York resident behind cemetery bylaw change

York resident behind cemetery bylaw change
Andresa Sisson

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

YORK—Perhaps you’ve heard of Andresa Sisson and her husband Tao Drayton. Despite being new to the area, the couple has made a splash rather quickly with their unique choice of home; the abandoned former Anglican church on the corner of Highways 54 and 9 in York, which they are currently in the process of transforming into a one-of-a-kind family home.

While the couple knew they loved the property from their first visit, it wasn’t as simple as signing some paperwork. The church grounds contain the York Cemetery, and owning the church also meant owning the cemetery.

“It was a very complicated process,” said Sisson. “The Anglican Diocese had to generally approve us as stewards and decent people. Then the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) had to approve us as potential owners of the cemetery before the sale of the property could even be finalized.”

Part of that approval process included rewriting bylaws and updating the ‘rules’ for the cemetery. Sisson explained, “When people buy plots, it’s a little like a mini real-estate deal, there is a deed and rights associated. Who those rights can be shared with usually just stipulated husband and wife or descendants.”

While Sisson was in the process of re-writing, she was struck with a revelation. The former wording excluded a ton of different people: ”Anyone on the kaleidoscope of same-sex, transitioning, unmarried, chosen family, common law, etc. It hurt all these people.”

She continued, “Imagine the love of your life passed away. All that grief, devastation, decisions, the changing of your whole world. Then having to fight to prove that love or be denied your right to lay them to rest however they wanted. To be separated for eternity over an antiquated, imposed notion.” 

Expressing a desire to not repeat that mistake, Sisson decided to make a few changes, swapping out the term ‘husband and wife’ with ‘partner’, noting that the change is intended to be inclusive.

“With a few easy and simple switches of vocabulary, old words for new ones, bylaws, laws, and hearts can be changed for the better,” said Sisson. “I think inclusivity is so important because it does affect people’s daily lives and human rights. Caring for one another is a core value. Strengthening our empathy, kindness, and understanding are the best parts of our humanity.” 

Though she calls the cemetery “small and underfunded,” Sisson says her family have big plans and hopes for improvement: “It is a gem we want to bring back up and shine. But to start we had so many steps to go through, financial and police checks, weeks/months of calls, emails and paperwork to update and so much to learn.”

She summed up her desire to leave a positive impact on her community, “Hate, fear, and exclusion gets you nowhere and begets a terrible world. This is a wonderful time for learning and re-evaluating past ideas, listening to voices and teachings that were erased, doing better for all our sakes. That is really how we feel about the cemetery in general. All the prayers, ceremony, monuments, remembrances, dreams, and wishes wrapped up here: they are all about love. The people who have passed and honouring the love that was shared. It is that pure and simple.”

Sisson concluded, “Whoever you are, we should all be so lucky to find love and build a home in another’s heart.” 

To learn more, visit TheYorkCemetery.ca or find @Theyorkcemetery on Instagram.