Thomas Crean grew up in the burial business, starting as a teenaged janitor at the family’s Kearney Funeral Services, Vancouver’s oldest family-run funeral home. In 1978, after the sudden death of his uncle, and the banks’ refusal to grant a business loan to his mother, Tom became president of the company at the tender age of 22.
The Crean name has always stood for transparency and accountability, in both funeral and cemetery service. Throughout his exemplary career, Tom has fought against the consolidation of his profession by the big conglomerates, pushed for proper regulation, lobbied the government to ban predatory telephone and door-to-door solicitation, and led the successful fight against privatization of Vancouver’s only publicly-owned cemetery. He served more than two decades on the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association Board, advocating for government and corporate accountability. His book, It’s Your Funeral: How Grieving Families Are Being Exploited—and How We Can Stop It, will be published in late 2019.
Tom’s son Trevor also grew up in the business. After washing the vehicles and helping with services while still in high school, he graduated co-valedictorian of his class from the Canadian College of Funeral Service in 2008. A licensed funeral director, Trevor has helped more than 1,000 families navigate a time of grief and loss.
At Heritage Gardens, father and son found a place to bring their vision to life. The property was established as a cemetery in 2017, after a six-year rezoning and licensing process. Today it is recognized as a new, sustainable memorial destination with a superb variety of amenities and technological innovations that bring memorialization into the present century.
Heritage Gardens is a family affair. Trevor’s mother does the books, his brother and father-in-law manage the gardens, and his sister, Kelly-Ann Racich, does design and marketing. Services are managed by Debbie Sproule, and the Creans are supported by their partners, and good friends, Francis Wong and his son Andrew.
“Our goals are two-fold,” says Trevor. “The cost of real estate in the Lower Mainland has gone through the roof in recent years. This impacts burial probably more than it does housing. At some cemeteries now, a simple 4-by-8-foot plot costs more than $60,000. Because we are new, we can offer large areas at a lower cost to fraternal organizations, faith groups and non-profits.”
“By focusing on affordable pre-sales, we invite the partnership of member groups,” adds Tom. “The Partners In Care Alliance has formed a cooperative of clergy, hospice workers, service clubs, unions, and other groups eager to avoid the largely unregulated world of cemetery pre-sales (which is dominated by a single company based in Houston, Texas).”
These community groups educate members about confronting their mortality ahead of time. In this way people avoid the manipulation and high costs to which recently aggrieved family members may be subject. When a community begins a section, Heritage Gardens contributes a portion of proceeds to the Partners in Care Alliance to raise funds for their causes. The community members receive better value for their plots, and PICA continues its advocacy, education, and outreach. Everybody wins.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to make meaningful end-of-life plans ahead of time,” says Tom. “All through my career I’ve fought against the exploitation of people at their most vulnerable. Heritage Gardens represents our family’s commitment to seeing that process through to their final resting place.”
The cemetery—south of Vancouver, just east of White Rock—boasts a natural setting full of native plants and trees. “Our other objective is to create a powerful, replicable, sustainable cemetery model,” says Trevor. “As the cemetery matures, year by year, memorialization options are being continuously refined. Our hope is that our model will become widely adopted elsewhere.”
The Creans and the staff at HGC are committed to three things: preserving the natural beauty of the garden; serving the bereaved with dignity and compassion; and producing outstanding memorials that capture the essence of the deceased, their communities, and their legacies.