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Smithers woman wants northern B.C. town to allow cremation as public hearing approaches

·2 min read
A display of urns for holding cremated remains.  According to a 2019 B.C. Vital Statistics report, cremations are much more common than burials in Smithers, B.C., but the community doesn't allow cremations within town limits.  (Sherry Vivian/CBC - image credit)
A display of urns for holding cremated remains. According to a 2019 B.C. Vital Statistics report, cremations are much more common than burials in Smithers, B.C., but the community doesn't allow cremations within town limits. (Sherry Vivian/CBC - image credit)

A Smithers woman is pushing for the northern B.C. town to allow cremation after she drove for two hours to the nearest crematorium with the body of her infant son in the car, days after his stillbirth in 2015.

"It's an absolute nightmare for any parent to have to deal with," said Jill McDonald.

Smithers has an 86 per cent cremation rate for deceased residents, according to a 2019 B.C. Vital Statistics report, but it does not allow cremation within its boundaries.

This leaves only two options for individuals who choose that method: work with the local funeral home to transport their deceased to another town, or transport their deceased themselves.


An application was submitted to the town in November 2020 to adjust its zoning bylaws and allow crematory services within its boundaries. A public hearing on the topic will be held April 27.

This is frustrating for McDonald who said the option for alternative transport was not even discussed with her or her husband after her stillbirth.

"We were handed a death certificate and told we could stay the night or we could go home," McDonald told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. "So we went through the process of laying his body to rest."

McDonald said that process included phoning the funeral home in Smithers, filling out the appropriate paperwork, picking up his body from the local morgue and driving 250 kilometres to the nearest crematorium in Terrace with a small coffin on their back seat.

Laurel Menzel is the crematorium operator who made the zoning bylaw amendment application to the town. Menzel said that McDonald's story is not unique and that families often have to take responsibility for transporting their deceased outside of Smithers to be cremated.

If the rezoning takes place, Menzel hopes to offer the service.

"Death care, by and large, is an extension of health care and death care done well brings people peace and closure," Menzel said. "And death care done poorly brings people grief and trauma."

In a written statement, Smithers general manager of infrastructure Mark Allen acknowledged that while funeral parlours and undertaking establishments are permitted uses, crematory services are currently not permitted in the town's bylaws.

"The business demand may justify the need for the crematorium use, and may play a part in town council's decision," he said. "But the purpose of the public hearing is for council to receive feedback from the public and for council to weigh all the information received to make an informed decision on permitting the crematorium use in Smithers' industrial areas."