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The NWT and immortality: Explore the North’s cryonic burials

Special burials decades ago tried using NWT permafrost to chill bodies until science could reanimate them. The graves are still there.

An unmarked white cross inside Inuvik's cemetery on an afternoon in June 2023. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
An unmarked white cross inside Inuvik's cemetery on an afternoon in June 2023. Somewhere in the cemetery, a cryonic burial is reported to exist. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

In the older part of Yellowknife’s Lakeview Cemetery, between headstones and flower arrangements, are two plots where only black PVC pipes stick up from the ground. 

The people occupying the two unmarked graves – Cabin Radio could not definitively confirm who is buried there – likely never saw Yellowknife while alive. Both are understood to have been Europeans whose bodies were shipped to the North in the 1990s, to be buried in the NWT’s permafrost. 

A similar burial is reported to have taken place in Inuvik in the late 1980s. There, an American man known as F Marden was buried in the town’s cemetery, a development covered at the time by the Inuvik Drum, Canadian Press and Edmonton Journal

They are examples of cryonic burials – people buried using specific techniques in the hope that their bodies will remain sufficiently well-preserved to be reanimated if science is one day able to bring dead people back to life. 

Cryonics, now sometimes known as biostasis, began in the 1960s, when American Robert Ettinger published his book The Prospect of Immortality. Ettinger founded the cryonics movement and the Cryonics Institute in Michigan. 



Cryonics facilities – where people are suspended in liquid nitrogen – have since opened across the United States and Europe, though there are none in Canada. 

In the United States, around 450 people have undergone the process at the Cryonics Institute and Alcor, the two main cryonics facilities.

But even in the cryonics field, burials involving permafrost are unusual. 

Meanwhile, permafrost across the North is thawing – potentially taking with it three people’s hopes of a second chance at life. 



The Northwest Territories’ Department of Health and Social Services told Cabin Radio it had no death certificates for the three, suggesting they died outside the territory. 

Inuvik's cemetery. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Inuvik’s cemetery. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

Marden was supposedly buried in Inuvik by then-funeral director Dave Hanson at a depth of 10 feet, according to a 1988 Inuvik Drum article. The article stated Marden was a university professor from Wood Haven, New York.

According to the Canadian Cryonics News, his son, a New Jersey businessman, had him buried there.

Marden’s burial took place after the founder of the Cryonics Society of Canada, Douglas Quinn, flew to New Jersey to convince the businessman’s mother that a “permafrost burial doesn’t violate Christian principles.”

According to the society’s website, Quinn arranged the burial and acted as an intermediary between Marden’s family and Hanson in Inuvik.

Marden’s “final wish was to be buried in the permafrost,” hoping it would preserve his body indefinitely, the Canadian Press reported in 1988. 

According to Ben Best – then a writer for Canadian Cryonics News, a newspaper launched by Quinn – the “lack of pre-mortem suspension arrangements and a family opposed to liquid nitrogen suspension made PCI the only acceptable alternative.”

PCI stands for permafrost cryonic interment.



Marden’s son “hopes to eventually have his father frozen in liquid nitrogen when family problems are resolved,” an article published in Canadian Cryonics News stated. 

While the New York funeral director involved in the burial told Cabin Radio Marden had been initially buried in New York but later transferred to Inuvik, and the Canadian Press reporter who covered Marden’s fate told Cabin Radio Hanson had confirmed the burial to her, not all accounts of what took place line up.

Richard Campbell is the director of public works in Inuvik, and his father was a town councillor at the time of Marden’s burial. Campbell says there is no documentary evidence that Marden was actually buried in Inuvik. He thinks it never happened.

“People from town didn’t want somebody from out of town being buried in the same cemeteries, same spots as them, and the cemetery at that time wasn’t very big,” Campbell said. “So if you started selling off spaces to rich people, you’d end up with no spots.”  

Tom Zubko was a town councillor when Hanson brought the idea to council. 

Zubko says he remembers a few inquiries regarding permafrost interments, including one from a family in California. 

