Eternally Green

Denman memorial society spearheads initiative to create Canada’s first entirely “green” cemetery…

or some people, Syphilis
owning a business is a mundane obligation undertaken with the sole purpose of paying the mortgage and putting food on the table.  But for those lucky enough to have found true passion and purpose in life, going to work every day is a joy.

David Bossom, owner of Island Waterscape & Design Ltd., fits into the latter category.  Catch him standing in line to order a cup of coffee and he’s just your average Joe.  But ask him about his business and his passion for creating beautiful ponds and waterscapes bubbles up like water in one of his fountains!

When it comes to career choice, you would have to consider David Bossom to be more of a late bloomer—he didn’t grow up with a dream of creating award-winning watercapes.  In fact, until about seven years ago, he had never even given them much thought.  He laughs when he explains that he must give credit to a couple of turtles for forcing him to take a critical turn in his career and life path!

“I studied engineering at the University of Victoria for two years after I graduated from G.P. Vanier Secondary School,” says Bossom.  “But I decided that wasn’t really what I wanted to do.  So I came back to the Comox Valley and worked in my parent’s business for while and eventually took a job at the pulp mill in Gold River.  During my days off, I began helping a family member with her garden. That’s when I discovered that I loved landscaping.”

Bossom began taking correspondence courses through the Okanagan University College and, after the pulp mill closed in 1998, he went back to school full time.  He graduated from the University of Guelph’s horticultural program in 2000.

He started working with his friend, Steve Royer, in a landscaping business.  He eventually bought Steve out and started his own company, West Coast Garden Solutions.  The new company focused on providing landscape maintenance and construction services for commercial and residential properties.  By 2003, West Coast had secured contracts to service more than 100 customers and employed six people.

One of those landscape maintenance contracts was for a property owned by Mike and Joanne Hamilton, of Hamilton Logging.  The Hamiltons asked him to install a pond for their two pet turtles. Bossom had never built one but he set to work, engaging the services of a stonemason, Brian Stevenson, to help construct it.

Bossom says that this was his proverbial “light bulb moment” where he knew he had discovered his passion.  He went on a mission to learn everything he could about pond design and construction, eventually finding a company called Aquascape™ that offered a “Build a Pond in a Day” seminar in Vancouver.  After attending this seminar, Bossom began fazing himself out of the maintenance part of his landscaping business and focused his efforts on the design and construction of water features.  In 2006, he sold West Coast Garden Solutions and started Island Waterscape & Design.

As Bossom’s business grew, his wife, Jane, began helping him with office administration on evenings and weekends.  Her extensive customer service experience—gained from 17 years in municipal government and seven years in the non-profit sector—was a definite asset.  In 2007, she was able to quit her regular day job to become the full-time office administrator and bookkeeper for Island Waterscape.

Island Waterscape is a certified contractor with Illinois-based Aquascape Inc., the second largest water garden component manufacturers in the world.  Through this affiliation, Bossom has had the opportunity to attend seminars and training conferences across North America, learning the trade from some of the most highly respected people in the industry.  In 2009, Island Waterscape was recognized for his efforts as the Top Certified Aquascape Contractor in Canada.  This recognition, in addition to his work, has also caught the attention of Canada’s horticultural community.  Bossom is now also writing articles for Gardens West magazine.

“While it was amazing to be recognized for my efforts, I’ll be the first to admit that the first few years of this new venture were really tough,” recalls Bossom.  “Many of the people I initially talked to had bad experiences with old-style ponds—the kind where you simply put a bowl shape in the ground, line it with plastic or concrete and fill it with water…  and then hope it will sustain plants and fish.  This type of pond often turns into a green and slimy eyesore.  I had to work really hard to explain that my ponds and water features went far beyond that.  My purpose is to create water features that are not only beautiful but are easy to maintain and will support plants and wildlife.  It is about creating an eco-system in your backyard that is as close as possible to the ones designed by the grand master of water feature designs—Mother Nature herself!”

Whether you own a patio home that only has room for a bubbling fountain or an acreage that could accommodate a large pond with a waterfall, the installation of a water feature is an investment that pays off in improved property value, says Bossom.  As an added bonus, water features are also good for your soul!  Listening to the sound of moving water can help reduce stress and taking a few minutes every day to spend time in silence watching fish swim lazily about can be very relaxing.

