A funeral home soon to open on the Mountain will provide much needed free meeting space to the city's registered non-profit groups.
Jan Nichols, president of Burlington's Bay Gardens Funeral Home and his team will open the Hamilton location of Bay Gardens next month. A separate wing of the state of the art facility at 947 Rymal Road will house meeting space reserved for registered non-profit groups to use at no charge. The gesture means that local groups will have convenient, well-appointed space to host their meetings.
"In Burlington, we started to loan out our upper floor, which is designed to hold funeral receptions," explains Nichols. "When we're not using it for funeral receptions, we loan it to community groups like the Burlington Community Foundation, United Way, and many of the groups that United Way supports. In all, there are about 30 organizations that use the space. But as the funeral home becomes increasingly busy, I have to say 'Sorry, I need the space'."
Nichols, who is a high profile community booster and a generous supporter of community organizations, sought to address this issue when he began planning for the Hamilton location of Bay Gardens Funeral Home.
"We designed this from scratch," Nichols explains. "It's a $500,000 investment in our community's registered non-profits. This whole separate wing is dedicated to non-profit, it has nothing to do with the funeral home."
The Bay Gardens meeting space for non-profit organizations is truly quite outstanding. The building was designed by the Bay Gardens team in collaboration with Angelo Cianfrone of Hamilton's Cianfrone Architect Inc. The interior has been expertly decorated by the internationally acclaimed firm Powell and Bonnell of Toronto.
You'd be forgiven for mistaking the lobby of the new Bay Gardens for that of an upscale hotel. A friendly staff member directs you to your destination. If you're here for a non-profit meeting, you'll be heading upstairs.
The stairway walls are flanked by graciously framed vintage photos of Hamilton's inclines of days gone by. At the top of the stairs, there's a seating area featuring an original piece of art from the Art Gallery of Hamilton. "We lease the art from the gallery and it changes every three months," says Nichols. "We welcome the artists and their family and friends for an unveiling ceremony each time a new work is featured. I think it will help promote local artists."
The meeting facilities feature a boardroom with a portable white board and a cherry wood table that seats 10. Another room boasts a cherry wood board table surrounded by 20 leather chairs. "It's a sectional table so it can be broken up into any configuration," Nichols explains. It's a consideration that's typical of his attention to detail. A large coordinating armoire houses a projection screen and a white board. Both rooms are equipped for multimedia. "We have a company that specializes in multimedia who are doing the audio and video for the whole building," says Nichols.
There's also a kitchen solely for the use of registered non-profits during their meetings. It's equipped with a full-sized fridge, a commercial coffee maker, a microwave, and a super-speedy industrial dishwasher. "We've filled the cupboards with plates and coffee cups and we supply the coffee, tea and milk. Should organizations require further catering, we can help them arrange for that," Nichols says.
Nichols believes it is the first funeral home in the world that will benefit the community as a whole by offer exclusive meeting space to non-profit organizations. It's a bold statement, but Nichols knows funeral homes. "I've been doing this my whole life!" he exclaims. He started answering phones at a funeral home as a part-time job when he was a student of Sherwood Secondary School on the east Mountain. He went on to study mortuary services at Humber College, where he earned his funeral director license.
"I used to do a lot of the arrangements and the directing, and then I just turned naturally to the business aspect," he says. Indeed. Nichols worked his way up from phones to funeral director to manager and retired a few years ago as the vice president of eastern Canada for Service Corporation International, the continent's largest funeral services corporation.
And if there's one thing Nichols knows besides funerals, it's the local non-profit sector. He is a member the advisory committee of the Local Integrated Health Network as well as a member of both the Burlington and Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. He is a member of the board of the Hamilton/Burlington SPCA. He chaired the fundraising campaign for the Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice and currently helps to raise awareness and funds for United Way, the Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice, and the Royal Botanical Gardens. He's been recognized for his efforts by the Rotary Club, which presented him with the Paul Harris Award in recognition of 'service above self'. It's one of the Rotary Club's highest honours.
"From the day that Bay Gardens opened in Burlington, Jan Nichols and his staff have made being involved in the Burlington community one of their highest corporate and personal priorities," says Darrel Skidmore, CEO of United Way of Burlington and Greater Hamilton. "The dedicated meeting space that's been created for the exclusive use of registered community groups is an incredible new resource for Hamilton's organizations."
Despite the heavy investment in non-profit groups, Nichols maintains he's still able to offer funeral services at prices lower than his competitors. "Truth be known, this is going to be less expensive than the other funeral homes," Nichols maintains. "A good proportion of Hamilton's funeral homes are part of an international corporation and that brings overhead costs that other funeral homes do not have. Bay Gardens is privately owned and is a member of the Ontario Funeral Service Association of Ontario."
The new Hamilton location of Bay Gardens is definitely worth seeing. That's why they're hosting an open house from August 8 to 10, noon to 9 p.m., to celebrate the official opening. "For the open house, we're going to open up every inch of the building," Nichols promises.
It's a busy time for Nichols, who has been working on the Hamilton location for years. "Everybody's saying to me right now, 'slow down, slow down!' But you can't slow down when you've got this going on," he says, motioning to the nearly completed facility. When asked what motivates him, he replies, "I like people".
"If I can go out in the community and show my face and say, 'Look, if something happens to you, trust us to look after you', and I know that I can provide them with a better facility and better service for less money, then it will be nice for me to eventually leave the planet having accomplished that. I love it."