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Family values at the heart of Smith Funeral Home

After over 40 years in business it is with great pride that Scott Smith and Emily Whitely take over ownership from their parents Don and Laurene Smith.

After over 40 years in business it is with great pride that Scott Smith and Emily Whitely take over ownership from their parents Don and Laurene Smith. This has always been the dream and for it to come to fruition in the last year we couldnt be happier. 

Over the last few weeks, after conversing with Scott and Emily they have shared the history, the hurdles, misconceptions and more, that come with growing up fully immersed in and now owning a Funeral Home.

Scott Smith says there’s a lot of misconceptions about working in a funeral home.

“People may think that working here is always sad,” said the second generation owner at Smith Funeral Home in Sarnia. “And yes, that is absolutely a part of it. But as a staff, we are able to find a lot of joy and fun while at work.”

It also comes with a lot of purpose, he says.

“Being able to help others during a very difficult time, ensuring they know we are here to

support them through this process — this has always been a very important part of who we are.”

Those values, he explains, were engrained at an early age, when his father built and opened Smith Funeral Home in 1980 — becoming part owner and managing director.

Don Smith, 1980. Submitted photo

The facility sits on land that’s been in the family for generations — since the 1900s — originally home to Smith Bros. Dairy.

"A lot of hours, missed events, events left early were put into building the business,” Emily recalls of parents Don and Laurene. “The passion and drive that they had for the business is the true reason it has grown to what it is today.”

It was always Don and Laurene’s hope that the business would be taken over by their children; both Scott and Emily were involved in the business from a young age.

In 2001, Don, Laurene and Scott took sole ownership of the business.

“That same year, we also began offering a space for small receptions following funeral services. These receptions took place in what was the “grey house” in front of the funeral home,” Emily says of the building — also an original Smith Family Home. 

The original Family Centre. Submitted photo

“With the help of a handful of amazing ladies, this side of the business began to flourish.”

In 2004, Scott followed in his father’s footsteps and received his funeral directors license.

Due to growing demand and the need for more space, along with needing to meet public health requirements, in 2007, they opened the ‘Family Centre’ incorporating the original home in the design.

In 2009, Scott was named Managing Director, in hopes to continue the “professional charismatic service” that his father exemplified.

Over the years, the funeral home has grown in size — including a large addition to the west end in 2013, adding additional visitation and service space.

“We have grown to expand our capacity to support families, through larger gathering spaces with enhanced audio and visual technology. In 2019, we also added space to the east end of the building to improve our ability to provide respectful and dignified service to all the families that put their trust in us,” Scott adds.

In 2023, Scott and Emily took over ownership of the business, and with the support of their families the change has gone seamlessly, Scott says.

“We have learned from the absolute best,” he says, pointing to his parents’ “exemplary leadership and workmanship.” 

Laurene and Don Smith with their grandkids. Submitted photo

“The hours they have spent, the compassion they have always shown to both staff and anyone who has walked in the door and their willingness to always help others in any way possible is noteworthy. 

“They have shown us not only how to be amazing parents to our own children,” Emily adds, “but how to be ‘bosses’ that people truly want to work alongside.”

But the job doesn’t come without its challenges — which are unique for a funeral home in a smaller city like Sarnia.

“With that, comes the responsibility to respond to all situations, be it hospitals or nursing homes,” she explains. “Local funeral homes are also responsible for all coroners work, sudden/tragic deaths in all sorts of different scenes and locations, which can put stress and strain on staff throughout all hours of the night and day.

“So we have had to work hard to make sure our staff have the proper support and rest to ensure safety and health.”

Funeral directors at Smith Funeral Home. Submitted photo

He credits much of the business’ success to the help and support of “incredible staff.”

And at the end of the day, Scott and Emily are passing on those same values that Don and Laurene instilled in them.

“We’re showing our children what respect and professionalism is,” he says. “And that no matter what is difficult in your life, someone is always having a harder time, so be kind and supportive.”


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