Catholic Vancouver July 27, 2018

Gardens of Gethsemani begins multimillion-dollar expansion

By Agnieszka Ruck

A rendering of what Phase One of the expansion project may look like. (Submitted)

The Catholic cemetery in Surrey is embarking on a new project so huge that staff are calling it a small village.

Gardens of Gethsemani has started construction on a multimillion-dollar project to expand the space available for Catholics to bury their loved ones.

“It is carefully prepared with the community in mind,” Catholic Cemeteries director Peter Nobes said in an interview.

The mausoleums will be as large as some small residential homes, with 195 crypts and more than 2,000 niches to be added to the cemetery in Phase 1 alone.

Although it is one of the cemetery’s biggest expansion projects since Archbishop Duke bought the land in the 1950s, Nobes said Gardens of Gethsemani will maintain its peaceful, park-like setting.

“We love for it to be a place of peace, a place of remembrance and reverence,” he said.

The project is inspired in part by the Cedar Grove cemetery at Notre Dame University, where Gardens of Gethsemani staff attended a recent Catholic Cemetery Conference.

Rather than building one massive stone structure for thousands of crypts and niches, Nobes believes the “village” concept will give the sacred grounds a more intimate feel. There will be walkways, statues, a water feature, and landscaping with plenty of new trees.

“There is a lot of careful planning that goes into cemetery design,” he said.

An aerial view of all four phases of the Holy Angels Mausolea and Columbaria. (Submitted)

Gardens of Gethsemani needs the expansion project. Outreach coordinator Terry Whiteley said there is a growing waiting list of people requesting glass-fronted niches (which hold urns), and a limited number of crypt spaces (which hold caskets) left.

“In the early days, your parish had a cemetery outside the door,” she said. Now, members of all 77 parishes in the Archdiocese of Vancouver rely on Gardens of Gethsemani.

“It is a huge development for families,” said Whiteley.

The massive construction project, which will be built in four phases, is taking the name Holy Angels Mausolea and Columbaria.

“I love the name,” said operations manager Marcia Terlaak. “We have a lot of saints reflected in the cemetery,” including St. Andrew Kim, St. Anthony of Padua, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Our Lady of La Vang.

“We try to look at the different communities and what their patron saints are. Holy angels are inclusive, and that’s something we want this project to be: inclusive.”

The team consulted with Father John Horgan, a Vancouver pastor and expert on angels, saints, and relics, about the name.

“We were trying to find a connection between life and death, and the angels seemed to fit,” said Whiteley. “People believe that angels are the ones your families are comforted by.”

The Gardens of Gethsemani design is inspired in part by Cedar Grove cemetery at Notre Dame University. (Photo submitted)

The first phase of the project is set to be built by December and blessed in February 2019.

Another three phases have been planned that will expand the village – phase by phase – as the need arises. It gives the cemetery the flexibility to watch trends in demand for cremation or full body burial and offer what’s needed most.

In the centre of the four quadrants will be a design feature, still unannounced, that pays homage to the holy angels and reflects the site’s aim to be a comfort to those who pray and grieve.

While the project is about expansion and running a business, for Nobes it is also more than that.

“There’s the Church in heaven and there’s the Church on earth. We kind of bridge that gap,” he said. “We always try to make it beautiful, reverent, and meaningful.”

More information available at

Construction has begun at Gardens of Gethsemani. (Photo submitted)
A rendering of Phase 1 of the project. (Submitted)