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Cremation in British Columbia: Questions and Answers

Daniela Fortino
Daniela Fortino
October 17th 2022 - 11 minute read
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Learn about cremation in British Columbia including who provides services, the cost of cremation, who regulates it, and cremation vs burial rates in B.C.

Funeral planning can be daunting, and people often have many questions about the options available when making end-of-life decisions. This article answers common questions about cremation and planning a cremation funeral in British Columbia and cities like Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna as well other communities in the Pacific province.

What is the process for a cremation funeral in British Columbia?


Here are the steps you can expect for a cremation funeral in British Columbia.

Reporting the death


Reporting a death differs depending on if the death is expected or unexpected. If it is unexpected, 911 or the B.C. Coroners Service should be contacted first. A physician or coroner will inform loved ones when the body can be released and can be transported.

If the death is expected, medical professionals caring for the person should be notified. However, unlike an unexpected death, the deceased person's body can be moved without talking to a coroner. This is discussed in greater detail below.

Once the body has been released, it can be picked up by a funeral provider or transfer service. Private transfers are possible; however, special permission and arrangements must be made. Learn more.

Funeral documentation

All deaths in B.C. must be registered with the Vital Statistics Agency, and a burial permit must be obtained before cremation can occur. A funeral provider will complete most funeral documentation in British Columbia on behalf of a family.

Steps involved in death registration include:

1) Completing and obtaining a Medical Certificate of Death. This outlines the cause of death. This must be completed by a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner or coroner within 48 hours after death, and forwarded to the funeral director or family of the deceased.

2) Gather information about the deceased person. A funeral director must obtain information from an informant if the death is registered through a funeral home. If you are not working with a funeral home, the death can be registered at a Service B.C. location or through the Vital Statistics Agency (1-888-876-1633).

3) Registering the death. Once a funeral director has obtained the necessary information, they will register the death and issue a death certificate. This is needed for the family to apply for benefits and complete administrative or estate tasks. They will also obtain a burial permit. A death certificate can also be ordered online, by mail, in person, or by phone. Learn more.

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Body identification

Funeral homes and crematoriums use identification practices to ensure ashes are not mixed up. Standard identification methods include:

  • Tags. A tag contains identifying information about the deceased (e.g., name, date of birth, etc.) and is placed on the body. The tag is checked throughout the process before being removed for cremation. It will be destroyed if it is not removed.
  • Discs. This is a coin-shaped tag containing identifying information. It remains with the body throughout the process and is checked regularly. It is typically not removed before cremation and is included in the urn with the ashes.

At Eirene, we also require a recent photograph of the deceased and we also use tattoos, body landmarks, scars, moles etc., to aid in identification.

What is the cremation process in B.C.?

In British Columbia, only flame cremation is available to residents. Aquamation, a water-based final disposition process, sometimes called water cremation, is not yet available in the province. (Learn more.)

Flame cremation involves exposing the body to extreme heat in a chamber (760 to 980 Celsius). This destroys most organic matter, except metals and bone fragments. The bone fragments are thereafter reduced to a coarse, grey or brown powder, known as ashes or cremated remains.  

Non-combustible materials (e.g., pacemakers) that are dangerous to crematorium staff are removed beforehand. Other implants (e.g., fillings) remain in the body. These are removed from the ashes after a cooling period and are recycled.

Is embalming required in British Columbia?

Embalming is a chemical form of preservation used to temporarily slow physiological changes after death.

Embalming is not required by law in British Columbia. However, embalming may be necessary or recommended for certain services (e.g., viewing) or when transported to another province or country. Cremation in the province cannot take place until 48 hours have passed after death, so other forms of preservation (e.g., refrigeration) are advised if forgoing embalming.

Do British Columbians prefer burial or cremation?

Cremation has become the preferred choice in Canada. Cremation rates have risen from 47.7 per cent in 2000 to 74.8 per cent in 2021. It is projected to reach 81.8 per cent by 2025 (source).

Cremation rates in British Columbia are the highest in Canada, growing from 81.4 per cent in 2010 to 85.7 per cent in 2020. The cremation rate in B.C. is predicted to reach 87.1 per cent in 2025 (according to the CANA Statistic Report).  

One of the main reasons noted for the growth in the cremation rate is the cost. Cremation packages are often a fraction of the cost compared to burials and offer more flexibility and simplicity.