Large or small, Bossom and his crew put a lot of time, effort and TLC into every project.  For most backyard projects, the digging and land contouring is done manually and most of the rocks are set into place one at a time. A special EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) synthetic rubber liner is used in all Island Waterscape designs.  Unlike some materials that have been traditionally used for pond liners, EPDM is very flexible, has a strong resistance to tearing and is non-toxic to fish and plants.  It also has a 20+ year life expectancy when exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun. When it is covered with rock and gravel, it can last about 75 years.

But the real magic behind every Island Waterscape masterpiece is completely hidden from view.  The soul of every water feature is the plumbing and filtration system that aerates and filters the water to ensure it is clean, fresh and biologically balanced so fish and plants both thrive.  No need for water test kits and chemicals.  Once established, an Aquascape™ water feature is almost maintenance free.

While the all the hard work over the years has paid off, it also helped that Bossom is well connected in the Comox Valley.  He was born in Comox and his parents, Alec and Diane, were business owners in Courtenay from the mid-1950s until the mid-90s. (They have been retired for years but still call the Comox Valley home.)  Brothers Rick and Mike also live here and his sister, Linda Lemieux, is not far away. His uncle, the late Fred Bossom, was also well known here for his role in building Comox Valley Insurance, now called InsuranceCentres Vancouver Island.  All of them provided much-needed support and encouragement as he embarked on his new enterprise.

Since 2006, Island Waterscapes has constructed more than 200 ponds, streams and waterfalls from Victoria to Campbell River.  With construction projects ranging from small backyard ponds and bubbling fountains to a 55-foot-long stream and a massive waterfall with more than 30,000 gallons per hour cascading over the top, Bossom and his crew of three have the experience to build any waterscape you can dream of.

While many of the installations are at private homes, there are several in the Comox Valley that can be enjoyed by the general public.  Island Waterscape designed and installed the water features at Trumpeter’s Landing, The Old House Restaurant and Tree of Life Veterinary Hospital, to name a few.  Take a walk down 5th Street and you’ll see one of his indoor pond creations in the window at WAGS pet store.  The naughty dog taking a piddle in the pond is guaranteed to make you smile.  (The dog was Jane’s idea.)

In an effort to meet the needs of their ever-growing client list, the Bossoms took a chance last spring and opened a water feature showroom in the garage of their home.

“We were a little nervous at first,” explains Jane.  “We thought that with the downturn in the economy it might be a bit risky, but it turned out to be fantastic.  Not only did the showroom help us get more installation jobs, it opened a whole new market for do-it-yourself projects.  People came to us for advice and went away with the products and knowledge needed to build their water features.  If they did run into problems, they called us for help.  David feels strongly that education and support for those people who want to embark on do-it-yourself projects is just as important as it is for the water features we are contracted to install.  Sure, you can go to the big box stores and buy pond construction supplies and accessories but you may not get the help you need.”

This spring, Island Waterscape is going through yet another metamorphosis.  They recently moved the showroom away from their home and opened a new retail store that is being managed by Jane—Copper Turtle Landscape Connections.  The store features Island Waterscape’s water garden products and accessories from Aquascape™, as well as gold fish, fish food, wind chimes, birdhouses, bird feeders and seed, rain chains and much more.  They are also very excited to introduce a new product called RainXchange, a unique rainwater harvest system facilitates the capture and re-distribution of rainwater through a decorative water feature.

—The Copper Turtle is located at TruLine Masonry and Landscape Supply at 2750 Cumberland Road in Courtenay.  TruLine’s complete line of retaining wall blocks, decorative rock and patio pavers will continue to be manufactured and sold onsite, but the store and yard are undergoing a major renovation.  Over the spring and summer you will see big changes at this location.  Bossom and his crew intend to gradually transform the front lot into an outdoor showroom that will, of course, feature a number of his spectacular water features and showcase both Aquascape™ and TruLine products.

The public will be invited to come and learn how to build a pondless waterfall, patio, retaining walls and more through a series of hands-on workshops to be held at TruLine in the coming months.  Dates and times for the various workshops will be posted on the Island Waterscape website.

