Whitehorse crematorium open for business

The Yukon's first crematorium is now up and running. As of Tuesday, Heritage North Funeral Home had made 10 arrangements for cremations.

The Yukon’s first crematorium is now up and running.

As of Tuesday, Heritage North Funeral Home had made 10 arrangements for cremations.

But all that Porter Creek residents can see while driving by the crematorium on Centennial Street is an oddly placed garage with a large metal chimney coming out the roof.

A few years ago, many Porter Creek residents were concerned about a new funeral home and crematorium being brought into their neighbourhood.

There was talk of increased ice fog and psychological damage caused by seeing a puff of smoke that was once a human body.

But there is no smoke when the crematorium is in use, said owner Chris Thompson.

And the finished funeral home will be a beautiful addition to the neighbourhood.

The garage that sits on the site now is just the first phase of a multiphase building project.

Inside this garage is a large green box, 4.5 metres long by two metres high and weighing eight tonnes.

It takes up about a third of the space.

There is a sliding stainless steel door on one end and computer operated controls to the left of that.

These are the controls for the primary and secondary chambers inside.

The two chambers can each reach temperatures of up to 1,315 degrees Celsius, ensuring that no smoke is released from the chimney.

Before the crematorium was up and running, families would have to ship their loved-ones’ remains south to have them cremated.

The ability to do this in Whitehorse now saves the family around $400.

But it’s not all about savings, said Thompson.

Some people would like to have a traditional open-casket funeral with a cremation afterwards.

In the past, they’d be forced to pick one or the other, because it took four to five business days to have a body shipped south to be cremated.

The family had to choose between seeing the body and not having the ashes for another week or having the ashes to take home with them but not being able to see the body.

The project is a little behind schedule.

Thompson had anticipated that the crematorium would be up and running 14 months ago.

“This process has taken so long,” he said.

“It’s the first crematorium in the Yukon, so there’s been a learning curve for me, the city and the contractor.”

Phase two of the project will include the new funeral home and three apartments, one of which will be used by Thompson and his family.

In the plan that was submitted to council, this second phase was meant to begin around three years after the crematorium got up and running.

So if everything goes according to plan, the funeral home should be breaking ground late in 2012 or early in 2013.

Thompson expects the new funeral home to cost a least $1 million.

This is why he hasn’t been rushing into things all at once.

There will also be a third phase, which will include a chapel and a larger reception area.

“When this came up in council, a lot of people said the only reason I wanted to move here was because I got the land cheap,” he said.

“It’s true, the land was cheap, but they had no idea how expensive it was to make the land usable.”

The lot was once a ravine that was used for years as a de facto garbage dump.

Thompson had to spend more than $20,000 just to get the land under the crematorium prepped for construction.

A year ago August, Heritage North moved to the old flower shop on the corner of Cook Street and 5th Avenue.

The move, and the $100,000 renovation to turn the home and flower shop into a funeral home, was a learning experience for Thompson.

At first the neighbours were not happy about having a funeral home in the area.

“Now that we’ve been here a little while, the feedback is good,” he said.

Thompson feels that the problem is that people are scared of death and dying.

Last week, Thompson hosted a death and dying workshop with discussions on life insurance, wills, palliative care and funeral services.

There was a large amount of interest in the workshop, but some people were hesitant to attend any meeting at a funeral home, said Thompson.

“Many of us are not willing to face our own mortality.”

Contact Chris Oke at