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Memorial benches in Vancouver: How do you get one and what happens when they are removed?

Who do they belong to, really?
Here's everything you need to know about having a memorial bench in Vancouver.

Recently, the Vancouver Park Board removed several benches from Inukshuk Point in preparation for the Honda Celebration of Light fireworks.

The benches are being stored temporarily and are set to be returned to their places by July 31. However, since the first fireworks show isn’t until July 22, some locals are questioning why they needed to be removed so early.

Disability advocates say that removing them is reducing the number of places for people with mobility issues to sit and call for more public warning (at the very least) when making these decisions.

In addition, many of the benches along that stretch of shoreline are dedicated memorial benches and removing them has raised eyebrows since people pay $8,000 for the plaques.

Here's a look at the process of getting a memorial bench to honour a loved one or special occasion, as well as what the rules are surrounding the benches and what happens when they are removed. 

How to get a memorial bench in Vancouver

A non-returnable donation of $8,000 is required to fund a personalized memorial dedication plaque for 10 years but the bench is still considered property of the Park Board.

“In the case where a donation is made and the project/dedication is either terminated or not fulfilled, donations will be redirected to another Park Board initiative,” reads the City’s website.

Only one plaque is allowed and the dedication can’t exceed three lines of text, 40 characters per line. The text can be in English or French but cannot contain advertising or promotion. And it can be edited or changed but only for a $950 non-tax deductible fee.

Donors are able to select a site for their bench from a map and there are existing sites available in most parks, according to the City. The location must be selected and confirmed before the donation is made.

Once the money changes hands, plaque wording is required to be submitted within 30 days and installation takes between eight to 10 months but the Park Board won’t guarantee an installation date.

Once the 10-year period expires, donors are given the option to renew their plaque at the rate in place at the time of renewal (so it might cost more than $8,000). If the City is unable to contact the donor, the plaques are recycled and the site is made available to others.

Rules of memorial benches

The City of Vancouver prohibits spreading ashes in public places and the Park Board maintains ownership of “park amenities” which includes plaques.

“Altering dedicated park amenities or its surroundings is not allowed,” reads the website. “This includes etching, painting, staining, varnishing, decorating, or attaching items to the dedicated park amenity. Dedicated park amenities that have been altered will be permanently removed, and donations non-returnable. All associated costs and replacement costs will be billed to the individual or organization responsible for the alteration.”

Back in 2019, an artist painted a bench dedicated to her late partner and petitioned the Park Board to let it stay. The Board ruled to let it remain on an interim basis and promised to “investigate options to accommodate artistic enhancements to dedicated park benches.” As of 2023, the conditions still exclude painting.

Ornaments of any kind are also not permitted on benches which includes leaving flowers for loved ones according to the Parks Control By-Law.

Removing a memorial bench

In the listed conditions of dedication benches, the Park Board says “that it retains the right to use land adjacent to dedicated park amenities as it deems appropriate.” It also says that “the Park Board will inform you of any changes that require relocation.”

However, in an emailed statement a spokesperson for the Park Board tells V.I.A. that, “in the case of seasonal events, donors are not advised each time benches are removed.”

“When there is a need to remove a bench or a series of benches during major projects, such as the dismantling of the barge, we advise donors of the removal and reinstallation,” they continue. “Donors are informed that park maintenance, park upgrades or special events in parks, including filming, may require temporary removal of dedicated park amenities," however that is a generalized warning at the time of purchase.