Cardinal Funeral Homes, Ltd is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. James Cardinal founded the firm in the northern town of Fort William, now known as Thunder Bay, in 1925. James emigrated from Ukraine in the 1880s and served in World War I, worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and served on the city council before devoting himself to the funeral service profession. In 1941, James moved to Toronto, and opened Cardinal Funeral Homes at the current location of the Bathurst Chapel.
While James’ son, Leo, had become a licensed funeral director in 1940, he didn’t join the business, but enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force. After leaving the Air Force, Leo worked with his father-in-law in the hotel business, in Ottawa. In the mid-1950s, Leo returned to Toronto to support his ailing father and to assume leadership of Cardinal Funeral Home.
In 1960, James Cardinal died and Leo resolved that he would continue the service orientation of his father’s funeral home. In 1964, Leo expanded that service to the community by building a second Cardinal Funeral Home, Annette Chapel.
Like his father, Leo and grandfather, James, Jim Cardinal, current president, didn’t commit right away to the family business. Jim followed his interest in music and toured Ontario as a professional musician. He left the music industry to return to school to study funeral service. “I realized it was a great profession and I had something to offer. The rest is history. I still play my drums, still play some gigs and do some recording, it is a lot more fun leaving it as a hobby and not a profession,” Jim said. Jim obtained his license in 1982. Tragically, Leo died in 1984. Jim was 23 years old at the time and became president of the firm and has served in that position ever since. Under Jim’s progressive guidance, the Bathurst location was entirely redesigned and rebuilt in 1991.
Jim’s sons, Jimmy and Andrew, have also joined the family business to work alongside their father. “They are the new generation. They are smart and capable young men that I have no problem leaving the business to. They are making a lot of positive changes and bringing in new ideas,” Jim said proudly.
The Cardinal family has met many challenges in funeral service throughout their long history of service with passion and commitment. Jim sees their current challenge of just providing funerals because of the growing trend that society doesn’t see the value in funerals. “It’s a much more secular society. People are getting away from religion. They don’t have the traditions and don’t see in many cases of having a funeral. Even though my clients are still traditionally-based, meaning the Portuguese and Ukrainian communities we primarily serve; we are starting to see the younger generation getting away from two day visitations, church services, etc. So we treat all of our clients with dignity, respect and do the best we possibly can and service them to the point of ‘wowing them’ and exceed their expectations .It’s not about selling fancy caskets or that kind of stuff anymore. It’s really about the personal connection that my team develops with them and doing as much as we can so that they can see the value in the services we provide. And, so far it has worked very well for us. Our numbers are continuing to grow. We are always looking for new innovative ways to service families and to provide caring compassionate service,” said Jim.
Their commitment to serving their community is also embodied by their bereavement center. “The bereavement center is something I developed years ago. We started with a bereavement program in which we would reach out to all of our families after the funeral to find out how they were coping with their grief. We offered emotional counseling for them ranging from one on one sessions, group counseling, nature walks and movie nights. We then decided to have a building dedicated strictly to bereavement. It is open to anyone in the community whether they have used us or not. Because we have been providing this service for a number of years, the word has spread and we have looked after families that were served by other funeral homes. The service is completely free for everyone. It is something I am extremely proud of and it is probably one of the most important things we do for our families; to look after their emotional needs the best we can. It is something I would like to see other funeral homes embrace because it has done wonders for our business. It is staying connected to families and knowing that we have helped them beyond the service at the cemetery. It is that feel good thing that I think sometimes funeral homes have lost touch with. Our number one concern here is doing a good job connecting with people and hopefully when they leave here they would recommend us,” Jim said humbly.
Jim and his team are also very involved with the Ukrainian Canadian Care Center. They sponsor a number of events throughout the year and visit the residents regularly. “We do it because it is a ‘feel good thing” and a lot of the events we sponsor are feel good, happy events,” Jim said.
Their website is very comprehensive, fresh, clean and inviting and their facebook page is devoted to feel good kinds of things such as, team announcements, charity event information, community information, etc. “It’s more fun and connects us with everyone. We have even posted our commercials on our facebook page. We’ve been on TV for over 20 years and it really works well for us. This year, being our 90th anniversary, we have produced three new TV spots that I am really proud of. They have a historical twist, showing various images of the Portuguese and Ukrainian communities from 1925 through today. When people view these spots, they don’t realize it is a TV spot about a funeral home until the end when our logo comes on and says Cardinal Funeral Home – celebrating 90 years and people are just loving the spots,” Jim said proudly.
To view their TV spots, visit their facebook page at:
With Jim’s passion to provide the utmost value to his families, he has a partnership with My Babbo to provide custom videos, photo montages, photo books and personalized stationary for all of their families. “Tracy’s passion and her professional team really attracted me to use their services. My Babbo produces highly professional beautiful products that I wanted to offer to my families. One of the challenges that funeral homes have is that they want to use this type of service, but it is often expensive. Tracy and I worked out an agreement so that we could offer their wonderful products at no charge. It is not an option here, all of our families receive their offerings. Our families love this value added service we provide. We have built our prices into our service and by doing so, our families really see the value,” said Jim.
Although the future of funeral service will prevent more challenges in obtaining excellent team members to service the baby boomer generation now hitting 70 and the next generation wanting and needing more flexible and creative services, Jim remains very optimistic. “We will weather the storm and have a bright future as long as we stick to the reason of why we got into this business to help people and treat them like they are a member of our own family,” said Jim emphatically.
Cardinal Funeral Homes, under the passionate leadership of Jim Cardinal and his sons, Jimmy and Andrew, shows that a successful business is built on honoring and comforting families. Their dedication to providing meaningful services and giving their all in everything they do is truly a tribute to funeral service as a whole and a blessing for their community.