Kenton de Jong, the creator of Regina Cemetery Tours – The Game, made the following statement to the Regina Executive Committee regarding Item EX 22-26 on March 9, 2021.
You can see it on YouTube at the 2 hour, 36 minute mark.
“Thank you and good morning.
My name is Kenton de Jong and I represent my company, Regina Cemetery Tours.
I am here to request a review or amendment to Bylaw No. 2008-27, section 37 and section 42. These sections state that “no person shall permit or take part in any unauthorized event in a Cemetery” without approval by the Cemetery Director, and that any person who operates these events can be fined $2,000 or be imprisoned no longer than 90 days.
My concern with this bylaw is that the word “event” is never defined. Currently, the going definition is that an “event” is any activity held within the cemetery grounds. However, this can also include:
- a couple going on a picnic
- a photographer doing a photo-shoot
- a family reunion, or
- a teacher taking their students to see headstones related to their school curriculum
- Eg: the grave of Polly Hutchinson, the murdered wife in the novel “The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson: A True Story of Love & Murder” by Lois Simmie.
Under Section 37 of the bylaw, everybody I mentioned, including the students of the teacher, are in violation of the law and could face fines and imprisonment. I do not believe any of these people deserve those punishments, and the city probably doesn’t either, but the existing law says they do.
Saskatoon has a similar bylaw, but their bylaw is less strict, and has a minimum fine of $25 and a maximum fine of $500. The difference is that their bylaw specifically forbids games or other sports from being played there, while our bylaw forbids everything.
This bylaw came to my attention when I was attempting to organize tours of the Regina Cemetery in 2017. The purpose of my tours were to raise money for a monument for the victims of the Spanish Influenza. Because I did not have insurance to operate these tours, I partnered with Heritage Regina to use their insurance instead.
However, the money donated by the tours did not go towards the monument. Instead, it went to funding Heritage Regina’s various programs. Fortunately, through private donations, we were able to achieve our goal, and unveiled the monument in December of 2017.
The tours continued in 2018, and all the money went to Heritage Regina. After this, I chose to leave the board and organize the tours myself. I registered my own business, Regina Cemetery Tours, and began the process of getting proper insurance. The insurance company said I needed an “event form” from the Regina Cemetery prior to applying, but the Regina Cemetery refused to provide it. They stated that only Heritage Regina has permission to do historical tours of the cemetery. I then requested to do other types of tours, but my emails went unanswered. I then offered to donate all my proceeds to repairing the cemetery, and still, I got no response. It was only after I contacted a city councilmen in 2019 that my emails were answered, and my request was again denied. They stated that only Heritage Regina has the authority to do tours of the cemetery.
Unfortunately, Heritage Regina has not conducted any tours of the cemetery in 2019, 2020 or 2021. This is a huge blow to not only our tourism but also to sharing our collective history.
Last fall, on October 30, 2021, I noticed a walking tour being conducted in the cemetery, one that was not done by Heritage Regina. When I contacted the city to ask about it, they informed me that an additional “serial killer tour” that had been held a week prior. They had no plans to fine these individuals.
It appears the bylaw is not being followed, and the city is not enforcing it. It then surprised me to see a pending amendment to the bylaw, section 39, subsection 4 that states: “No person shall advertise, host or carry on any tour, event or commercial activity to be held in a cemetery or offer any goods or services in a cemetery except pursuant to a written contract between the City and the person.” It then mentioned a still work in progress document called the “Cemetery Tours and Event Policy”.
I cannot fathom why tours of the cemetery need a specific policy, or why punishment for having events in the cemetery are so extreme. The cemetery is meant for all people to use, not just Heritage Regina, and the history within it belongs to everybody.
With all that said, I would like there to be a review of the current and proposed Bylaw No. 2008-27 to define what exactly an “event” is, similar to the Saskatoon bylaw. If this is not possible, I’d like a clause added where only ticketed events or events larger than 30 people require city approval. This way families, teachers and photographers will not be risking jail time by simply enjoying the cemetery. This revision will also allow people to learn and embrace our local history from a variety of voices, not just that of a single non-profit organization. I believe the bylaw was written with the best intentions in mind, but it instead silences voices and hinders our intangible cultural history.
Following de Jong’s statement, many were comments regarding Bylaw No. 2008-27 section 37 and section 42 were raised. These comments included
- That the cemetery was made for the living and the dead and should accommodate both
- That the cemetery’s history is important and should be shared
- The city should not prevent people from using the cemetery
- That tours of the cemetery could have positive tourism and economic impact
- Section 42 of the bylaw (in regards to fining or imprisoning people) was meant for vandals, not anybody, but the language is unclear
- In the past ten years, no individuals have been fined or imprisoned for unauthorized events in the cemetery
- Section 37’s verbiage needs to be addressed and the word “events” needs better definition
Although the proposed amendments to the bylaw were passed, there will be continued dialog on refining and redefining the bylaw to better reflect the needs of the people, and the possibility of tours in the future. The next discussion will occur on March 16, 2022.