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MHS Centennial Business: Thomson Funeral Chapel

John Thomson (1851-1929) arrived at Red River in 1879 and opened an undertaking parlour at James Street and Main. Very quickly his business gained prominence. In fact, the proof of operation for over 100 years presented for this award was one that establishes him as a leader in the community by 1885. Thomson Undertakers (previously Thomson & Williams) performed the burial services for one "Lewis Reil" [Louis Riel] whose cause of death on the certificate issued was described in the graphic words "Hung (Rebel leader)." Who can dispute the significance of this firm with such historic connections?

In 1900, after renting premises in the Clement block, Thomson moved to a central location opposite the city hall, which served the community well. In 1910 he purchased a hearse from M. Gray in Toronto, and the Free Press devoted an article to extolling its special features which included an "arched roof," "heavy carved pillars," and sides and ends of "heavy bevelled plate glass, suitably carved," with draperies of cloth "heavily fringed with handsome tassels," silver accessories, and a horse harness purchased for the then princely sum of $200.00. When the public demanded more room at the funeral home for holding services and gatherings of relatives and friends, a building at the present location at Broadway and Furby was acquired after World War I by John F. Thomson (1875-1934), son of the founder. By 1931 a new building, designed by John F. Russell and occupying a city block, was opened for public viewing.

Succeeding generations of the Thomson family ran the business from 1879 to the early 1970s: first John, then his sons John F. and Robert R., then John F.'s son Claude (1901-1953). Robert ran Western Funeral Services at the company's former site on Main Street after the new building opened, until ill health forced his retirement in 1947. When both Robert and Claude died in 1953, Claude's widow Iviedell carried on as President and General Manager until the 1970s, when the firm was acquired by Gordon Cook and Delmar Millard, both long-term employees. Ivie Thomson is still living and will be 102 this summer, and she drove a Company car until April of 1995. In 1986 Cook and Millard sold to Loewen Group. After they each retired Frank Smith managed the firm until 1991 and since that time Cliff Binnie, an employee since 1975, has been manager. On 1 January 2002 Alderwoods Group took over the business from the bankrupt Loewen Group. As in the past, Thomson Funeral Chapels is building for to the future: on 20 January they move into their new facility off Pembina. The public is being given the opportunity to view the new premises on February 8 and 9. The name has changed over the years from "undertaker" to "mortuary" to "funeral chapel," the term used since 1940. Whatever the name, however, Thomson Funeral Chapel has been providing an essential service to Winnipeg since 1879.

An MHS Centennial Business Award was presented to General Manager Cliff Binnie by Judith Hudson Beattie in 2003.

Page revised: 15 May 2011

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