Making Cemeteries Relevant, Part 5: Lees + Associates

Making Cemeteries Relevant, Part 5: Lees + Associates

Life & Death Matters Post

The Daily Undertaker is a fascinating e-newsletter with sections that include: Natural and Sustainable Options, Art and Death, Inspiring Services, Memorialization Ideas, Grieving and links to further newsletters, journals, sites, related to death, cemetaries, funerals, rituals etc.

In the newsletter Pat McNally writes a series titled :“Making Cemeteries Relevant”. Pat articulates his view of art and ritual on his blog: “There is perhaps nothing more important than art and ritual, because they help us to make sense of our world. When we experience a good work of art, or engage in a meaningful ritual, we see the world, and our place in it, in a different and richer way.” ( )

For Part 5 of the series he interviewed Erik Lees, from Lees and Associates. Pat starts the interview with Erik: “Your work is different. In the nature of the projects your firm has been involved in, and the responsiveness of your designs to the stories behind the grounds, and the people who will visit there, I find something very compelling.

Their work is compelling!

Pat’s interview with Erik includes a discussion of key sites that Lees and Associates designed, tells a piece of the story of those whose lives are being honoured at the site, and provides a photo of each site.
To read the interview and to see the photos go to:

Erik discusses the “Woodlands” site. Woodlands in BC, housed many people who were developmentally and mentally challenged for many years.

Erik says, “There were so many challenges with this project, but great projects are rarely simple!

The headstones from this 2 acre cemetery had been removed over 40 years ago, some of which were just dumped in a ravine, some were used for patio stones and a retaining wall – as sacrilegious as this may seem. Our task was to repatriate those stones to the cemetery site, but in the absence of accurate records, we were not able to definitively say where each headstone belonged, hence our decision to incorporate them in to a series of walls. The other challenge was that we only found 900 of the 3200 headstones, so we had to devise a system to acknowledge and remember all those that were buried there, not just those whose names were on the headstones we found. As with all our projects we undertook thorough research and during that process found inspiration in the history of the institution and even more so: the stories of those who lived there. One of

the most compelling stories was how many of the children were housed in dormitories with windows too high to see out of. We decided to create a “window too high” and although it is far more literal than we might otherwise choose, it proved to be a very powerful icon in the garden and one around which visitors had their picture taken.”

As this site was being built, I cared for the mother of a woman who had lived at Woodlands. I told her that a memorial was being created. She told me about the building, and about the windows which were too high.

This work also intrigues me as Erik Lees happens to be my very talented older brother!
Way to go Lees and Associates!


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Courtney Murrell is a PSW who works in hospice palliative care.

When she is not at work, she is spending time with her family, going on hikes or writing. Courtney is a lifelong learner and loves to share her passion for writing as a wellness practice.

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