Frequently asked questions
The state funeral of John Diefenbaker
Funeral of John Diefenbaker, August 22, 1979.
© National Archives of Canada
Credit: Richard Holden/National Archives of Canada, PA-190428
What is a state funeral?
A state funeral is a public event that may be held to honour and commemorate present and former governors general, present and former prime ministers and sitting members of the Ministry. The public nature of a state funeral means it is offered, organized and administered by the Government of Canada in coordination with the family of the deceased. A state funeral provides an opportunity for the public to participate in demonstrations of national grief.
Who is entitled to a state funeral?
It has been the practice for the Government of Canada to offer a state funeral to present and former governors general, present and former prime ministers and sitting members of the Ministry. In addition, any eminent Canadian may be offered a state funeral at the discretion of the Prime Minister.
What is the sequence of events during a state funeral?
Every state funeral is distinct, comprising many elements including a lying-in-state, procession, funeral service, committal, which may have all or some components of military honours, and a post-committal reception. Some of these elements may be accessible to the public. The format of the event is decided by the family in consultation with the government.
Who was the first person to receive a state funeral in Canada?
The first state funeral was held for the Honourable Thomas D'Arcy McGee who was assassinated in April 1868.
Who was the first Governor General to receive a state funeral in Canada?
Lord Tweedsmuir was the first Governor General to be honoured with a state funeral. He died in 1940 during his term in office.
Who was the first Prime Minister to receive a state funeral in Canada?
Sir John A. Macdonald, who died in office in 1891, was the first prime minister to be honoured with a state funeral.
Who was the first cabinet minister to receive a state funeral in Canada?
The Honourable James Alexander Robb was the first cabinet minister to receive a state funeral in Canada. He died in 1929 while serving as Minister of Finance under the government of Mackenzie King.
Who is involved in the planning and implementation of a state funeral?
The Department of Canadian Heritage is the lead government department; however, many other government departments as well as members of the private sector are involved in the organization and delivery of a state funeral, depending on the complexity and size of the funeral.
What is the role of the Department of Canadian Heritage with respect to state funerals?
The Department of Canadian Heritage is responsible for organizing and delivering events of state, including state funerals, on behalf of the Government of Canada. If it is determined that a state funeral will be held, consultations are held with the family and the Department coordinates the ceremonies and activities.
Who decides which elements or activities, such as lying-in-state etc., will be included?
The family of the deceased makes these decisions in consultation with the government. The Department of Canadian Heritage provides advice and answers on any questions they may have.
How long does it take to organize and hold a state funeral?
The time required to organize and hold a state funeral depends on a variety of factors and varies from event to event; however, it often takes between five to six days. The period from the announcement of death until the state funerals of both former Governor General Ramon John Hnatyshyn and former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was six days.
Are state funerals planned ahead of time?
The Department regularly reviews and updates generic planning materials and strategies. It is important that the Government is prepared to respond should the need arise.
Which officials are invited to a state funeral?
Invitations are drawn from the Table of Precedence and are issued in consultation with the family.
Who decides whether foreign dignitaries are invited?
The Department of Canadian Heritage would consult with the family and other federal departments to determine the invitation list.
How are citizens notified of a state funeral?
The public would be informed by a statement issued by the Government of Canada. Official notice would also be posted on the Government of Canada Web site.
Are state funerals always held in Ottawa?
No. While a lying-in-state takes place on Parliament Hill, state funerals can also be held in other locations as determined by the family.
What if the family wishes to have something other than or in addition to the standard elements of a state funeral?
The Government of Canada would make every effort to accommodate the wishes of the family.
Does the family get any private time during a state funeral?
Any of the elements of a state funeral may be kept private as requested by the family.
Can a state funeral be declined?
Yes, the offer of a state funeral can be declined. The wishes of the deceased and of the family are respected at all times by the Government of Canada.
Is there a difference between a state funeral and a national commemoration ceremony?
Yes. Elements of a commemoration ceremony could comprise a religious or memorial service and the half-masting of flags, while a state funeral includes a lying-in-state, procession, funeral service, committal and half-masting.
Who is entitled to a national commemoration ceremony?
National commemoration ceremonies are held to honour special Canadians, members of the Royal Family, or citizens from another country who have had an impact on Canada. A recent example of a commemoration ceremony would include the service to commemorate the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2022 held in Canada.
Is there a difference between a state funeral and a military funeral?
Yes. The military elements of a state funeral are referred to as military honours. However, the presence of these military honours does not make it a military funeral. A military funeral is a formal funeral organized by the Department of National Defence that is offered to all active military personnel, subject to the wishes of their family.
Can provinces or territories hold state funerals or is it solely the responsibility of the Government of Canada?
Yes, provincial and territorial governments may hold state funerals to commemorate eminent citizens.
Do other countries have procedures in place for state funerals? Are they similar to Canada's traditions?
A large number of the world's nations publicly honour their eminent citizens in a manner similar to a state funeral. The duration of the visitation and the type of ceremony may vary depending on the country and the culture.
What is a lying-in-state?
Lying-in-state is a term used to describe the ceremonial tradition whereby the remains of the deceased rest on view, with a vigil, to allow official dignitaries as well as members of the public to pay their final respects.
How long is a lying-in-state?
The duration of the lying-in-state varies.
Are flags half-masted for an individual entitled to a state funeral?
Half-masting of the National Flag of Canada on the Peace Tower in Ottawa and on federal buildings nation-wide occurs in accordance with the Rules for Half-Masting the National Flag of Canada.
In addition to the individuals listed in the "past state funerals" web page, what other Canadians have received the honour of lying in state?
- 1984 - The Right Honourable Bora Laskin, Chief Justice of Canada
- 2000 - The Unknown Soldier, after being repatriated from Vimy, France
- 2005 - Sergeant Ernest (Smokey) Smith, Canada's last Victoria Cross recipient
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