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What is a Columbarium? How is it Used to Store Ashes?

Daniela Fortino
Daniela Fortino
December 3rd 2022 - 9 minute read
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Learn about what a columbarium is, who invented them, and how people use columbariums to place the ashes of a cremated loved one.

Daniela Fortino

What is a columbarium?

As cremation grows in popularity, so do the options for what to do with cremated remains. Ashes can be buried, scattered, turned into a tree, and even sent into space. However, for those that want a more traditional option, the placement of ashes in a columbarium is an excellent choice. This article will outline what you need to know about columbariums.

What is a columbarium?

A columbarium is a structure used to store and often display urns containing cremated remains. The structure is typically a wall, room, or building that can be indoors or outdoors.

A columbarium often has designated areas called niches. A niche holds the urns and has features that help remember and memorialize a loved one. They can include an inscription or small pictures of the deceased and small personal items or mementos.

The name "columbarium" means "dovecote" in Latin, coming from the Latin word "columba" (dove) and the suffix "arium" (place for). It resembles structures used to house pigeons and doves (e.g., a dovecote).

Columbariums have been around for thousands of years. The idea originated during the early Roman empire when cremation was commonplace. These burial spaces were an alternative to traditional house burials and were typically used for lower and middle-class Roman citizens. The structures were ordinarily made of brick walls with niches for urns and built around an open court. The use of columbariums was discontinued during the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian. They were replaced by burials and did not return to common use until the 20th Century.

Where are columbariums located?

Columbariums are usually located in cemeteries, but they can also be found in churches, crypts, outdoor monuments, crematorium sites, and more. They can be structures that stand alone or are part of other burial monuments, such as within a mausoleum.

What are columbarium options?

When choosing a columbarium, the main things to consider are the type, style, and location.

A columbarium typically features niches, or shallow recesses, that can contain cremation urns. (Learn more about niches and their costs here.)

Types of niches include:

  • Single niches with one urn.
  • Double niches with two urns.
  • Family niches with space for four or more urns.

Niches typically have three variations: granite-front, bronze-front, and glass-front. For granite-front and bronze-front types, the niche is sealed. The bronze front is similar to a headstone and can be customized to include information about the deceased.

A granite-front niche is more challenging to customize and add an inscription. However, a bronze plaque can be added for that purpose. Glass-fronted niches allow the urns to be displayed visibly alongside inscriptions, small pictures, or tokens related to the deceased.

In terms of the columbarium itself, it is often made of brick or concrete. The style/design of a columbarium depends on the cemetery. For example, customization options at a public/shared columbarium are limited, in most cases, to the niche selected.

Private or custom columbariums are possible in some cases and can provide a family with more say in the design. However, the cost to have one designed would be significant.

How much does a columbarium cost?

A single niche in a columbarium costs around $700 CAD ($500 USD). Larger niches can cost a few thousand dollars. However, these can fit more than one urn, making it more cost-effective overall.

Another major factor affecting the cost is the location of the niche and columbarium. For example, a spot in an indoor columbarium would cost more than it would in an outdoor one. Similarly, a glass-front niche can cost more than a granite or bronze one because it is almost always stored inside, as it does not hold up as well to the weather. Finally, the cemetery location also plays a part in the price. For example, a niche at a famous cemetery or one in a heavily populated area would likely cost more because of demand.

The best way to figure out pricing is to contact cemeteries in your area. It is best to do so before the death of a loved one, if possible, as a last-minute purchase can also add to the cost.

Eirene can guide you in finding the right columbarium for your needs. Just reach out to us at 647-424-3408 (24/7) or email at support@eirene.ca.

Why choose a columbarium?

One of the main reasons to choose to place remains in a columbarium is the cost. As mentioned above, the cost for placement in a columbarium can start as low as $700. Even the more expensive options typically cost a few thousand dollars. Mausoleum prices are usually higher. Individually owned plots can range from $3000 to $30,000, and private mausoleums can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $500,000. With both options, you get the benefit of being in a cemetery. Cemeteries provide a well-maintained and permanent space for future generations to visit their loved ones. However, a columbarium provides this at a fraction of the cost.

Choosing a columbarium can also benefit the environment. Cremation is often viewed as a cheaper and sustainable option when compared to burials. It is less labour intensive, requires fewer resources, and leaves less of a physical and environmental footprint. And this footprint can be further reduced when using aquamation over flame cremation. Additionally, columbariums take up less space than traditional burials or mausoleums. This reduces the number of resources needed for upkeep and leaves more room for additional cemetery plots. Overall, a columbarium offers a unique option that can benefit the customer, the cemetery, and the environment.

Where to buy a cremation urn

If you are considering a niche in a columbarium as the final resting place for a loved one and you need a cremation urn, you can find a large selection of urns in Eirene's online urn store.

Cremation arrangements

If you would like to make cremation arrangements with Eirene click here.

Need help?

Our team of experts are here to help you with your funeral and cremation questions. email us at support@eirene.ca or click to contact us.

Columbariums in your province

We have listed some well known columbariums in various cities in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. These provinces are where we provide cremation services in Canada. Click to scroll to each province's columbarium listings.

Ontario Columbariums

Here is an extensive listing of columbariums located in Ontario. We have listed them by city. Simply scroll down to see them in select Ontario cities.

Where are columbariums located in the Toronto area?

Here are the locations of several of the best-known columbariums in Toronto, Ontario.

Where are columbariums located in the Mississauga/Oakville area?

Here are the locations of several of the best-known columbariums in Mississauaga and Oakville.

  • Erindale Cosmopolitan Cemetery, Streetsville Memorial Cemetery and Streetsville Public Cemetery  - Click for info - Mississauga
  • St. John's Dixie Cemetary in Mississauga - Click for info  - Mississauga
  • Glen Oaks Cemetery - Click for info -  in Oakville

Where are columbariums located in the Brampton area?

Here are the locations of several of the best-known columbariums in Brampton, Ontario.

Where are columbariums located in the Hamilton area?

Where are columbariums in the Ottawa area?

Nova Scotia Columbariums

Where are columbariums located in Halifax and Dartmouth?

Here are the locations of several of the best-known columbariums in Halifax and Darthmouth in Nova Scotia.

Where are columbariums located  in Sydney, Nova Scotia?

Here are the locations of several of the best-known columbariums in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

  • Resurrection Community Cemetery - Info - Sydney Forks, N.S.
  • Forest Haven - Info - Sydney, N.S.

Saskatchewan Columbariums

Here are the locations of several of the best-known columbariums in Regina and Saskatoon.

Where are columbariums located in Regina?

  • Riverside's Prairie Lane Columbarium - Info - Regina
  • Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery - Info - Regina

Where are columbariums located in  Saskatoon?

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