“It makes a huge difference for both of us to be able to get out of bed in the morning and know that we are going to work at a job we love,” says Jane.  “When building waterscapes we know we are building something that will last.  It is an awesome feeling when a water feature is powered up for the first time and the water starts to flow.  This is, by far, the coolest thing I have ever done.”

David agrees.  “With the climate we have on Vancouver Island we are lucky that we can enjoy water features in our yards throughout the year,” he says.  “On those rare occasions when we do get some snow, the water feature will continue to operate and it looks amazing.”

He smiles. “Who says we can’t all have waterfront property?”



These days, weight loss
it seems, we are all trying to live a greener life—but few of us have considered what it could mean to die a greener death.

A group of Denman Islanders have been doing just that.  With the appropriate acronym DIMS (Denman Island Memorial Society), they are spearheading a community initiative to create what will probably be Canada’s first entirely green cemetery.

DIMS is, in fact, joining a modest but growing green burial movement.  The first natural burial ground was created in 1993 in the United Kingdom, where there are now more than 200 such sites.

In Canada, two cemeteries (one in Victoria and one in Ontario) have created natural burial areas within the larger, conventional cemetery.  Closer to home, DIMS members have been in touch with groups from Salt Spring and Pender Islands wanting to include a green area as part of their cemeteries.

BC painter and writer Emily Carr eloquently summed up the emotional attraction of green burial in a poetic, heartfelt plea:

“Dear Mother Earth, I have always specifically belonged to you.  I have loved from babyhood to roll upon you, to lie with my face pressed right down onto you in my sorrows.  I love the look of you and the smell of you and the feel of you.  When I die, I should like to be in you, uncoffined, unshrouded, the petals of flowers against my flesh and you covering me up.”

For many people, the attraction of green burial is less to do with poetry and more to do with science—environmental science, to be specific.

Conventional burial violates the environment in quite a number of ways.  The building of big concrete vaults for families hugely disturbs the earth.  Heavy caskets take decades to biodegrade and usually include toxic materials.  Embalming fluid renders the human remains toxic, as well.

Also, the standard design of a cemetery is distinctly unfriendly to the environment.  Typically, the site is extensively cleared.  New species, often non-native, are planted, and large swaths of lawn are maintained with chemicals and copious watering, both poisoning and depleting the groundwater.  Huge gravemarkers, often placed on concrete foundations, further disturb the natural order.

The goal of green burial, sometimes called ecological burial, is to return human remains to the earth in their natural state, with little or no impact on the environment.  No embalming fluid is used and the body is placed in the ground in a biodegradable shroud or coffin.  Concrete vaults are not used.  Burials may include cremains (ashes) as long as the container is biodegradable.  However, many green burial advocates discourage cremation because of the greenhouse gas emissions and toxins caused by the burning process.  (The Denman cemetery will welcome cremains.)

Green cemeteries are considered to be nature preserves; flower gardens and lawns, and the related use of fertilizers and pesticides, are not part of the picture.  The sites are marked with simple indigenous flat stones, other small structures, or plants, rather than big heavy markers.

While natural burial is currently a new trend, driven by environmental concerns, it is also a very old practice.  Historically, North America’s settlers very likely practiced green burial, and today, some remote Northern communities, isolated from government-certified undertakers, morticians, hearse drivers, and all the other paraphernalia surrounding the business of death, simply put their bodies in the ground.  On the other hand, practices to preserve the body in an undeathlike perfection are as old as ancient Egyptian mummies.

Although natural burial sites meet all the required health and bureaucratic standards, the whole idea can be simply too “out there” for many North Americans.  After all, death is hard enough to deal with, and people may feel more comfortable when things remain sanitized and conventional and a little less… earthy.

“Society in general is adverse to the whole microbiological world,” says Dr. Doreen Tetz, a general practitioner on Denman who, along with Local Islands Trust representative Louise Bell, met with me to talk about the green cemetery project.  Both are members of the DIMS Cemetery Project Committee.

“Modern burial practices evolved as part of a general movement in the early part of the last century for everything to become more sanitized, after antibiotics were discovered,” explains Tetz.

