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Tranquil N.S. waterfront setting to become a memorial site with a digital twist

A Cow Bay, N.S., landowner wants to transform his sprawling 32-hectare waterfront property — which includes an island — into an area where people can remember loved ones who have died, but with a digital twist.

Ocean Spirits is not a cemetery and no one will be buried there. The plan is to have plaques on pillars with QR codes that people can scan to launch video or audio stories left behind by the deceased.

“What we’re going to be doing with the stories is actually sharing people’s voice,” said Ryan Hartigan, a partner with Ocean Spirits, who is working on developing an app to go with the site.

“So we have right now the technology where we can take audio recordings and videos of someone who has passed and actually take their voice and allow them to share their story.”

The property includes part of mainland Cow Bay and all of Moses Island. Arthur Rhyno has owned the land for decades, but recently decided to turn it into a figurative resting place. The land, Rhyno told CBC, is already zoned for the venture and he has permits from the municipality.

“I think he had a dog that had passed, and he rested the dog here. And then he said, ‘You know, when I pass, I want to rest myself here,'” Hartigan said.

Two men in the woods hold a sign that says "Stories that will last longer than a lifetime."
Ryan Hartigan, left, with landowner Arthur Rhyno on Rhyno’s 32-hectare property in Cow Bay, N.S. They’re planning to turn the property into a figurative resting place. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Much of the land, except for Moses Island, has been cleared to make way for pathways and a parking lot. That is expected to be complete by mid-May.

Once the project is finished, people will have another access point to Silver Sands Beach.

Other details are still being worked out, Hartigan said, including how to address potential concerns about whether the memorial site will remain for generations to come.

An island sits on a body of water on a sunny day.
A view of Moses Island in Cow Bay, N.S. Ocean Spirits plans to build a bridge from the mainland to the island for memorial pillars. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Hartigan said the first pillar is expected to go up by the end of April. He said Rhyno is already giving tours to people who are interested and has heard from around 180 people so far.

While prices for a plaque will vary, Hartigan said on average it will be around $1,500.

For people wanting to have a plaque on Moses Island, Hartigan said there are plans to build a bridge. The timeline for that project is yet to be determined, but he said the goal is the spring of 2024.

A rocky beach on a sunny day.
Once work is finished on Ocean Spirits, it will provide another access route to Silver Sands Beach. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

A friend of Rhyno’s, Dennis Whalen of Bedford, N.S., is keen to prepare for his plaque.

“I wanted to support his business idea. I think it’s a good idea. And just like anybody, I’m 59 … I happened to be doing my will right around the same time that he had this idea,” Whalen said.

“I’m a widowed father, I have a 22-year-old son who has cerebral palsy and a 20-year-old daughter. You want to cover all your bases and not leave them with decisions at this stressful time in life, right?”

A rectangular plaque on top of a counter.
An example of a plaque that will appear on a pillar at the memorial site. People will be able to scan the QR code to hear the voice or see a video of a deceased loved one. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Another draw for Whalen is the view.

“We live in Nova Scotia, the Atlantic Ocean, and you know, you go to a graveyard and it’s all the tombstones there,” he said. “And there’s a morbid feel to it, that you can’t wait to get out of there, right? You go to a place like here and it’s not going to be a grave there.”

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