The cost of funerals during COVID-19 in Canada has come down by about 50 per cent, leaving the bereavement industry short of breath.
Brett Watson, President of the Funeral Services Association of Canada (FSAC) disclosed that the average pre-COVID funeral costs ranging from $8,000 to $15,000 had come down to around $4,000. The loss of revenue followed government regulations, he explained. “We had to adapt ourselves quickly to the new challenges with stringent restrictions,” he added.
The restrictions caused the closure of viewing rooms, reception halls, catering, and a number of costly services which normally bring in revenue. Many regulations continue at various levels in different provinces even after lockdown was lifted.
Popularization of cremation
Although there are no specific data points on immigrants and funerals during COVID-19, Watson stated that cremation, an already popular option pre-COVID, particularly among immigrants, has gained more acceptance mainly because it is quicker, cheaper and involves fewer processes. Cremations account for 50 per cent of the funerals conducted across the country with nearly 100 per cent in areas like Vancouver and 60 per cent in Edmonton, he added.
According to the Cremation Association of North America, 72 per cent of Canadians chose cremation over other burial options in 2018.
There are no reports of movement of immigrants’ bodies to their countries of origin. This is mainly due to logistics at ends, involving additional handling staff and safety precautions and the costs.
Major airline companies usually employ a specialized team to deal with this very sensitive cargo. Air Canada operates a special cargo service called Compassion that handles the transportation of remains, either non-cremated or cremated. As with other airlines, their regulations vary depending upon domestic or international shipments.
Allan Cole, Vice President of FSAC, in a May radio interview cited the association’s recent national survey which showed that 77 per cent of funeral homes reported negative revenue during the pandemic, and about 35 per cent of them suffered an approximately 30 per cent revenue loss.
Funeral service providers were impacted significantly by the scaling down of ceremonies and receptions, having to procure protective equipment and enforcing sanitary conditions, he said. According to various funeral homes, mandatory sanitization of rooms, and additional staff equipped with PPE added to the financial impact.
“Revenues down, maintenance costs up,” a remark by Stephane Montpetit, a funeral director at Beechwood Funeral Home in Ottawa, echoed similar observations by other funeral home directors and officials.
Montpetit explained that cremation worked as a practical and cost-effective alternative. It was cheaper, with no need of purchasing burial plots and other funeral services.
Nick McCarthy, Director of Marketing and Communications at Beechwood Funeral, Cemetery and Cremation Services, stated that despite the increase in overhead, the cost of burials and cremations were unaffected. “COVID-19 only changed the way we did business,” he said. The pandemic enforced digital interactions, including streaming of ceremonies and administration of services.
McCarthy gave the breakdown for a traditional burial package at Beachwood as:
- Professional services: $1,560
- Documentation and administration: $595
- Fees related to the preparation of the deceased: up to $1,000
There are other fees, including transportation of the deceased, vehicle and funeral coach costs, and facilities for visitation and ceremony, that total $7,185 for a traditional package and $8,260 with reception.
Non-burial related costs include municipal death registration, coroner fees, cremation fee, hiring a member of the clergy, a musician, and grave openings, among others. There is a 50 per cent down payment needed for all these.
Cremation vs burial
Cremation can eliminate costs such as embalming, cosmetizing, holding a viewing, and even the cost of a casket or a burial vault. The costs for cremation urns and even interment in a memorial garden can be notably cheaper. A cremation is no less dignified than a burial, and can save the bereaved family thousands of dollars in funeral expenses.
The breakdown of costs for cremation at Beechwood:
- Professional services: $735
- Documentation and administration: $505
- Fees related to the preparation of the deceased can add up to $575
The total comes to $3,150. Urns can add to costs with a minimum cost of $2,225. However there are cheaper options.
According to Canadian Funerals Online, cremation could cost a quarter of the cost of a burial. A simple cremation in Canada can start at around $600, whereas a cremation with a service and extra fees may cost $4,500. Cremation service costs will vary depending on the province and area. For example, a low-cost cremation can be obtained in some areas of Quebec for as little $587, in Vancouver for $995 and in Toronto for $1,400, whereas in New Brunswick a simple cremation can cost $3,000.
The shift toward cremation is already putting funeral home directors out of business, wrote David Charles Sloane, the author of the 2018 book Is the Cemetery Dead? He recorded that the declining role of religion in Canadian society was also contributing to the rise in cremation numbers.
Ultimately, the cost factor depends on the choices made either by the dead or by their loved ones. Some paid for pre-owned plots or created bucket lists of the kinds of services they wish for at their funeral. Others wanted their ashes scattered in space or kept in a locket.
Photo by Shan Qiao
Gita Abraham is a journalist of 45-year standing and has worked in national dallies and magazines in New Delhi including Hindustan Times and India Today. For 15 years she was the Feature Editor of The City TAB in Bangalore. She was also a Professor of Journalism, at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. Treading the thin line between fact and fiction, Gita has launched her debut novel “Daughter of the Blue Hills” early this year. She and her husband are snowbirds shuffling between Chennai and Ottawa. She has two daughters and two frisky grandsons who inhabit her world.