Motorists traveling Highway 52 west of Steinbach may have noticed a new addition to established signage at Birchwood Funeral Chapel – a co-op sign. Most are well acquainted with the idea of co-op in terms of gas bars, but what does it mean for a funeral chapel to be a co-op?

Manager Todd Harder explains that Birchwood Funeral Chapel has always been a co-op. However, it never occurred to them to include “co-op” as part of their signage.

When the funeral chapel was established in 1997, funeral costs in the region were on the rise due to a monopoly situation. Birchwood Funeral Chapel was established as a co-op to offer an alternative. This was exciting news for the Southeast, and everyone was well aware.

However, times have changed, reflects Harder. “We’ve realized that people just don’t know that we’re a co-op.” Harder notes that many people see Birchwood’s large facility and assume it’s because it’s the more expensive option. But he explains that is not the case: “As a not-for-profit enterprise and our co-op model, each member owns a brick of this building.”

He says the main difference is that a co-op is not about profit. “It’s service first.”

Even though Birchwood Funeral Chapel is a co-op, they serve members and non-members alike. However, members gain benefits. When a member passes away, their shares are discounted from the funeral service cost – and those shares grow every year.

“You buy a membership for $200, that $200 worth of shares will increase yearly, and when the time comes, we take that off the cost of the funeral service, as well as discount the services as a member, depending on what’s required.”

Harder explains that in the context of a funeral home, the co-op discount occurs upon death.

“It’s not a cost savings for you. It’s for your loved ones, who at their time of grieving, when maybe it’s more difficult to make funeral arrangement decisions, all that has already been taken care of – and, at a savings. So it’s a kind of relief for your loved ones, which comes into play at a very difficult time in their lives – when they’re saying goodbye.”

Another aspect that can be difficult for loved ones to deal with, is the choosing of the casket or urn.

“We understand the state of mind people have at the time they’re choosing a casket or an urn and we want to be sensitive to that,” shares Harder. “We don’t want people to feel obligated to choose the most expensive option because they’ll feel bad if they didn't spend the money. That’s why we offer low to mid-range options.”

Harder says they just want to make sure family members make the best choice for their situation.

“For example, if I buy a pine coffee table or an oak coffee table, they serve exactly the same purpose, but one’s more expensive because it's made out of a more expensive material. Same with the casket,” reasons Harder.

Birchwood also offers multipurpose rooms that can adjust to the size of the service, and up-to-date livestream technology. Harder says Birchwood has always offered livestream services, but the pandemic saw those services used far more often.

“Now people livestream services 90% of the time, so if you miss the funeral, you can still watch the recording. This is new, but this technology will never go away. This service is here to stay.”

To watch livestream services or recordings, visit

Ultimately, Harder hopes everyone understands that Birchwood Funeral Chapel is a co-op.

“We started from grassroots, and you can see that when you walk in here today. You're not going to see us in three-piece suits. We’re all real working people and we’re serving our neighbours, our community. And we’re going to talk to you as real people. Real person to real person.”

For more information or to become a member, call Birchwood Funeral Chapel Co-op at 204-346-1030.