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What every family should know about Funeral services



In the history of mankind, to all people in all ages and cultures the disposition of the dead has seemed an act of such solemnity as to require group concern for its fitting ceremonial observation.  Out of a sense of loss, grief, mystery of terror, people of all times have slowly developed patterns of conduct to provide for their behaviour during the death cycle.  Chief amongst these patterns have been religious beliefs and from these beliefs funeral and burial customs have been created and developed.

Disposition of the dead is a process rooted in the very nature of mortality.  The evidence of earth burial emerges from the remains of the "Old Stone" period, although undoubtedly it was a custom practiced for thousands of years before.

Looking back through history, the ancient Egyptians are generally accepted as having the most highly developed beliefs and practices: while they were probably not the first to embalm, they seem to be the first to have set aside a class of priestly functionaries for whom embalming was a solemn and prescribed duty.

The Greeks and Romans represent other strands in the development of the death beliefs and funeral and burial customs of Western civilization.

Most of the funeral beliefs and practices observed in Canada today are rooted in Judeo-Christian traditions.  Numerous records of embalming, funerals and burials are to be found in the Old Testament.  The New Testament in addition to the description of Christ's burial refers directly and indirectly to death and burial.

Although early Judeo-Christian burials were simple, gradually the Western world developed ceremonies surrounding the funeral.  Medieval Europe witnessed great funeral pageantry.  The Protestant Reformation reintroduced some of the earlier concepts and by the 17th and 18th Century the English "undertaker" was becoming a recognized occupation.


Canada's very early days were noted in journals and diaries of the time, but little is known of her first settlers' funeral practices, other than they were, of necessity, simple.  "T.F.T. Dy 1788 Au 13 Ag 17 y."  This message scratched on a rough slab of sandstone is all that is known to us today of a young man or woman, age 19, who was buried in a tiny cemetery near Niagara Falls on August 13th, 1788.  T.F.T. took final rest in one of the countless little plots of land set aside by settlers on corners of their properties.

Not far from T.F.T.'s marked grave a Loyalist settler named Christopher Buchner bought some land on Lundy's Lane.  On July 25th, 1814, Buchner fought in the historic battle named after that road, on his own land, and later watched as his fences were torn down to build a funeral pyre for the slain of both sides.

Ontario's funeral customs grew out of such notable pioneering events.  It was not until the 1820's  that a funeral home opened its doors in the province.  In those days, before the nation of Canada was ever contemplated, settlers from many parts of Europe brought to their new homeland age-old customs.  Funerals were more commonly carried out in the parlours of the early Ontario homes.  Then, as the towns and villages grew, people turned to their cabinet maker and furniture maker to supply the casket and provide transportation from home to grave.

A pioneer Ontario funeral director related to his colleagues earlier in this century that the only qualifications for a nineteenth century funeral director were the possession of a fine pair of black horses and a suitable black suit of clothes.

Transportation was an important concern to the first Ontario funeral directors.  With the infant death rate so high, those in larger communities often had two horse drawn hearses standing by at all times.  One was for adults and was coloured black, even to the netting covering all but the horses' ears.  The other was the children's hearse, white and delicately decorated with white feather bows and white netting.  As the smaller communities throughout Upper Canada grew into cities, their citizens increasingly paid greater heed to matters of health and sanitation.  In 1833, three funeral directors from Niagara Falls, Hamilton and Toronto began using the new technique of embalming.

Canada's funeral directors realized soon after Confederation, that theirs was a professional calling and they founded the Canadian Undertakers' Association in 1883.  It later became known as the Canadian Embalmers' Association and in 1920, it was succeeded by the Ontario Funeral Service Association.  Funeral service and funeral directors in Ontario are governed by the Funeral Directors & Establishments Act, 1990.


Perhaps no other service to the public  is as intimate and personal as that of the funeral director.  For the most part, the public little understands that the funeral director can carry out up to 100 different duties in the provision of a funeral service.

It stands to reason that the person you select to serve your family should be known in advance of need and it is quite realistic to make such a selection.  When death occurs, there is little time for investigation or comparison.

A funeral director can be judged like any other professional or business person.  Select someone who is competent and efficient.. who is courteous, kind and understanding..who has good character and reputation.  Look for one who maintains an immaculate establishment..who is careful about the appearance of the equipment and funeral cars.. who endeavours to make continual improvements to the quality and quantity of the service.. who gives honest value for the fee.. who is able to provide dignified and fitting services for people in all walks of life.


When death occurs, the first thing to do is call your funeral home.  The earlier they are called, the earlier you will have the comfort of knowing that they are taking care of the many details that are involved.  It is important to remember that your funeral director is "on call" twenty-four hours a day every day of the year.  No matter whether they are needed in the middle of the day or during the night, they will respond at once ready to assist you.  The funeral director will make an appointment to discuss your wishes and assist you in deciding upon an appropriate service.

It is the attending physicians responsibility to complete the Medical Certificate of Death, which requires the person's name, age, date of  death and cause of death.  The attending physician must declare the person dead before transfer to the funeral home can take place from the home or hospital.  This certificate, together with the Statement of Death, must be completed in full before registration of the death can take place and before a Burial Permit can be issued by the local registrar.


When a death occurs within 24 hours of admission to a hospital, in nursing homes, other institutions or is due to other than natural causes, a coroner will investigate the death.  The coroner has the authority to order an autopsy without the consent of the next-of-kin.  The authorization of a coroner is required prior to cremation or transfer of a body outside the province.


Someone you loved has died.  You are about to make funeral arrangements.  You must consider many things.  After the funeral, you cannot undo or change what was done.

If you are like most people, you are distressed and you will go through a trying time, because for many people there is no more difficult period than that encountered immediately after death.  John Donne has stated "No man is an island.  Every man's death diminishes me."  The death touches and affects the world of relatives, friends and associates in a direct and forceful way.  When arranging a funeral consider the feelings of others who shared in or benefited by the life of the deceased.  For it is said sorrow shared is sorrow diminished.

The funeral provides the community an opportunity to acknowledge and to respond to the change that death has brought about.  In the process, some of your needs will be met as well; but, experience indicates this will not be accomplished by getting the funeral over with as quickly as possible.


"The funeral is a RITE for the dead and a RIGHT of the living."

The funeral arrangements are usually made at the funeral home, although funeral directors will make them at the family's residence, if desired.  Among the decisions you must make are the time and place of the funeral and the place of the interment or cremation.

If the church is decided upon as the place of the service, the funeral director will be familiar with the rites and customs of all denominations.  If desired the funeral home chapel may also be available.

After ascertaining the family's wishes regarding the funeral service, the funeral director will make all the necessary arrangements and take care if the details such as - obtaining the necessary vital statistics, confirming the service arrangements with the clergy, making arrangements for the Burial Permit, cemetery or crematory arrangements, newspaper notices and many other necessary details.

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