Updated: May 16, 2022
REST[ES]: Canada’s First Decomposition Research Facility
You may have read about ‘body farms’ in books, or seen them on TV, but did you know one exists right here in Canada? Located in a maple forest within central Quebec, REST[ES] provides a valuable service to all forensic investigators. Directed by Dr. Shari Forbes, the site for Research on Experimental and Social Thanatology (REST[ES]) represents the first human decomposition research facility in Canada.
. Being able to understand how, and why, a body decomposes can provide a great deal of information about time of death to the investigator. The research at REST[ES] can help police with everything from murder investigations to searching for missing persons.
Although opposition exists for such a facility, their contribution to the advancement of search and recovery methods, forensic anthropology and taphonomy are staggering. The research that they conduct there directly applies to modern case work that can help police search, identify and recover human remains. This can include recovering missing persons, victims of homicide, and victims of mass disaster.
You may be wondering why we should have one here (in Canada) at all? The way a body decomposes depends a lot on the environment and the ecosystem that it is in. A body that is outside in a warm, temperate, climate will decompose much differently than if it was in a frigid one. Their times since death, for example, would be estimated very differently. So, although similar facilities exist in the United States, Australia and the Netherlands, their climates, animal scavenging patterns and ecosystems differ greatly from those of Canada. Even within Canada, variation exists, but having a dedicated research site in central Quebec allows the variables of extreme cold weather, snow, and different microfauna to be studied for the first time.
The study subjects in the research facility come from very generous donors who specifically want themselves to be used to further the research at REST[ES]. It’s a very thorough vetting process, and even once deceased, certain criteria have to be met. This selfless act is respected throughout all stages of the research and the facility is completely secure because the donor’s privacy and dignity are paramount at REST[ES].
Bodies are placed either on the soil’s surface, or in a shallow grave in order for scientists to observe and study what exactly happens to the body when left alone in the environment (they do have cages over them to prevent large scavengers from getting to them).
Taken directly from the REST[ES] website, they “carry out studies on the following topics and applications:
decomposition odour to understand how cadaver-detection dogs locate victim remains;
the post-mortem microbiome as a potential tool for estimating time since death;
soil chemistry to identify chemical markers of body deposition;
the impact of vertebrate and invertebrate scavengers on body decomposition;
vegetation as surface indicators of clandestine burials;
tracking and archaeological recovery; and more!”
This research takes place year-round allowing for a variety of very useful data to be collected.
In addition to research, the REST[ES] also serves as a training location for law enforcement, search and rescue teams, forensic scientists, students and consultants to death investigations.
So, while the idea of watching human remains decompose before your very eyes might make you squirm, we hope that you can now see the value in them.
Check out our references and suggested reading for more information on this very exciting research centre!
Dr. Shar Forbes’ personal website:
3D Forensics interviews Dr. Forbes:
The Star: “She’s in charge of Canada’s first body farm and, yes, she knows it’s creepy”
CTV W5: “Meet the Ont. police dog who has helped cracked some of the provinces worst murders”
Yahoo News: “Canada’s first body farm already flooded with donor requests”