A new funeral home has opened in northeast Calgary, Canada, offering multi-faith funeral services to the local community. The funeral home incorporates specific facilities to cater to a diversity of funeral practices, including those of the local Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim communities, which have cultural roots in Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan, respectively. The funeral home is the initiative of a group of local entrepreneurs including local South Asian business leader Baljinder Singh Bhuller and Michael Pierson, president of a local funeral service.
Country Hills Crematorium includes private bathing rooms, where relatives can bathe the remains of their beloved ones, simple and accessible cremation facilities, large gathering rooms, and private spaces where relatives can spend time with the deceased. The crematorium also maintains close ties with local gurudwaras (a place of worship for Sikhs) and temples, and has access to clergy of various faiths.
Bathing a loved one before funeral rites or cremation is an important aspect of Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim traditions, and while there are now funeral homes such as the Country Hills Crematorium that cater to this tradition, this has not always been the case.
“We found there was a need for it [a multi-faith funeral home], facilities were not really comparable to our needs so the community, family and friends thought we should have something of our own where we can serve everybody,” said Bhuller. (CBC News)
“We built the bathing rooms, another element was to have an easy and simple way to have the cremation part of the ceremony so family and friends can actually witness the cremation,” said Pierson. (CBC News) Some families prefer to place the body in the furnace themselves, and/or witness the cremation from close up.
While Buddhists (with the exception of the Tibetan tradition), Sikhs, and Hindus cremate their deceased, and in the case of the Hindus then place the ashes in moving water to transport the person to the next life—often the Ganges, the holiest of rivers for Hindus, or rivers closer to home if one cannot make the trip —the Muslim tradition requires burial of the body after bathing.
Another adjustment made from traditional funeral venues was that of space. According to Bhuller it is common for visitors to sit outside the memorial home during the service as traditional funeral offices were unable to house the relatively large numbers of visitors that would attend funeral services in the South Asian community. Families often have hundreds of individuals visit their home after the demise of a family member and even more people from the community want to attend the funeral service. “Because we have lots of joint families that live together, the gatherings are huge—300–400 people is average, but it can up to 1,100 people,” Bhuller observed. (CBC News)
Michael Pierson described the Country Hills Crematorium is an example of multi-faith harmony where people from different communities can come together: “Even though we come from very different backgrounds, we’re all working toward the same goal.” (CBC News)
According to Pierson, new facilities will be added to the crematorium as the local population diversifies and traditions shift. The funeral home hopes to grow with diversity in mind, catering to both a diversity of cultural and religious practices, from the funeral service, the funeral rites, and even the food.