Their reasoning behind using permafrost, said Zubko, was that the temperature would not be affected by a power outage in the same way a cryonics facility might be. 

“We could either bury the body, or maybe just the head,” said Zubko. “There were a number of different iterations that floated around.” 



A scan of a 1988 Canadian Press article, published in the Ottawa Citizen, about a planned "permafrost cemetery" in Inuvik
A scan of a 1988 Canadian Press article, published in the Ottawa Citizen, about a planned “permafrost cemetery” in Inuvik.

Council even floated the idea of building a separate cemetery in the town for that purpose, said Zubko, but the economics of the idea didn’t come together – and the community of Inuvik pushed back.

“I think the sad reality is that none of that ever came to fruition,” said Zubko. “To the best of my knowledge, nothing like that ever actually happened. No bodies, no heads.” 

Whether or not F Marden resides in Inuvik’s cemetery – his grave was reported to be unmarked, and a short tour of the cemetery this month provided no clue as to his presence – Inuvik definitely spent time in the cryonics spotlight. 

In 1988, Hanson told a reporter he had received “about a half-dozen inquiries about permafrost burials in the past year.” 

“I’ve had all kinds of requests from all over the world since then,” Hanson told the Edmonton Journal in 1994. “England, Japan, Hawaii, Australia and all over the US.”

Yellowknife’s cryonic burials

In the early 1990s, two Europeans definitely did have permafrost cryonic interments in Yellowknife. Each took place “with good chemical preservation,” according to the Cryonics Society of Canada.  

Since then, however, the “Cryonics Society of Canada has not assisted or recommended permafrost burial,” the society now states on its website.

The people buried in Yellowknife died in 1991 and 1992, according to the Lakeview Cemetery database



Unlike the case of Marden in Inuvik, Cabin Radio has been able to confirm the presence of these two cryonic burials. 

While the specific identities of the two could not be firmly established, the Cryonics Society of Canada told the Edmonton Journal in 1994 it had assisted in burying the grandmother of a French chemist in Yellowknife. 

Yvonne Quick was the funeral director who assisted with the Yellowknife burials. She operated Territorial Funeral Homes at the time. 

Yvonne Quick. Talar Stockton/Cabin Radio

Quick remembers picking up the first body at the airport, alongside instructions outlining how the burial should proceed. 

The casket was made of metal and larger than a normal casket, she said. “It was sealed,” she told Cabin Radio. “There was no way you could open it.”

She was instructed to fill a wooden crate surrounding the casket with dry ice, and dig the grave down to permafrost level.

According to Quick, the graves at Lakeview Cemetery are 12 and 14 feet deep, the depth required at the time for the caskets to rest on permafrost. 

“We had a front-end digger there and they just kept digging until we found the permafrost,” said Quick, “and then we lowered the casket.”



Neither casket was shipped with a headstone – only instructions and burial permits from their countries of origin. 

One of the individuals, said Quick, was shipped from Switzerland. 

The PVC pipes were installed to enable temperature monitoring, she said. That way, a temperature gauge could be lowered through the pipe to ensure the casket’s temperature was right for preservation. 

Quick does not know if anyone has since monitored the temperature of either casket. She says the funeral home was not asked to check the temperatures.

This PVC pipe is the sole marker of a permafrost cryonic interment in Yellowknife. Talar Stockton/Cabin Radio

She said the families of the two have never contacted her. 

While it is not clear if any relative has ever visited Yellowknife’s cryonic gravesites, they do appear to have had at least one visitor.

In an article written in the 1990s, Doug Skrecky describes being told to visit the graves by Best, then the Canadian Cryonics News editor.

Skrecky wrote that one of the two Europeans was shipped initially to Rankin Inlet, where they were refused burial. He also provided different data for the grave depths, suggesting they were only six feet, not deep enough to hit permafrost.



According to Skrecky’s account, he tried to check the temperature but could not see a thermometer in the pipe. He said he ordered brochures about headstones to send to the “parties concerned.”

When Cabin Radio visited Lakeview Cemetery this May, the two graves had no headstones. 

