From Furniture To Funerals

By Melissa Cole, Curator

During the 19th century furniture makers were being asked to undertake many of the funeral arrangements, including managing the funeral cortege and furnishing a hearse equipped with horses to carry the deceased.  Luke & Brother of Oshawa advertise, below, “Undertaking”.   In the Walter Wigg & Son Ad from March 18th 1879 you will notice at the bottom of the ad it reads, “we have added to the business that of Undertaking.  Funerals attended to on the shortest notice.  COFFIN kept constantly on hand at the New Dominion Furniture Warehouse in Oshawa.”

March 18,1879
March 18,1879

During the late 1800s there was a rising concern for improved health conditions and sanitation, many undertakers began offering to embalm the deceased.  As embalming became more sophisticated, the equipment to carry out the task became increasingly difficult to take into private homes.  Many cabinet makers dedicated part of their of their own business in order to lay out the deceased and provide a setting for the family to receive friends.   This gave rise to the undertaker’s establishment being called a funeral parlour.

Luke & Brother
Luke & Brother, 1870

As time went by and communities grew, the funeral end of the business dominated the furniture end.  Funeral services were soon provided under one roof in a chapel like setting.  The undertaker began being referred to as a funeral director, who supplied caskets, hearse, chairs, mourning material such as stationary, flowers, cards and funeral services for the bereaved families.  The present day funeral home had emerged.

Want to learn more? Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death is now open at the Oshawa Museum!  

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