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Skwarchuk's continues to serve its community (5 photos)

Bond Head Women's Institute women toured Bradford's funeral home - before COVID-19

Between March 12, when the Bond Head Women's Institute toured Skwarchuk's Funeral Home, and today, much has changed.

Then, about a dozen women sat in chairs in the arrangement office - a room mellow with century-old woodwork and stained glass windows - as Jill Skwarchuk-Tiano talked about the family-owned and operated funeral home, and the services it provides to the community.

Now, with restrictions on the size of gatherings and the need for social distancing, everything has changed. 

Funeral homes have been declared an essential business, by the provincial government, but how they operate is governed by the Bereavement Association of Ontario (BAO). 

Following BAO directives, Skwarchuk's now does the planning with bereaved families mostly online or over the phone.

"Unfortunately, government paperwork requires signatures," Skwarchuk-Tiano noted, so that families do have to come in, to deal with the necessary forms and documents.

"We make that meeting very brief," she said - and not in the old arrangement office, but in a larger room where social distancing is possible, leaving two metres between seats. 

Social distancing and the ban on gatherings of over 50 people have had an impact on funeral plans. Burials and cremations still go ahead, and graveside services are fine - but there are limits on the size of indoor gatherings, based not only on the provincial limits but the size of the reception area at the funeral home.

"We just spent the morning here, rearranging the room" to ensure social distancing, Skwarchuk-Tiano said. Most families have been opting for a private service at this time, and planning a public memorial sometime later in the year, once the COVID-19 pandemic has ended and things have returned to normal. 

But with all the uncertainty, no firm dates have been set.

"We'll have to see what the future brings," she said. "Everyone's trying to be very careful."

The funeral home on Simcoe Road in Bradford was started by Neil Lathangue in 1950. The business, and a funeral home in Mt. Albert, were purchased by Mac Lewis in 1963. 

William Skwarchuk bought the Bradford funeral home in 1973, and the Mt. Albert home in 1975. He initially brought Neil Lathangue back in as a partner, to help operate the business, but now Skwarchuk's Funeral Home is run by "my mom and my dad, and my sister and myself," Jill said - Joan and Bill Skwarchuk, Jodi Ben, and Skwarchuk-Tiano.

Skwarchuk's has been serving the community for 47 years, and continues to have an important role to play for bereaved families, especially today. With visitors prevented from entering hospitals, due to the pandemic, it may be the only place where family members can say their final goodbyes - supported by the home's caring and trained staff.

"We are doing our best," said Skwarchuk-Tiano. "We're all in this together."