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What is a State Funeral & How is it Organized?

state funeralThe recent state funeral to honour the former Federal Finance Minister Mr. Jim Flaherty, peaked my interest as to how a State Funeral is organized in Canada.

Under the asepsis of the Department of Canadian Heritage (DCH), a state funeral is a public event, held to honour and commemorate present and former Governors Generals, Prime Ministers and sitting members of the Ministry. Also a state funeral may be offered to an eminent Canadian at the discretion of the Prime Minister.  A State funeral offered, organized and executed by the Government of Canada – Governor General-in-Council, with the DCH as the lead agency, offers the public an opportunity to pay their respects to the deceased.

Every state funeral is complex and includes a lying-in-state, funeral procession, funeral service, final committal, and post-committal reception.  Some of these events may be available to the public. The format of the event is decided by the family in consultation with various government departments, and members of the private sector.  As you could imagine, a state funeral could be very large, distinct, and detailed, with the planning taking up to 6 days, as in the case of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’ State Funeral.  From a funeral directors view point the number of details and people connected to the smooth running of a state funeral would be immense.  Very likely there were dozens of people involved and they would have rehearsed their timing and travel route many times before the day of the funeral.  On the day of the funeral there would be many more people involved behind the scenes to ensure the smooth running of the funeral.  Colleagues of mine, who have shared their experiences when they participated in state funerals, recall this as a privileged highlight of their career.

Lying-in-State is a term used to describe the ceremonial tradition whereby the decedent is on view, with a vigil.  If it is decided that lying-in-state is appropriate, then this takes place on Parliament Hill, allowing official dignitaries and members of the public to pay their respects. The balance of the State Funeral may be held at other locations, as in the case of the late Mr. J. Flaherty.

While families may decline a State Funeral, the Government of Canada makes every effort to incorporate the family’s wishes and answer any questions they may have.  State funerals may contain a religious, ceremonial, or military element and offer Canadians a dignified manner to honor the contribution of a national public figure.

What were your thoughts on the ceremony held for Mr. Flaherty? I welcome your feedback. Please leave a link back to your own blog too if you have one, via the commentluv feature here on the site.

Do you have questions about state funerals or funeral planning in general? You can connect with me via email or telephone, leave a comment right here on the site or click the contact tab at the bottom of the screen if you are reading this post on the website.

Until next time,


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