Cremation is an end-of-life arrangement that the majority of Canadians choose. It is also the preferred choice in Alberta. However, some people may be unfamiliar with the process and how it is handled in their province. In this article, we will answer some of the most common questions about cremation in Alberta.
What is the process for a cremation funeral in Alberta?
Here is the process you can expect for a cremation funeral in Alberta broken down into each step.
Reporting the death
When a death occurs in Alberta, it must be reported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). If the death is unexpected, families or witnesses should call 911, and the police will notify the OCME.
If the death is expected or imminent, families should be sure to contact a physician, and they will provide instructions on how to report the death without calling 911.
Physicians must also report unexpected or unexplained deaths to the OCME. The physician may write a death certificate if the death is deemed natural in cause and manner. Otherwise, the OCME will move forward with an investigation of the death.
Family and medical professionals must complete certain documents before cremation can take place. These include:
- Medical Certificate of Death. This form is signed by an attending physician or medical examiner and certified by Vital Statistics. It contains details of the death.
- Death Certificate. This document shows the last and given names of the deceased person, sex, age of the deceased at the time of death, date of death, place of death, marital status, the usual residence of the deceased, registration number, registration date and date issued. This form is filled out by a physician or medical examiner.
- Registration of Death form. This form is completed by a person who knew the deceased (e.g., spouse) and is usually completed at a funeral provider as arrangements are being made. The funeral staff will register the death and send these documents to Vital Statistics.
- Burial/Disposition Permit. This permit must be obtained before any final disposition can take place. Original death documents or required stillbirth documents must be submitted to a hospital administrator to obtain the permit. This can be handled by family or friends or by a licensed funeral provider.
- Form 4. Before a body can be cremated, Medical Examiner investigators must review the Medical Certificate of Death before issuing this form that provides approval for cremation.
These forms must be completed by the appropriate authorities and sent to Vital Statistics. After the documents are completed, families can order the Death Certificate, the Photocopy of a Registration of Death, and the Photocopy of a Medical Certificate of Death.
Funeral provider staff can help guide families in all this paperwork.
When a body arrives at a crematorium or funeral facility, it is identified to ensure bodies receive the desired services. Identifications processes differ between funeral providers, but the most common methods include:
- Tags. A tag is placed on the part of the body (e.g., bracelet on the wrist or ankle) that contains information such as name, date of birth, date of death, etc. It is removed before the body is placed in the cremation chamber.
- Discs. This is a small, coin-shaped tag made from stainless steel. It also contains identifying information and is placed in the cremation chamber with the body. It does not get destroyed during the process and is included in the urn with the ashes.
At Eirene, we also require a recent photograph of the deceased and/or we use tattoos, body landmarks, moles, etc., to aid identification.
There are two types of cremation – flame cremation and water cremation (also known as aquamation). The preparation and process differ depending on the type chosen. However, water cremation is not yet legalized in Alberta.
Flame cremation works by exposing a body to flames and extreme heat in a cremation chamber. Organic matter is consumed by the heat, leaving bone fragments and metal. After a cooling period, metals are removed with a magnet and recycled. Bone fragments are pulverized to create a coarse grey or brown powder known as cremated remains or ashes.
Metal implants that contain a battery or pose other safety risks to crematorium staff are removed to prepare for flame cremation. Other metals, like fillings or joint replacements, remain in the body and are removed after cremation. Combustible materials like clothes and jewelry stay on the body.
Is embalming required in Alberta?
Embalming is a chemical process used to preserve a body by replacing blood with chemical fluids.
Embalming is not required in Alberta in most circumstances. A body must be embalmed if:
- The deceased died of a communicable disease (other than anthrax, plague, or viral hemorrhagic fever)
- A common carrier will transport the deceased. This includes a railcar, boat, aircraft, motor vehicle or other transportation methods for which you do not pay a fee. This does not include a vehicle owned and operated by a funeral director.
Do Albertans prefer burial or cremation?
Cremation rates in Alberta and the rest of Canada have steadily risen over the last few decades. National rates have increased about 25 per cent in the last 20 years.
Alberta provincial cremation rates have grown from 65.5 per cent in 2010 to 74.7 per cent in 2020. It is projected to reach 78.8 per cent in 2025 in the province, according to a 2020 report by the Cremation Association of North America (CANA).
