Mitchell Funeral Home is committed to Huntsville Families
Few Muskoka businesses are as entrenched in the community as Mitchell Funeral Home. Ould Funeral Home was first established in the early 1900s, with Larry Mitchell’s family taking over in the 1930s. Larry is proud of this tradition and the fact that theirs is the only funeral home in Muskoka, from Sundridge down to Orillia, that is still family-owned and operated. “I think that’s what makes us so unique,” Larry explains. “You’re dealing directly with our family when you come to us and that creates a special kind of familiarity at a pivotal time.”
Supporting families through loss creates an immediate and often lasting intimacy with a funeral director. Over the years, the Mitchell family –Larry together with his wife Colleen and son Bill—have connected with countless local families through the generations, which is the continuation of a tradition that goes back decades. “Some local families are connected with us as far back as great and great-great grandparents.”
The paperwork that’s housed in the funeral home attests to this legacy, dating back to the early 1900s and speaks volumes about the Mitchells’ deep understanding of, and connection to, the ways that the community has developed in the region. “These records give us a sense of history and a continuity of service,” Larry says. “We’ve got documentation that goes back multiple generations.” When Larry’s grandfather took over the business, there were other active funeral homes in Huntsville that closed up in the 1950s.
This unique collection means they’re contacted on a regular basis by family members seeking genealogical and historical information. “It’s a little more difficult right now with new privacy policies,” he explains. “But the records are really interesting to look at; they’re all hand-written and they go back to the 1930s. During the depression it wasn’t unusual for a funeral to be paid for with goods, for example, a ton of coal or a cord of firewood. We have one record of a funeral being paid for with 100 pounds of potatoes.”
And while no one in Huntsville is trading produce for services anymore, Larry understands the importance of staying connected to his fellow residents and the interconnected nature of small town organizations. He has been a mainstay in the community and over the years has sat on countless boards and committees, including the Hospice Board, the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Probus and the Hospital Foundation. This is all the more telling considering the kind of dedication required of a funeral home family. Last Easter, the Mitchell’s trip to Cuba was the first time Larry had time off in years; he’s more accustomed to being on-call for the Huntsville community 24/7. But he can’t imagine his life any other way. Larry doesn’t see his role as a funeral director as an upsetting or sad one, but rather is humbled by the responsibility he, Colleen and Bill have in leading a family through the process of saying goodbye to a loved one. This includes taking on many of the logistical details that grieving families may not have the time or energy to sort out themselves, from booking quality accommodations for out-of-town guests, to sourcing the right catering or hosting facilities. “Huntsville is where our livelihood comes from. In support of that, we believe that Huntsville is where we should be spending our dollars whenever possible.”
He extends this local-first approach to all of his merchandise as well. While there aren’t casket-makers in Muskoka, unlike corporately-owned funeral homes that source their caskets from large US manufacturers, Larry sources most of his from operations that are Canadian-owned and Canadian-based. Mitchell’s urns are true works of art from right here in Huntsville. “We’ve paired with a local father and son at Biggar Woodworking. They’ve been making urns for us over the last few years. They are beautifully crafted.” Most recently, the Mitchell family connected with Lindgren Pottery—an established and sought-after studio on the south end of Huntsville—who are also creating urns for the family business.
While Larry keeps his business local, his mind stays broad and open as the needs of the community continually change and Huntsville becomes more diverse. “Huntsville is now made up of a lot of people who have only recently made it home, even though,” he jokes, “the standard line is, ‘you have to live in Huntsville for 25 years before you can say you’re from Huntsville.’”
According to Larry, the role of the funeral home in the community is to reflect the changing tides of culture, religion and family and these shifts are just as palpable in Huntsville as anywhere else. Gone are the days when there was a one-size-fits- all way to say farewell and the Mitchells welcome the individualized touches that can make the process of saying goodbye feel as personalized and as emotionally-satisfying as possible. “New families bring in new customs, religions, and expectations. So, we stay tuned in with what’s going on in the profession across the province and the country. So while we are very connected with Huntsville of the past, we’re also constantly adapting to stay connected with our community today.”