Porter Creek’s spirited debate

Linda LaCoste will do everything she can to block a crematorium from being built in her neighbourhood.

Linda LaCoste will do everything she can to block a crematorium from being built in her neighbourhood.

Chris Thompson, director at Heritage North Funeral Home, plans to build a full-service funeral home on Centennial Street in Porter Creek.

The funeral home would include the Yukon’s first crematorium.

“I believe that a crematorium does not belong near a residential area,” said LaCoste, who worries her property value will drop if the business proposal proceeds.

“We were going to be building a brand new home here and if that crematorium goes in we will not be building that brand new home here,” said LaCoste.

“We were also going to be putting in a retirement business here that the city has already approved and that will also be halted if that crematorium goes in because it’s an outdoor business.”

Noxious fumes and smoke will pollute the neighbourhood air, said LaCoste. Several other people have expressed similar concerns on the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board’s (YESAB) website.

However, on Friday the board decided that the crematorium’s equipment was so efficient that no environmental assessment was necessary.

It also determined the crematorium would not require special air emission and waste permits.

“There is no waste from a crematorium,” said Thompson. “What we return to families is the cremated remains of their loved one, so there is no special waste or contaminated waste being produced.

“Is Grey Mountain Cemetery full of waste?”

The crematorium burns at 982 degrees Celsius and the human body is 68 per cent water.

As a result, no smoke or ash is produced.

The only thing that comes out of a crematorium stack is heat vapour, similar to the shimmer commonly seen coming off hot asphalt in the summer.

The only byproduct from the oven is bone fragments, which are processed to produce what people call “ashes,” said Thompson.

Currently, it costs family members $375 to fly their loved one to Vancouver for cremation.

It takes four days for the remains to be returned to the family.

If Heritage North were to open a crematorium in Whitehorse, it would still cost $375, but the family would be able to have their loved one’s remains within hours, said Thompson.

Right now, less than 50 per cent of all bodies handled by Heritage North are cremated.

Thompson predicts he would perform about 50 cremations a year if he had a facility in the Yukon.

LaCoste and other Porter Creek neighbours should not worry about constant burning in their neighbourhood, said Thompson. 

“It certainly won’t be a daily event,” he said.

In the south, crematoriums have not affected property values, he added.

“We want the funeral home to be an appealing building,” he said.

“We want it to be attractive from the street, we want there to be landscaping and paved parking and all those types of things, so it’s not an industrial service that some people imagine a crematorium being.”

Mike Racz, president of the Yukon Real Estate Association, has never heard of an instance where a funeral home has brought down the property values of the houses surrounding it.

Nevertheless, a crematorium is an industrial use and should be kept in an industrial area, he said.

A crematorium is nothing like the facilities you see on TV, said Thompson.

“The casket with the deceased in it is loaded into the crematorium and introduced to very intense direct flame,” said Thompson.

At that temperature things burn very cleanly and efficiently, he explained.

“Basically the process of cremation is reducing the body’s elements back to their natural elements,” he said. 

Heritage North’s Porter Creek property is currently zoned for a funeral home, but not a crematorium. So Thompson must apply for a rezoning permit before he can proceed.

The rezoning process would have to include a public hearing where concerned individuals can voice their opinions.