There are many reasons for this trend, but the cost is one of the most common. Traditional burials can cost anywhere from $3,000 to over $12,000, while cremation packages range from $1,000 to $10,000 and often fall on the lower end of that range. Cremations also tend to have a more minimal environmental impact and offer more flexibility and simplicity when compared to burials.
Where in Alberta is cremation conducted?
Several licensed funeral homes or crematoriums conduct cremation in Alberta. Funeral homes have facilities to handle cremation on-site or may outsource to crematoriums in the area.
What does cremation cost in Alberta?
On average, the cost of cremation in Alberta typically falls between $4,000 and $12,000. However, this price can be reduced with direct cremation, which costs around $1,000 to $3,500.
These fees are for cremation packages. The cremation process itself tends to cost around $500 to $700, but cremation packages include other services offered by a funeral provider, such as documentation, transportation, body preparation, etc.
Other fees commonly associated with cremation include urn purchase ($10 to $2,000+) or interment in a columbarium ($500 to $3,500+) or in a burial plot ($600 to $3,500+).
What do I do when someone dies in Alberta?
When a person dies in Alberta, it must be reported to the appropriate authorities and the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME).
If the death is unexpected, emergency services should be contacted first, and they will notify the OCME. However, if the death is expected, families should contact a physician, and they will provide instructions on how to report the death without contacting emergency services.
Physicians must also report unexpected or unexplained deaths to the OCME. If the death is deemed to be natural in cause and manner, the physician may write a death certificate. Otherwise, the OCME will move forward with an investigation of the death.
What is direct cremation, and is it available in Alberta?
Direct cremation involves cremating a body shortly after death. This simple funeral option eliminates other services, such as viewing, visitation, committal, and embalming etc. Direct cremation is also a lower cost funeral option compared to burial or cremation with full services.
What is water cremation or aquamation, and is it available in Alberta?
Water cremation uses alkaline hydrolysis to cremate remains. The body is placed in a stainless-steel vessel and exposed to heat, pressure, water, and alkali (potassium hydroxide). This creates a reaction that speeds up the rate of decomposition. The process leaves behind bone fragments and a sterile liquid. The bone fragments are pulverized into a fine, white, or tan powder, and the liquid is disposed of as wastewater.
Medical implants are not destroyed during water cremation and do not need to be removed beforehand unless required by law. Implants not removed beforehand come out of the vessel sterilized and are removed and recycled. Clothing materials that are not protein-based (e.g., wool) will not break down during the process and will be removed beforehand.
Aquamation for humans is not currently legal in Alberta. See more info.
Learn more about aquamation in our extensive guide.
Where can I buy a cremation urn in Alberta?
Cremation urns can be purchased from funeral providers or online. Eirene sells urns and accessories (e.g., ash jewelry) in our online store at https://store.eirene.ca/. Free shipping is offered to Alberta families (and to all families across Canada).
Is funeral financial assistance available in Alberta?
Provincial and federal financial assistance programs are offered to Alberta residents. These are listed below:
Provincial Funeral Assistance Programs:
- Alberta Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH)
- Funeral Benefits for Income Support Households
- Funeral Benefits for Low Income Albertans
- Workers’ Compensation Board – Alberta
- Help for victims of crime
- Airline Bereavement Fares – Air Canada and WestJet
Federal Funeral Assistance Programs:
- Canadian Pension Plan
- Income Assistance Program (Indigenous Services Canada)
- Last Post Fund for Veterans
- Allowance for the Survivor
- Memorial Grant Program for First Responders
- Canadian Benefit for Parents of Young Victims of Crime
- Lived or Living Outside Canada
See a full province by province guide to government funeral financial assistance.
Can I preplan a cremation funeral in Alberta?
Anyone at any age can preplan a cremation funeral. Preplanning is a good way to ensure end-of-life wishes are known and honoured, and funds are available to pay for funeral arrangements.
Learn more or ask a question
The team at Eirene Cremations is available to answer questions about funerals, cremation and aquamation. Email us at email@example.com. Eirene provides cremation services to families in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Eirene will be providing cremation services in Saskatchewan and Alberta in the near future, pending approval with provincial authorities.