Visitors unhappy with state of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery on Mother’s Day

“I don't understand this cemetery,” says a visitor who had to squeeze her way in through the Decelles gate at the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, despite the cemetery saying it would reopen for Mother’s Day. Diona Macalinga reports.

An elderly man holding a bouquet of flowers stood outside the cemetery gates Sunday, hoping to pay respects to a loved one on Mother’s Day.

But the flowers never made it to the headstone.

While Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery in Montreal – Canada’s largest cemetery – was temporarily open for Mother’s Day amid an ongoing labour dispute, some never made it inside.

A locked gate – and the prospect of a 10-minute walk uphill – was deterrent enough for the man to give up and walk away.

“I don’t understand this cemetery,” a visitor told CityNews. “Why can’t they open the other door?”

Others, those who made it inside, were appalled at the state of the cemetery.

“I think this is a complete disgrace to human dignity for both alive and deceased,” said Aileen Montesclaros, who was visiting her grandmother and mother-in-law’s graves.

The cemetery, which was open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, has been mostly closed since outdoor workers went on strike in January.

It reopened at the end of March to families paying their respects, but was closed again in April following ice storm damages and a lack of staff to help clean up fallen branches. Headstones were destroyed and some of the paths were blocked by trees and branches.

Fallen branches on headstones at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery on May 14, 2023. (Submitted by: Frank Corica)

Montesclaros was frustrated with the situation on Sunday.

“It’s only open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and other people are saying they’re going to be here until 3 p.m. in traffic,” she said. “So there goes the living’s Mother’s Day too. Complete disrespect. No integrity.

“You try to come up, Queen Mary… You can’t even turn, it’s gridlock. We’re hoping to drive right through. And the gates are closed. We can’t even walk on as pedestrians.”

Visitor Gemma Vincenzi was unhappy as well.

“I’ve been coming here all my life,” said Vincenzi. “My grandparents, my mother, my sister, my uncles, aunts, friends are buried here. I have never been stopped from walking into these gates and I have been calling all week and no representative has told me that only one gate would be opened.

“I just think this is disgraceful and I think somebody with some integrity should step up and try to resolve this.”

With the cemetery’s outdoor workers on strike, many trees are left sitting on headstones from the April ice storm.

Patrick Chartrand, the union president of the cemetery’s maintenance workers, says they’ve been negotiating with a conciliator since Jan. 31. What they want: job security and a fair wage, including compensation for the last four years when they worked without a raise despite inflation and the rising cost of living in Montreal.

“We were without a contract since four years,” said Chartrand. “And those four years, they’re offering us nothing. They want us to accept like it never happened. In a negotiation, you got to take into account those four years. We want a five-year contract and they offered us something that’s reasonable. We need something for the back time: a raise for those four years we worked without a contract. Our salaries haven’t moved, but the cost of living exploded in the past few years.”

Chartrand says a resolution needs to be reached so grieving families can visit their loved ones’ graves.

“When things go bad, they close the fence,” said Chartrand. “And this is what we have also at the table. We’ve got a fence in front of us. We’ve got to ask permission to somebody we don’t know. He’s making the call upstairs and the answer is no.

“Let’s do this together and let’s reach an agreement that’s going to satisfy both, not try to break us or crush us. This is what they wanted to do. But it’s enough now. The families are waiting too for us to accompany them. They’re waiting to get inside.”

CityNews reached out to the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, but they declined an interview request.

Top Stories

Top Stories