Canadian trio remain “committed” to investing money and building nation’s first crematorium

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(From left) Shari Yearwood, Minnelle Williams and Shelley Challenger
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By Gemma Handy

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Saying goodbye to a loved one is one of the hardest things most of us will ever have to do.

Compounding the grief of many Antiguans is angst over precisely where they will lay that person to rest.

The island’s expanding population means there are now up to 10 deaths a week – and a dire lack of space in which to bury people.

The two principal cemeteries of St John’s and Bolans have been full to capacity for some time.

Many believe the introduction of a crematorium – seen in many Caribbean islands but still absent locally – is the clear solution.

Three Canadian entrepreneurs, with Antiguan heritage and a collective four decades’ experience in the cremation industry, have been embroiled in talks with the government over doing just that.

Shelley Challenger, Minnelle Williams and Shari Yearwood, from Toronto, say they are keen to give back to the country of their parents’ birth.

Speaking exclusively to Observer, they have confirmed their commitment to creating a first-class crematorium in Antigua to give local families greater options when bidding final farewells.

And, in contrast to claims earlier this week from the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Lionel Hurst, they have vowed to invest however much capital is needed to make it a reality.

On Thursday, confusion ensued when reporters were told at the post-Cabinet press briefing that the women had no interest in investing their own money into the project and would prefer to merely manage a state-funded entity.

Williams said they were stunned to hear of such remarks when contacted by Observer for comment.

“I’m not sure where the misunderstanding arose,” she said. “We are absolutely intending to do an investment in the crematorium so that it can be used to provide services in Antigua, and for the Barbudans as well.”

Challenger explained, “The approach that we have always maintained is we will provide our own capital for this project – and whatever the need is, we will provide it.”

She continued that the project was conceptualised due to the lack of available land for burials and that the women had approached the government to share their ideas.

“We are aware of the land space issue and we wanted to provide the option of cremation. Many Caribbean islands already have crematoriums. Antigua not having one limits our people to have that option,” she said.

“We are of the diaspora and we wanted to take our training and expertise from Canada and give back to the island.”

In addition to alleviating the problem of space, cremation offers families a more affordable alternative to a traditional burial.

The crematorium’s location is still to be determined. Choosing the ideal site is an intricate process with factors such as aesthetics, visibility and privacy all to be taken into account.

Once a site is identified, Williams estimates it will take around eight months to get the facility up and running.

“In addition to the crematorium, we’d love to provide some beautiful landscaping and a cemetery as well so people can bury their cremated remains within the area,” she said.

Williams acknowledges that, for some, the notion of cremation may initially be distasteful.

Coupled with the “innovation” the women pledge to bring to the facility, she says there “will be an education portion to what we do”.

“We will be offering all services required to facilitate the cremation and then the final disposition.

“We will be providing something beautiful for families in a beautiful space, where they can still have a full service for their loved ones, and we will also accommodate different cultures that might be in Antigua as well,” she said.

For the three women, while the venture may be a commercial one it has a personal element too.

“It’s important to me to continue our heritage,” Williams added.

“Our parents came to Canada and gave us the opportunity to learn, to grow, to develop our business and now it’s our responsibility to give back to our community, to take the knowledge we acquired here and to apply it at home.”

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