November of 1955 the Rev. Donald Stout of the Unitarian Congregation of South Peel addressed his congregation on the question of simplicity and dignity in funeral arrangements. There was so much interest that it was decided to call a meeting to see if a Memorial Society could be formed. The first meeting on November 23rd was held in a home of a member of the congregation. A representative from the Globe and Mail was present and a report on the meeting appeared in that paper, as well as in the Star and the Telegram and other papers all over Canada, and the United States. A tremendous response to these reports came by letters from Canada and the United States from people of many different denominations and from all walks of life.
A committee was set up and decided to write to Unitarian Congregations in the U.S. who had set up similar groups and ask for their advice on organization as well as the difficulties they had encountered in contacting funeral homes.
The committee also proceeded to gather information on the donation of bodies to the Departments of Anatomy of the Universities, and various matters pertaining to cremation, funeral costs, &c. In March of 1956 a general meeting was held which was addressed by Dr. Robert Killam who was connected with the Cleveland Memorial Society.
At a meeting on October 3rd it was decided that in view of the fact that clergymen of various denominations had already spoken out on the matter of simplicity in funerals, that a meeting be held with clergy and lay representatives of various religious groups to discuss the formation of a truly non-sectarian society. The Committee then set to work to contact clergymen who would help to prepare the Society’s literature and contribute ideas in an endeavour to find common ground for people of all faiths. A Statement of Aims was agreed upon, as follows: “That the Society be a non-profit, educational organization to promote dignity and simplicity in funeral rites, which will assist members to arrange the type of service which they desire.”
It was hoped that eventually societies would be organized in other cities, which indeed has happened and the Toronto Society has been able to assist with giving advice and providing speakers to emerging groups in Ontario and eventually these groups formed the Federation of Ontario Memorial Societies whose prime purpose is to lobby the Ontario Government to change the laws to benefit the consumer.
Prepared by Elly Elder from Minute Books