Municipal depot to be new home for Lab West funeral home

A municipal depot is being fixed up to allow for funeral home services to continue in Labrador West.

Penney's Funeral Services will rent the facility from the Town of Labrador City

A 'provisional' solution has been reached, after an emergency meeting on Saturday initiated by Labrador West MHA Graham Letto (Gary Locke/CBC)

A municipal depot owned by Labrador City will be the new home for Penney's Funeral Services, following an emergency meeting on the weekend with politicians and community leaders. 

"It requires a little bit of work but that's being done as we speak," said Labrador West MHA Graham Letto. "The Penneys are quite happy with it."

Letto said the business will be renting the facility from the town, in order to continue to prepare the deceased for burial. 

A post on the Labrador West Ministerial Association and Food Bank's Facebook page on Monday morning announced a "provisional solution" had been agreed upon, following a meeting on Saturday.

Last week, the group said Penney's Funeral Services was not able to provide preparations or funeral services to the community until further notice.

"Everybody is quite pleased that we were able to find a solution quite quickly," Letto told CBC's Labrador Morning on Monday. 

Penney's Funeral Services continued to operate out of the Captain William Jackman Memorial Hospital, even after the new hospital opened. (CBC)

However, the interruption of service has come at a time when the service was badly needed, he admitted.

"Unfortunately, we have had two deaths in the past 24 to 48 hours. We expect this facility to be available to the Penneys within the next 24 to 48 hours," Letto said.

"But in the meantime, the Penneys have worked with the families to provide the service. So, I mean, what they've done is strictly something that's between the Penneys and the family, but I can tell you that the Penneys have stepped up to the plate."

Former space 'compromised'

The longtime space used by the company — the Captain William Jackman Memorial Hospital building — was no longer available because it had become "compromised," according to Letto. A new hospital opened in 2015, but the Penneys still continued to use the former one until Sept. 30.

"We have had limited heat and water on there for the past number of years. So we've come to the point where we had no choice but to close the building and to either demolish it or look at other opportunities for it," Letto told CBC last Thursday.

The Labrador West Ministerial Association posted this announcement to its Facebook page Monday. (Facebook)

Letto said most hospitals nowadays don't have the facilities needed for the preparation of the deceased, but a single point of service is the preferred long-term goal.

"The ideal situation would be to, as in other communities, have a funeral home that has all the facilities under the one roof and that's something we're looking at," he said.

'More than a business'

Letto said funeral home services, like those provided by the Penney company, are usually driven by the private sector, but it isn't something he or others are prepared to let fall to the wayside.

"If the business case were there for a standalone business as such, then that would have happened back in June when the Penneys notified the community that they were willing to retire," he said.

Letto says the Labrador West Health Centre, like most hospitals, does not have the space for preparations of the deceased. (Submitted)

Letto praised the family behind the decades-long business for their "exemplary service," noting the owners are willing to stay on and train the appropriate individuals so that the service remains available in Labrador West.

He isn't ruling out taxpayer dollars down the road as a possibility to help keep the service in the community.

"It's always possible for that [public investment] ... It's more than a business, it's an essential service," Letto said.