Holy Family Church in Glace Bay, N.S., is being turned into a funeral home. It is one of six area churches closed by the Diocese of Antigonish. Photo courtesy of Trevor Tracey

Holy Family’s resting place comes as a funeral home

By 
  • February 21, 2016

Growing up in Glace Bay, N.S., Trevor Tracey watched funerals pass by the windows of his elementary school and dreamed that one day he would be the man leading the procession.

By the end of the month, Tracey’s dream will have come true when T.J. Tracey Cremation and Burial Specialists opens in Glace Bay.

Tracey recently completed a deal with the Diocese of Antigonish to purchase Holy Family Church, one of six Glace Bay-area Catholic churches to close since 2013, and turn it into a funeral home.

“In Grade Primary I would watch the funeral processions coming down the street,” he said. “I used to be really, really intrigued by that. (My teacher) would come and she’d have to close the blind so that I would pay attention.”

Tracey came by his passion for the funeral business early. When the final school bell rang for the day many of his classmates would turn their attention to hockey, but not Tracey. Instead he learned the trade of grave digging from his uncle.

“My father died when I was young so I’d chum around with my uncle on weekends and after school. I’d go with him and he’d fill in graves and when that was done I’d help with the flowers.”

Along with apprenticing under his uncle, Tracey soon found himself the student of Vince Mac- Gillivary, owner of V.J. MacGillivary Funeral Homes. MacGillivary — “the classiest man God every created,” he said — is the man Tracey first admired from the classroom window.

“(So) I was brought up around the funeral profession all my life,” said the 40-year-old funeral director.

The diocese sold the property to Tracey last October, Holy Family falling victim to the decline in Catholics attending Mass in parishes across the diocese that has led to a number of church closings.

“The building is so phenomenal, it is so sound,” said Tracey, who opened the first funeral home in Bedford, N.S., in September.

“There was no demolition, the pews were already removed from the property and ... it was probably the simplest building that any project person could find to get what we are going to get out of it.”

Work included building two visitation rooms, an area outfitted for preparing the bodies as well as a showroom to display the casket and urn options. The new funeral home will also house a non-denominational chapel with seating for 130 mourners.

Tracey’s hope is that by offering a one-stop shop funeral service (as opposed to a funeral Mass) at about half the cost of his two competitors in Glace Bay he’ll be able to take in 50 to 100 of the roughly 320 funerals that take place annually in the area.

“It is giving people another option,” he said. “Not everyone can afford to pay $20,000 and not everyone can afford to pay $10,000. But just because they don’t have the money doesn’t mean they are not entitled to have exactly what they want to say good-bye.”

But a one-stop-shop funeral home brings some worry to those who sold Tracey the property.

“Many people are not opting for church services,” but rather they’re using chapels inside funeral homes, said Fr. Donald MacGillvray, director of pastoral planning for the Diocese of Antigonish.

“In certain parts of the diocese people are opting for funeral home services which means of course that you don’t have the Eucharist. That is kind of a disturbing trend.”

MacGillvray hopes the Catholics of Glace Bay are not enticed away from the church services, noting that the diocese charges the family nothing to hold a funeral Mass.

Tracey, a Catholic, said the community supports what he is doing with Holy Family.

“The community is very happy that we have it and are converting it into a funeral home and not an apartment or tearing it down,” he said. “The community loves that building.”

Although Tracey admits the months ahead will be shaky and full of uncertainty, there is no looking back as he fulfils his childhood dream.

“It is going to shake the market up in Glace Bay,” he said. “(But) I’ve never looked back because this is the one and only thing that I’ve ever wanted to do.”

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