A Brief History of the Memorial and
Funeral Society Movement

Pearl Davie ,President
Federation of Ontario Memorial Societies

Many people have heard of Memorial Societies or Funeral Information Societies but few are sure of just what the terms mean. Memorial Societies began in the 1930's in the USA and were formed by people who did not agree with the form the traditional funeral was taking, with increased cosmetology, elaborate caskets, overabundance of flowers and resulting high costs. These people felt that the public was often unaware that alternative funeral arrangements could be made and felt that information and education was essential so that those consumers who preferred a simple funeral arrangement could have one at moderate cost. The idea spread and many memorial societies were formed in the USA and eventually in Canda as well. All memorial societies are non-profit and primarily or entirely run by volunteer boards of trustees and special committees. A very modest lifetime fee provides a member with considerable information on funerals and alternatives, pre-arrangement forms to plan a funeral and an annual newsletter of that Society updating changes in the funeral industry.

A Brief History of the Funeral Information
Society of Ottawa
Condensed from Eric Inch's 2000 "A Brief History of the Ottawa Memorial Society"

The Ottawa Memorial Society officially began on April 15, 1958. Its organizational meeting was held in the old Unitarian Church on Elgin Street with 57 persons in attendance. An organizing committee, chaired by Ruth Cook, had been working for a year to lay the groundwork. The expressed purposes of the Society included, in addition to those we still list in our current aims, "to promote the establishment of a crematorium in Ottawa". Ross Colvin was primarily responsible for this effort, and conducted a study which led him to conclude that, because of Ottawa's relatively small population and a number of Roman Catholics who, at that time, did not favour cremation, a crematorium would not be economically feasible at that time. (One opened in 1962). In his introductory remarks, Mr. Young, first President of the Board, emphasized that the Ottawa Memorial Society did not intend to perform the function of a Funeral Director, nor to be a cut-rate burial society, nor a Unitarian Memorial Society, nor an anti-Funeral Director Society. During the first year of operation, the Board established working relations with 8 of the 12 Ottawa funeral homes. the board was invited to attend a meeting of the Ottawa District Funeral Service Association to explain the purpose of the Society. The President of this Association expressed the opinion that funeral directors were prepared to cooperate with memorial societies. An illustration of the good relations which prevailed was the fact that Joe Tubman was the guest speaker at the Annual Meeting in 1960. It is important to remember that, until 1962, each North American Society was an isolated entity. Much of the work of the Ottawa Board was in completing reciprocal membership arrangements with 22 societies, including 6 in Canada. In 1961 there were discussions on possible national and/or continental organizations, and in 1962 the Continental Association of Funeral and Memorial Societies (CAFMS) was formed. The Ottawa Memorial Society (OMS) was invited to join. However,because the OMS had lifetime, rather then annual dues, the OMS Board felt that membership in CAFMS was not practical. The period from 1963 to the end of the decade was one of steady, if unspectacular, growth and consolidation for the OMS. Support was provided to the Toronto Society in its battle to modify some of the more objectionable features of a proposed new "Embalmer and Funeral Director Act" and to obtain the appointment of a non-funeral director to the Board of Administration. OMS was incorporated provincially in 1968 and received charitable status at about the same time. In 1971 the Canadian Memorial Societies formed the Memorial Society Association of Canada (MSAC). Now, for the first time, all Canadian Memorial Societies, including OMS, were part of a single, national organization. This Association ran into difficulties because of personality conflicts but out of it grew the Federation of Ontario Memorial Societies (FOOMS), primarily to provide a single voice to speak to the provincial government on behalf of all Ontario Memorial Societies. After a spurt of growth in 1971-72, when membership in OMS jumped from 1000 to 1850, the remainder of the seventies was a period of consolidation and relatively little growth. Our relationship with funeral directors, which had been generally good for 20 years, soured suddenly in 1978 and the number of cooperating funeral homes dropped from seven to one. The only reason given was that quoting prices to OMS might be construed as price advertising. These misunderstandings gradually got resolved and today we have good relationships with all Ottawa funeral homes. During the 1980s and 1990s growth has been slow but steady. At the annual Meeting in 1990 OMS adopted its constitution. In 1995 OMS lost its charitable status but FOOMS is trying to win it back. In the year 2002 the membership roll stood at about 3000. In that same year, at the annual meeting, the the Board of Trustees recommended and the members accepted that, OMS change its name to Funeral Information Society of Ottawa (FISO), in order to reflect more accurately its primary function of providing information on funeral choices.

Note: An unabridged history of FISO is available on request.

FISO's CHARITABLE STATUS by Gunther Abrahamson (Adapted from 2010 Newsletter)

We are frequently asked whether FISO is registered as a charity under the Income Tax Act and can issue receipts for donations for income tax purposes. The short answer is NO. Here is some background.
The Ottawa Memorial Society, as FISO was known until 2002, was granted charitable status in 1967 and subsequently issued receipts for income tax purposes. In 1994 Revenue Canada completed a comprehensive review of all memorial societies in Canada and generally found that these should never have been registered as charities. With respect to the Ottawa Memorial Society, Revenue Canada determined that OMS, like many other memorial societies, had failed to devote all of its resources to charitable activities and as a result did not meet the definition of a charitable organization.

In 1995 Revenue Canada advised OMS that its status as a registered charity had been annulled but gifts made in previous years were not challenged, and would not be taxed, as they had been made in good faith.
FISO is one of eleven member societies of the Federation of Ontario Memorial Societies (FOOMS) which provides a unified voice for all memorial societies in Ontario. FOOMS gave serious consideration to appealing Revenue Canada’s decision. Having sought legal advice, FOOMS came to the conclusion that, given its other priorities, an appeal was not worth the effort nor the estimated legal costs.

However, FISO is incorporated under the Ontario Corporations Act as a non-profit organization without share capital and as such is exempt from income tax.