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Where in British Columbia is cremation conducted?

Cremation is conducted at licensed funeral homes or crematoriums. Funeral homes may have cremation facilities on-site or outsource to crematoriums in the area.

What does cremation cost in British Columbia?

A funeral in British Columbia can cost anywhere from $1,000 to over $12,000, but cremation typically falls on the lower end of that range. Simple cremation options can be as low as $900 but usually ranges from $1,000 to $3,000.

Included in cremation packages is the price for the cremation (around $300 to $600+) and other funeral home services, such as documentation, transportation, sheltering, etc. Cremation fees may also include urn purchase ($10 to $2,000+) and interment in the ground or columbarium ($500 to $3,500+).  

What should I do when someone dies in British Columbia?

The first thing to do when someone dies in British Columbia is to report the death to the appropriate authorities. Emergency services (911) or the B.C. Coroners Service should be contacted first if the death is unexpected.

An "expected death" means an Expected Death at Home form was filled out. This form outlines roles, responsibilities, and activities necessary for an expected/planned natural home death. Learn more. For an expected death, it will follow the steps outlined in the form.

Once the deceased person's body is released by a coroner or per the Expected Death at Home protocol, it can be transported to a funeral home, crematory, or cemetery. The only person who can allow a funeral director to move the body is:

Private transfer is also an option in British Columbia. However, necessary paperwork must be completed and approved. Arrangements must also be made, as some funeral providers do not allow private transfers. Learn more about private transfer rules and regulations here.

Other steps to do when someone dies in the province include but are not limited to:

  • Informing friends and family of the passing
  • Gathering will and estate information
  • Registering the death
  • Planning the funeral or memorial
  • Cancelling services and accounts for the person who died

What is direct cremation, and is it available in British Columbia?

Direct cremation involves the deceased person being cremated shortly after death, usually forgoing services such as viewing, visitation, embalming, etc. Because of this, direct or simple cremation is typically more affordable. As a result, direct cremation is widely available in the province.

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What is water cremation, aquamation or alkaline hydrolysis, and is it available in British Columbia?

Water cremation, also known as aquamation, is a water-based disposition option that uses the chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis.  

It involves placing a body in a stainless-steel container, where it is treated with water, alkali (potassium hydroxide), heat, and pressure. This produces a reaction that speeds up the body's decomposition. Organic matter is reduced to bone fragments and a sterile liquid. Bone fragments are pulverized to a white or tan powder, and the liquid is disposed of as wastewater. Metals remain after the process and are rinsed, removed, and recycled.  

Unlike flame cremation, medical implants need not be removed beforehand (unless required by law). However, clothing that is not protein-based (e.g., wool) must be removed.

Water cremation is not currently legal in British Columbia for use on human remains, as it is in four Canadian provinces and one territory. Learn more about legalization in this article. It is legal for use with pets and animals.

Who regulates cremation in British Columbia?

Consumer Protection B.C. regulates funeral rights in British Columbia. This organization oversees several sectors and types of consumer transactions in the province.

Consumer Protection B.C. is also responsible for administering certain acts in the province, including the Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act. This act is split into 15 parts and discusses topics such as body disposition, exhumation, general duties, internment, and more.

Where can I buy a cremation urn in British Columbia?

The most common places to buy cremation urns are from a funeral provider, urn retailer, or online. Eirene offers a wide selection of urn options to suit many needs and budgets. Urns can be found in the online store: https://store.eirene.ca/. Free shipping is also available to British Columbia families (and families across Canada).

Is financial assistance available for funerals in British Columbia?

British Columbia residents are eligible for several provincial and federal financial assistance programs. These are outlined below:

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Whether you’re arranging for yourself or someone else, your peace of mind is our priority.

B.C. provincial funeral financial assistance programs:

Funeral financial assistance programs available to B.C. residents:

Federal funeral financial assistance programs:

Funeral financial assistance programs available to all Canadian residents:

  • 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
  • Military Death Benefits

Can I preplan a cremation funeral in British Columbia?

Yes, preplanning cremation services are available in the province. Preplanning is a good way to ensure end-of-life wishes are considered and funds are available to cover funeral costs. Learn more about funeral preplanning in these articles:

Learn more or ask a question

The team at Eirene Cremations is available to answer questions about funerals, cremation and aquamation. Email us at support@eirene.ca. For information about our service areas, please visit our locations page.

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