Cooperative funeral homes have proven a highly successful model in Canada, and especially Quebec. The cooperative movement is growing, with 9,600 deaths treated by funeral cooperatives in 2011 in Canada, up more than 5 percent from 2010.
The Fédération des Coopératives Funéraires du Québec (Federation of Funeral Cooperatives of Québec) is the umbrella structure for all funeral cooperatives in Quebec. Founded in 1987, it has grown to include 35 member cooperatives, 23 across the province, 10 in other provinces in Canada plus funeral cooperatives in Lima in Peru and Seattle in the United States.
Collectively owned by over 170,000 members in Quebec, the cooperatives operate within communities, for communities, following a philosophy of meeting the needs of bereaved families, whatever their budget, taking a humane approach and respecting values of solidarity, mutual assistance and integrity. The cooperatives offer many advantages to consumers, not least of which is their lower costs: the average cost of a funeral in Canada in 2004 was CAD$6,325, while the average cost of a cooperative funeral was $3,677.
In fact, Patrick Blais, funeral operations director at one of the cooperatives in the federation, the Résidence Funéraire de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue, says that it was founded in 1974 because the funeral services in the area were provided by only one funeral home at the time, and it was much too expensive.
Cooperatives are expanding by taking over private funeral enterprises which would otherwise have been bought by American multinationals, and the cooperatives now represent the largest stakeholder in the industry in terms of service points, with 100 around Canada.
The cooperatives are also leading the industry in terms of innovation. The Résidence Funéraire de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue was the first funeral home in Quebec to be certified a green funeral provider by the Green Burial Council. We are offering to our customers ecological caskets, biodegradable urns and we use non-formaldehyde fluids for body preparations, says Patrick.
The Coopérative Funéraire de l’Estrie is the only cooperative in Canada with its own cemetery, and it has also launched an eco-cemetary project, while the Coopérative Funéraire J.N. Donais in Drummondville is the first funeral company in Quebec to secure a permit to serve liquor after funeral services.
The Federation of Funeral Cooperatives of Québec is also constantly innovating. It has developed the La Symphonie programme, designed to train cooperative employees how to incorporate cooperative values in the delivery of funeral services. And it has organized the International Summit of Funeral Cooperatives, the first international meeting of funeral cooperatives and mutual enterprises, as part of the International Summit of Cooperatives being held in Quebec City in October 2012.
We will celebrate our 40th anniversary in two years, says Patrick. We are now approaching 50% of all the funerals in our area and we would like to get 60% in the next 10 years. We also would like to introduce Resomation within two or three years and become the first funeral home in the province of Quebec to use water instead of fire for the cremation.