturesque 106-acre locale, for a price.

“When we were closed, we used to say you could be born in Vancouver, live your whole life in Vancouver, but when you died, if you didn’t have a space here you got kicked out of Vancouver,” says Mountain View manager Glen Hodges, who moved from Saskatchewan to Vancouver in 2002 to begin the process of reopening the cemetery and turning it into a more viable business. “And I think being laid to rest where you spent a significant part of your life is a natural tendency.”

In order to be reclaimed, a casket plot must first meet several conditions. First and foremost, it needs to be vacant. (“That’s the first thing people always want to know, no matter how clearly it’s stated,” Mr. Hodges says.) The act also stipulates that the graves must have been purchased more than 50 years ago – although Mountain View opted to only resell plots that were bought prior to 1940.

“In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it wasn’t uncommon for families to buy four, eight, or even 16 graves at a time. So they would buy a family plot, bury a couple of people, then move away,” says Mr. Hodges, who explains that family members would often leave for work, for love, or after a loss, then put down roots elsewhere, leaving extra burial plots behind.

Before it can put the sites up for sale, the cemetery must try to contact the previous owners – a tall order given that they often only have pre-1940s street addresses, many of which have long since been replaced by condos and businesses. The cemetery has also placed ads in newspapers in an attempt to reach early buyers or their families. (And if someone comes forward after a plot is resold, the cemetery must offer them another of equal or greater value.) The process so far has netted more than 150 casket plots; but like any piece of terra firma in Vancouver, it’ll cost you. A single four-by-eight-foot plot, which allows for up to two caskets to be placed one on top of the other and as many as eight cremation urns, is $22,500 plus HST.

“It’s partly based on market pricing,” says Mr. Hodges, who looked at nearby cemeteries such as Forest Lawn and Ocean View in Burnaby, where prices range from $10,000 to $30,000 – and don’t allow for the same number of cremation urns. “But they are land-locked as well, and running out of space.”

Nilo Rey was among the first to pay the considerable sum to secure his long-term resting place at Mountain View. Having lived across the street from the cemetery since immigrating from the Philippines in 1994, he has always felt a strong affinity to the grounds, even teaching his kids how to ride bikes – and his wife how to drive a car – on its dead-quiet roadways.

He jokes that if he’d bought space in Burnaby or Surrey, his wife likely wouldn’t visit, ironically because she doesn’t like to drive. He also chose a plot near a tree and a fountain so “when people sit there, they won’t get bored.”

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