Skrecky told Cabin Radio in an email that he believes there has not been “much interest in permafrost burial due to the low prices charged by the Cryonics Institute for liquid nitrogen storage.” (The Cryonics Institute, in Michigan, offers to perpetually suspend people in liquid nitrogen for between $28,000 and $45,000, according to its website.) 

‘Wild West for cryonics’

Interest in permafrost burials seems to have essentially evaporated in recent years.

The current president of the Cryonics Society of Canada, Christine Gaspar, said she had heard of such cases when she first joined the society. 

“Permafrost burial was something that people came up with when there weren’t any other options. It’s not something that I would ever advocate for now,” she told Cabin Radio.

“It’s already such a complicated matter to try to preserve a human brain with enough fidelity to potentially imagine that the person is still in there, let alone the imperfect nature of relying on nature – you know, permafrost – to keep tissue cold enough to not break down.” 

But the 1960s to the late 1980s formed “the Wild West for cryonics,” said Jeremy Cohen, professor of religious studies at McMaster University, who studied cryonics for his dissertation.



Cryonicists were trying “any number of things,” Cohen said. If a cryonics facility went under financially, patients were thawed out and sent to other facilities, or sometimes never recovered.

“There was a lot of hope and a lot of idealism around cryonics in this era,” Cohen said. 

There still is, he continued, but there are more protections and contingency plans in place.

Current cryonics procedures typically begin right as the patient dies, said Cohen. The body is immediately cooled down with ice. 

Then, at a cryonics facility, the body is drained of all fluids and injected with chemical preservatives. 

From there, the body is inserted into a cylindrical vessel named a dewar. At Alcor, the Arizona facility at the centre of Cohen’s research, he said a dewar holds four bodies and a multitude of heads. 

The dewar is filled with liquid nitrogen, which is replenished every two weeks. 

Dewars at Alcor, a cryonics facility in Arizona. Jeremy Cohen/McMaster University

“The body is kept there, hopefully and indefinitely …. until resurrection,” said Cohen.  



In contrast to that procedure, a permafrost burial provides many more opportunities for things to go wrong.

“What happens if reanimation occurs, or the ability to reanimate an individual happens in 100, 200 years?” said Cohen. “Is anyone going to be around to dig these individuals up and try to bring them back?”

This was part of the reason the Town of Inuvik decided against permafrost cryonic interments, said Zubko, town councillor at the time. 

“If you’re going to commit to look after somebody, or look after a location or whatever, for 100 years or an indeterminate period of time, you can’t just dig a hole or drill a hole or drop a head in the ground and walk away,” said Zubko.

“There’s a certain amount of guardianship required, right? I think how to put that together really didn’t make a lot of sense.”

Gaspar, the president of the Cryonics Society of Canada, said the temperature at which water freezes is too warm to potentially preserve a brain with enough structure to “infer that function might still be in there.”

“Even dry ice temperature, which is about -79C, is too warm,” she said. 

Even the founder of the Cryonics Society of Canada, Quinn, “questioned the practicality of permafrost burial” according to the society’s website



Now, the permafrost on which those burials relied is thawing. 

A 2019 study from the Northwest Territories Geological Survey found that annual mean air temperatures have increased by 0.6C per decade since 1970. 

“Rising air temperatures make the warm, ice-rich permafrost vulnerable to thawing and terrain subsidence, with impacts on ecology, hydrology, infrastructure and human use,” the study stated. 

“It makes it even worse. I don’t know how much worse it can get,” said Gaspar of the permafrost thawing. “I feel bad for people who didn’t have any choices, because they did the best that they could for their loved ones. And it was done in good faith.” 

The two patients underwent chemical preservation, which gave her more hope for their outcomes, she later stated in an email. 

Gaspar said she has reached out to cryonics companies and individuals in Europe, as the individuals buried in Yellowknife could be transferred to a facility in the United States, Germany or Switzerland. 

She is trying to locate their families. 

“Perhaps I’ll get lucky,” she told Cabin Radio in an email, “and someone I’ve contacted will know who they are.”