Cremation in Yellowknife closer to becoming a reality

Last modified: June 17, 2020 at 9:08am

A Yellowknife funeral home’s bid to start offering cremation received support from city councillors at a Monday meeting.

Janice McKenna, who runs the McKenna Funeral Home, wants to offer a form of cremation dubbed aquamation – seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional incineration.

The process uses potassium hydroxide instead of fire.


McKenna says offering cremation in Yellowknife will mean people no longer have to be sent to Edmonton for the service, saving families money and stress.

“Many families I serve are comforted that we will be offering this service here,” McKenna told councillors by video link.

“It’s difficult to have already lost a person and then also have to send them off to Edmonton. It’s not as comforting as to have the process here.”

The NWT government introduced regulations this year that formally allow cremation and govern how it is offered. That opened the door for the City of Yellowknife to consider McKenna’s application, which she has been planning for years.

The crematorium would be set up within McKenna’s existing Forrest Drive premises.


‘No dramatic negative effect’

Councillors gave their broad support to the proposal on Monday, with the main concern being the effluent the water-based method leaves behind.

Two studies have separately looked into the likely impacts.

Though some elements of the undiluted effluent will exceed municipal sewage discharge limits, both studies concluded there was likely to be no overall adverse impact on the environment.

The manufacturers of the cremation system say the process used has been given exemptions from discharge limits in other municipalities, as funeral homes produce a relatively small volume of waste compared to other industries.


“What might be a complicated or emotional decision became kind-of simple for me. The technical experts agree there is not going to be a dramatic negative effect to our water or sewage supply,” said Councillor Robin Williams.

City staff spent half an hour setting out for councillors how they intend to test the effluent to be sure no problems occur, and how the licence to cremate can be paused if any unforeseen impacts arise.

McKenna and her consultant say the chemical involved is easy and safe to store.

“It looks like we have some enforcement levers [and are] on top of testing of this new use,” said Williams.

“I like the opportunity to reduce cost of service for residents. That’s a great thing for Yellowknifers. It’s a great way of supporting a small business that is growing and offering an essential service to our territory.”

Councillor Cynthia Mufandaedza said: “I certainly am in support with all the information we were provided today.”

With general support offered by other councillors, a bylaw to amend the City’s definition of a funeral home – to allow for water-based cremation – will have its first reading on Tuesday next week.

As it’s an amendment to a zoning bylaw, a public hearing is required. That is tentatively scheduled for late July.

“I think this is a great idea. You’re bringing something innovative to us,” said Councillor Stacie Smith.

“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.

“I think this is a great opportunity and I’m so glad it’s coming forward, I’m in complete support of it.”

Correction: June 17, 2020 – 9:05 MT. This report initially stated the City of Yellowknife had commissioned one of the two studies examining the environmental impact of the proposed cremation method. The City says this was not the case. The report has been updated accordingly.