A long-standing staple in Portage la Prairie wrote its last chapter at the end of May of this year. Many recall the first Portage la Prairie funeral home, which journeyed its way through time and was last named Omega Funeral Home. It was situated at Dufferin Avenue and Royal Road.

Since the closure, the long standing business has been receiving accolades from those who recall its rich history in our community. 

Ralph N. Rea was one of the most prominent businessmen in Portage and started the Ralph N. Rea Funeral Home, He came from Ontario and began the funeral business here. Rea died suddenly in the mid 40's and that left his wife with the business. George R. McMaster had been working for Rea in the early 1940s and continued to work with Mrs. Rea until 1950. Then, he bought the Funeral Home and continued at that same location.

Former conventOriginal structure formerly a convent

The facility was at one time a convent. It was converted to a funeral home and became well known as McMaster Funeral Homes, and then eventually came to be called McMaster Brothers after the war when George's brother Jack came back from service overseas. Together they worked at the Funeral Home and operated the furniture store on Portage Ave. in the 200 block Saskatchewan Ave. East.

George McMasterGeorge McMaster

In about the year 1964, their business had grown to the point where they decided to enlarge the facility. This led to the beautiful Funeral Home that was there for many years since. It was completed in 1965 with an open house and the business grew to the point where it wasn't only the largest funeral Chapel in the southern part of Manitoba, but it was also one of the busiest.

Early days with the 1940 Hearse inherited from Rea when George McMaster bought the funeral homeEarly days with the 1940 Hearse inherited from Rea when George McMaster bought the funeral home

They were responsible for up to 250 calls a year, which was a very large number for a community this size. The area they served was west to Carberry, east to St. Ambrose and St. Eustache, then south to the Number 2 Highway, seeing as there were no other facilities in those areas.  Since that time, Gladstone saw a Funeral Home as well as MacGregor.

Rea DeathNewspaper clipping of Ralph N. Rea's passing in May 1943

At one time, Carberry was served by Neepawa with an office there. 

The McMasters were very busy with a great staff. George McMasters wife, Marge, was his office person and very much a beautiful person, involved in a lot of ladies' organizations in Portage. She was also part of Trinity United Church's ladies' groups. So many great things were going for the family which caused the business to flourish. 

Retirement time came for the McMasters in 1973, when George negotiated with the Portage Consumers Co-op who took ownership of the Funeral Home and operated it until 2016. At that time, the Funeral Home became the property of Matthew Nichol. George and Jack McMaster were very community-minded people and were members of social societies and the community clubs in Portage, and perhaps members of the Masonic Lodge. 

Jack McMaster was on City Council for a number of years and was highly respected for his work there. He worked on council with other notables like Bill Lyndon, Albert Barrett, and others such as Tom Miller. These men were all committed to the city as businessmen, not just as politicians. Their work was very well-recognized and appreciated by the local citizens. 

McMaster Funeral Home - 1953 Packard HearseMcMaster Funeral Home - 1953 Packard Hearse

On June 1st, Omega Funeral Home closed. It was an unfortunate conclusion to a very notable era in our city. The location was ideal and people drove by it so often. However, due to so many people having gone there in their hours of grief, with so many widows and families in Portage who look to that place as the location where they honoured the memory of their loved ones, and a place where a very qualified staff took care of those who passed on and did for them a very professional service that no one else could do, it will be remembered for many years to come. 

Funeral Procession - George McMaster driving 1955 Buck after one of town's worst snow storms - 1956 - at Hillside CemeteryFuneral Procession - George McMaster driving 1955 Buck after one of town's worst snow storms - 1956 - at Hillside Cemetery

The profession of the Clergy and that of medicine have a lot to play in circumstances revolving around the loss of loved ones, but the Funeral Home is the third party and seems to have become unappreciated for its value as it formerly had been. Funeral directors noticed that the COVID-19 pandemic did a number on the funeral business. Changes in how some people relate to the loss of a loved one, with different connections of families regarding local churches, the funeral profession has been affected to a degree. While many remember their loved ones differently nowadays, the older manner of funeral arrangements has seemingly seen somewhat of a change, according to some of those involved. This may have affected Omega Funeral Home.

McMaster's BuickMcMaster's Buick

 

Funeral directors in our city have a deep respect for the long-standing business, and the families involved deserve honour due to them for their legacy. They're considered honourable and very professional in the Funeral Home business, and PortageOnline pays them tribute.

Omega Funeral HomeOmega Funeral Home