A developer wants to subdivide property in Surrey where pets have been buried for more than 70 years.
Some say human remains are also interred on the old B.C. Pet Cemetery site in Newton, but the landowner contends otherwise.
On Friday, Feb. 2, a development proposal sign was placed on the corner lot at 78 Avenue and 147A Street, as part of H.Y. Engineering’s application to the City of Surrey to subdivide the property into three RF lots (single-family residential).
Close to 700 animals are buried on the property, which in the early 1950s was rural land when Daniel and Nellie (Mary) Blair created the cemetery as a business, long since dissolved.
For 30 years Turnberry Developments has owned the property, now surrounded by houses and zoned accordingly. The current assessed value is $953,000.
In recent years, after learning about the cemetery in a Now-Leader story in May 2021 and related Youtube video, David “the Druid” Corrin has worked to clean up the site and care for the graves.
“I’m an animal lover, and when I found out about this place, I wanted to go there,” said Corrin, who lives in Burnaby. “I hacked down blackberry patches, and every time I come here I uncover and restore grave markers that have been grown over, sod and branches.
“I bought a line trimmer, hedge trimmer, blower and stuff, and paid for my own gas to come here three or four times a month, whenever I had time off from work.
“It’s sacred ground as far as I’m concerned,” added Corrin, who says he recently buried his cat, Two White Socks, on the property.
On Feb. 2 Corrin visited the cemetery and was surprised to see a contractor install a development proposal sign as he arrived, at around noon.
Early that morning, he’d emailed the Now-Leader with a news tip that a headstone for Muriel L. Clerke, a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (W.A.A.F.) corporal who died in 1981, was dug up and had gone missing.
The property might also be a burial site for cemetery founder Nellie Blair, but that’s not certain.
On Jan. 31, Lynn Weir with Turnberry Developments called the Now-Leader to tell of plans to subdivide the property. She later emailed two Registration of Death documents that show Clerke was interred in August 1981 at Victory Memorial Park crematorium in Surrey, Blair at West Coast Crematorium in Burnaby in May 1996.
The ashes of both women might have been spread on the property in Newton at some point.
“We have been working with Consumer Protection BC and the City of Surrey, and we have not found any evidence of human remains there,” Weir said.
For years there’s been talk about turning the property into a park. Surrey council considered doing that in 1995, but instead backed a plan to have a non-profit group buy the land, something that never happened.
“Pet cemeteries are not regulated under the provincial Cemetery and Funeral Services Act (1990),” a report to Surrey council noted in 1996. “Therefore, the developer, if he so chooses, could remove all headstones from the property and use the property for any purposes permitted under the zoning. There is no legal requirement to recognize in any way that animals have been interred on the site.”
Weir said Turnberry has paid taxes on the property for 30 years, and that the B.C. government has deemed the site “underused vacant property and (is) charging additional taxes.”
“A covenant on the property until 2010 gave time for people to remove their stones, and for groups to come up with funds to purchase the land,” Weir wrote in an email.
“Thirty years have passed, an extraordinary amount of time for people to make their arrangements.”
In an earlier phone call, Weir said Turnberry developed most of the neighbourhood, other than the cemetery site.
“The people who live there told us that they’re happy something is happening with the land,” Weir said. “It’s already zoned single-family residential, and three lots will be on the property.
“It is private property but we’ve never been heavy-handed with anyone about that, and right now it’s not the best use of the property. We could have people living there. I feel sorry for what neighbours have had to put up with over the years.”
On Feb. 6, West Vancouver resident Heidi Inman called the Now-Leader to say she has a pet buried on the property in Newton. The remains of Jet Junior, a black Lab, have been there since 1979, Inman said.
“At the time, my father was told by the owner that it was always going to remain a pet cemetery, he wanted that promise (from Nellie Blair),” Inman said.
“The property has changed hands, we know that, and houses have gone up all around that corner property, and now this (subdivision proposal).
“I’m upset,” Inman added. “I think the neighbours in that area would love to see that land kept without three more houses jammed in there. I’d love to see Surrey donate that as a little park.”
Weir said anyone wants to retrieve their pet’s stone from the property can contact her by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Not many of the people who had pets buried there are probably still alive,” she added.