“And yet,” continues Bell, “what actually happens to a body as it is being prepared for conventional burial is actually really gross!  People just don’t know it.”  Bodies are stripped, shaved, washed with disinfecting chemicals, massaged and manipulated; formaldehyde is injected into the circulatory system and into the body cavities.  The mouth may be sewn shut and devices are used to set the face in a proper expression.  So much indignity and mess for a process meant to preserve our dignity!

Thus far, Bell, Tetz, and their colleagues on the DIMS Cemetery Project Committee have found Denman Islanders very supportive toward the project, speaking in favor of it at public meetings, and participating enthusiastically in a recent table-tennis tournament fundraiser.  In fact, say Bell and Tetz, there has been no opposition—perhaps, says Tetz, because this community of avid gardeners, composters and farmers tends to be somewhat more comfortable with the “whole microbiological world” than others.

But mainly, says Bell, Denman Island has needed a new cemetery for years.  With the old cemetery full, locals have had to send their loved ones to other communities to be buried.

“This project resonates with what I’ve seen in my 20 years of medical practice on Denman,” says Tetz.  “In that time there have been two very tragic situations where young children died, and the cemetery was full.  It makes a very strong impression when a family needs a place to lay their child’s body to rest.  Plots were eventually found, but it was very difficult; we had to ask permission from other families and it was quite a process.”

Bell says the reason she got involved with DIMS was simple:  “I made an election promise.  In the lead up to the last Islands Trust election, two people asked me if, were I elected, I’d be willing to give some time to creating new cemetery.  I said yes.”

Bell’s extensive experience dealing with the intricacies of government agencies has proven to be very helpful.  As is typical when someone wants to do something new with land use, there is a daunting amount of bureaucracy involved.  In fact, more than two thirds of the budget for the cemetery goes toward bureaucratic costs such as rezoning and subdivision fees, land appraisal fees, applications to the Agricultural Land Reserve and the BC Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority, which oversees all things burial-related, as well as the legal work, surveys and consulting needed to accompany all this.

DIMS’ very first challenge was perhaps the largest—they needed to find someone to donate an appropriate piece of land.  Luckily, they soon found a willing donor: the Denman Conservancy Association (DCA), a well-established non-profit conservation society that owns a number of properties on Denman, stepped on board.

One of DCA’s flagship properties, the 60-acre Central Park, has one corner that is adjacent to the old cemetery.  After some deliberation—including discussion about how to legally ensure that the new cemetery honoured the conservation values that are intrinsic to DCA’s mission—the DCA board agreed to donate a hectare of Central Park to DIMS.

This meant DIMS could celebrate, but not rest.  Founding a cemetery is not a simple project.  Fundraising is particularly challenging, since “cemeteries” are completely off the radar of funding agencies, says Tetz.

Also complicating things is the fact that burial is a highly regulated field, with legislation covering not just cemeteries, but also who can deal with human remains.

“For instance, you aren’t allowed to touch or to transport a body without special certification,” says Bell.  The DIMS group is looking at ways to work within the regulations while keeping the burial process at home on Denman.

This is part of a larger movement in the way families handle death and dying, says Tetz.

“Over the course of my career I’ve seen a really large shift.  It used to be death happened mostly in hospital, often alone.  As a doctor, I’d be called in to pronounce someone dead.  I wouldn’t know them; I wouldn’t know their family.  So I’d end up making a call to someone I didn’t know, on the other side of the country, to tell them that a family member had died.

“Now, more and more people die at home, with their families around them—while still receiving the best medical care,” Tetz adds.  “Families have been reclaiming that event in their lives.  But all that stops when someone dies.  The body goes off the island into the hands of strangers.

“Part of the attraction of green burial for Denman Islanders is having the option to reclaim that part of things.  We tend to be a very self-reliant group of people here.”

Bell is keeping meticulous notes of all the steps DIMS is going through to achieve its goal, with the intention of being able to offer help to other communities who are interested in creating a green cemetery.

“We are breaking new ground—no pun intended,” says Tetz with a twinkle in her eye.  “Down the road we’ll certainly be willing to educate others.  And I anticipate that there will be interest.”

Death, after all, is a part of life, and it makes sense for people to want their death to mirror the values they live by.  The new Denman cemetery will offer this possibility to all those who value environmental sustainability and connection to the local in their lives, by providing a place where they can comfortably return to the earth, in their own communities, after their death.