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Yellowknife city council showed support for a proposed change to the zoning bylaw that would allow for a low-carbon, water-based form of cremation in the city.

Janice McKenna, funeral director with McKenna Funeral Home, addressed council during Monday’s governance priorities committee meeting seeking a change to the bylaw so she can offer alkaline hydrolysis.

Also known as aquamation, the process involves the use of water and chemicals to cremate a dead body rather than a flame-based cremation. This procedure is currently allowed in only three provinces in Canada: Saskatchewan, Quebec and Ontario.

McKenna Funeral Home, which has provided the majority of Yellowknife’s funeral services, is in the process of amending the zoning bylaw to allow for water-based cremation.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

The practice involves a combination of water, lye and heat, according to the package submitted to the municipal committee.

Currently, there is no authorization for Yellowknife residents to get cremation services without sending a deceased body to Alberta and McKenna said she has long been wanting to be the first to offer the option for Northerners.

“It’s been my mission and dream to establish a crematorium for the city of Yellowknife and for the Northwest Territories,” she said, noting that she has also reached out to the territorial government  to amend legislation to include the definition of cremation methods and who could cremate.

McKenna said among the benefits of having a water-based process for cremation is that it limits greenhouse gas emissions and the process consumes less energy than a typical cremation.

‘Coles Notes’ of human disposition

Following an inquiry by Coun. Steve Payne, McKenna provided the ‘Coles Notes’ of how the water-based cremation works.

“The water-based system is that — the process would be 95 per cent water and five percent alkaline, which would introduce the disposition of the human remains,” McKenna explained. “So essentially, the organic matter of the human remains would dissolve and what would remain is the bone. Then the bone would be pulverized into what we call cremated remains. So essentially, that would be the Coles Notes version.”

McKenna’s Funeral Home is located at the intersection of Forrest Drive and Burwash Drive. The business has been in operation since 2010.

The process involves the “release of a sterile effluent into the city’s watewater system,” but administration states there are “no anticipated emissions, noises, or smells associated with the process and there are no anticipated additional traffic or parking impacts.”

Councillors showed support for the proposed zoning bylaw amendment and new service.

“I think this is a great idea for small businesses (and) it’s important for us to be on top of our game,” said Coun. Stacie Smith, who owns Flowers North. “I mean you’re bringing something innovative to us and for being so far north it’s going to help so many families, especially when it’s a struggle sending out our loved ones and bringing them back.”

For any changes to the zoning bylaw, the issue would have to be brought forward to a public meeting. McKenna’s Funeral Home is located in a residential area in the Frame Lake neighbourhood of Yellowknife and near J.H. Sissons School.

The item is expected to undergo first reading at the regular council meeting on June 23, followed by a public hearing on July 27.

Sarah Bercu, city planner, told council that if there is no opposition at the public hearing, the item could pass second and third reading at the same time.

“If there is further feedback, then the timeframe would be pushed back,” she added.

McKenna Funeral Services opened in late 2010 on Forrest Drive. Since then, the business has provided the majority of Yellowknife’s burial preparation, non-denominational services and sale of funeral supplies.

Over much of the last decade, McKenna has been before council to seek support for other efforts to expand funeral services for the city, including the construction of a columbarium in 2012.

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Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. He came from Prince Edward County, Ont., and obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University...

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  1. So you get dissolved and flushed down the toilet eh? Hmm? How about this: if they made Soylent Green instead it would be even better for the environment and you’d still end up in the same place.