Edythe Culling liked to be first in line at the Army & Navy shoe sale, she partied at the Roxy during her later years and she celebrated her 90th birthday at a bash staged at the Penthouse strip club in Downtown Vancouver.
So perhaps it’s no surprise her funeral service this past Wednesday — Culling died at age 99 on July 8 — proved to be as colourful and flamboyant as she was in life.
Mourners, including son Blaine Culling and daughter Laurel Stewart, gathered for Edythe’s final send-off at Kearney’s funeral home in Mount Pleasant, which featured “uplifting” music such as the closing song and Culling’s favourite “You Are My Sunshine.”
Pallbearers then carried a white casket topped with pink flowers into a vintage horse-drawn funeral hearse for an attention-grabbing procession around the block with the Astrid Sars brass band playing New Orleans-style funeral music including “St. James Infirmary,” “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”
His mother would have loved it, said Blaine, who dreamed up the idea for the service with his sister.
“She always liked things that were fun. She loved a party and we owned the Roxy, so she went to nightclub parties all the time. She liked to dance and she’d go down to Doolin’s when they played Irish songs and sing along to ‘Danny Boy,’” he said.
Culling, a Prairie girl, was born in Regina in 1917, grew up in Kendal, Sask., and travelled to school by horse and buggy.
“So it just seemed so appropriate — she came in that way so she might as well go out that way. She would have loved [the horse-drawn hearse],” said Blaine, owner and president of Granville Entertainment Group. “She loved horses. So we thought that was great.”
The antique hearse is owned by Gerry O’Neil of Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours, who’s known Blaine for close to 40 years.
The hearse was built in 1888 in Cincinnati, Ohio, by Sayers and Scovill (S&S) — a brand that’s like the Rolls-Royce of hearses, according to O’Neil.
He bought it at an auction in Pennsylvania in 2010, shipped it to Washington and brought it over the Canada-U.S. border with the horses pulling it.
“It has been meticulously restored using its original walnut wood panels and it has its original kerosene brass lanterns,” he said.
It’s now kept in Kearney’s showroom and typically rented out three to six times a year.
“It’s not something that goes out regularly because of the logistics,” O’Neil said.
On Wednesday afternoon, passersby stopped to take photos as the horse-drawn hearse passed by.
The family included a brass band to add to the occasion.
A friend of Blaine’s had attended a funeral a couple of years ago that featured one playing New Orleans-style funeral music, so he thought “let’s do that too.”
“Working with the Kearney people, I think we created a very unique send-off,” he said. “[My mother] liked to do unusual things so we thought this would be nice for her.”
Although before her death Culling didn’t know what was planned for the memorial, she knew she didn’t want a church service and she wanted it to be a joyous occasion.
Blaine said although his mother’s home was in Maple Ridge, she spent a lot of time in Vancouver. The family owns the Comfort Inn, so she would stay there while visiting the city. She also loved kids, he added, and often enjoyed reading to children as “a substitute granny” at Jellybean Park daycares owned by her daughter Laurel.
Culling had two grandchildren and two great great grandchildren and was laid to rest by her husband George in a Surrey cemetery. Afterwards, well-wishers gathered for a celebration of life at Doolin’s Irish Pub.
“She had a good, full life. And we're happy for that,” Blaine said.