The Hindu Society of Saskatchewan is calling on the City of Saskatoon to create a designated space for people to spread the ashes of their loved ones along the South Saskatchewan River.

“Where they can show their feelings, they can bow down to their, you know, their loved ones’ ashes. They can cry a bit and they feel satisfied that way,” said Leela Sharma, president of the Hindu Society of Saskatchewan.

Scattering cremated ashes into water is an important ritual for many faiths, including Hinduism.

“Hindus believe that this salvation or nirvana is achieved to the deceased one when the ashes are emerged into the river Ganges,” Sharma said.

Traditionally, they travel back to India and scatter the ashes in the Ganges river with close family members, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that is becoming “almost impossible,” according to Sharma.

Travel restrictions combined with a growing ageing population, is why Sharma is looking for ways that people in the community can carry out this ritual locally.

“Now, Saskatoon is our home. We made this one our home and these things are really important to us,” Sharma said, adding that there’s about 1,000 Hindu families in the city.

Ward 5 City Councillor Randy Donauer, who has two Hindu temples in his constituency, said this issues has come up a couple times over the last few years.

He said there are no provincial or federal regulations prohibiting people from scattering ashes into the river, but there is currently no designated place for people to do it.

Donauer provided a notice of motion at the Regular Business Meeting of city council on March 22 to have city administration consult with the Hindu Society of Saskatchewan and report back on the possibility of approving a location in the Saskatoon area to release cremated ashes into the river.

“It’s something that we, as a society, need to accommodate. You know, Saskatoon and Saskatchewan are much more diverse than when I was a kid. It’s a wonderful thing we can learn about different cultures and different people, and this is a really great community and I’m sure that we’ll be able to find a nice solution for them,” he told CTV News.

Little to no environmental concerns with ashes in the river: MVA

The Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA), which is responsible for the conservation and accessibility of the riverbank both in and out of the city, said it’s open to helping the City facilitate a ceremonial space for people to gather and honour their loved ones.

Mike Velonas, manager of planning and conservation with the MVA, said there are little to no environmental concerns with people putting ashes in the river.

“From an environmental perspective, we’re relying on the fact that it’s such a small amount of human ashes that would go into the river that it would have a negligible impact,” he said.

“So, if it’s just the ashes that are being dumped in the river, that doesn’t seem to be hugely problematic. If they’re dumping some kind of keepsake or some material to remember that individual by or that was important to them, along with the ashes, then that would be considered waste and not be permitted.”

Sharma said community members would use material that is environmentally-safe and reiterated that it would only be a small amount of ashes.

Donauer said the Hindu Society of Saskatchewan isn’t looking for an exclusive place that no one else can go to, but wants a designated space where their community members can feel comfortable going to.

He said some potential locations could be near the Prairie Lily, Beaver Creek, Cranberry Flats or other locations near one of the boat launches or parks in the Meewasin that are just outside the city.

“I think there’s less chance that they’ll be disturbed if they go to a place like that and a little walk through nature might be nice as well,” Donauer said, adding that going early in the morning can also help with privacy.

Donauer said this ritual would likely only happen once or twice a year.

Sharma said they would be happy with any location, as long as it is private and quiet.

“I remember my mother’s ashes, we went to the Ganges river, so you still have a lot of attachment with that ashes and you want to scatter it with a lot of love and a lot of emotion and a lot of feeling,” she said.

On Monday, city council will debate and vote on whether to look into this matter further.