‘They’re less tied to religion’: Shift toward cremation causes shortfall in Saskatoon cemetery revenue

The City of Saskatoon is projecting a $1.1 million shortfall in its 2018 operating budget — and $700,000 of that shortfall is attributed to lower-than-expected cemetery revenues.

It’s part of a larger social shift toward choosing cremation over burial, said Tom Jokinen, a former CBC journalist and the author of Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training.

“People are finding more opportunity to be flexible and individualistic in their funeral ritual and they’re less tied to religion,” Jokinen told Saskatoon Morning.

Cremation is the preference of 65 per cent of people in Canada and 57 per cent of people in Saskatchewan. That’s quite the shift from five per cent of Canadians in 1967.

One of the reasons this change is happening is that people don’t feel as much pressure to follow religious traditions, Jokinen said.

Cremation also gives people more options, such as scattering the ashes or putting the urn on the mantelpiece — or more untraditional possibilities like putting ashes into jewelry or packing them into fireworks.

Cremation is also cheaper.

At the low end, cremation can cost $800 to $1,000, while a simple burial can cost $5,000 to $10,000.

But Jokinen said “the sky’s the limit” if you want to go out with flair.

“If you tell the funeral director you want to go in style, he’ll be more than happy to provide you a service of $10,000, $20,000, $30,000.”

Burial on the family farm

In rural Canada, families have the option to bury on the farm, though it’s illegal in some provinces and there are “bureaucratic hoops to jump through,” Jokinen said.

“Governments take very seriously their records of what happened to people after they die. You can’t just dig a hole and bury somebody. They really want to know who that person is and when they died and so on, otherwise your burial will be seen as a crime scene.”

Burial on the family farm is allowed in Saskatchewan.

While trends are changing, Jokinen said there will always be a place for religious ritual.

“Some people find comfort in connecting to history. But as long as the cost is so different and as long as people don’t feel tied to a religion, that cremation is just going to go up and up.”

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