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Brenan's Funeral Home on Paradise Row in Saint John, New Brunswick is almost as much a landmark to native Saint Johner's as are the rugged slopes of Fort Howe which rise up nearby in Canada's first incorporated city. One of the oldest established funeral homes in the Maritime Provinces, Brenan's has been serving southern New Brunswick families for more than 145 years.
The Brenan Family - 1872-1970
When Nathaniel W. Brenan established his business on Mill Street in 1872 one doubts that he could have foreseen that his name would become synonymous with the funeral services business in this area, and that his family would play a central role in the profession for nearly a century. Four generations of Brenans would eventually enter the funeral profession. Several of them would take a hand in defining funeral service in New Brunswick before passing the torch to another Saint John family who have since invested 30 years and two generations in continuing the Brenan tradition.
Nathaniel Brenan was one of the first professional embalmers in the Maritimes and over the years his family would pioneer a number of advances in the industry. In 1920 the firm replaced the horse drawn wagons and sleighs which had served as hearses, with a motorized hearse assembled from a 1918 Reo Speedwagon and the body of one of the horse drawn vehicles. N. Louis Brenan, Nathaniel's son, was among the first Maritimers to graduate from the Reounards School of Embalming in Boston, Massachusetts. Louis would later be called to Halifax to assist with services for victims of the tragic 1912 sinking of the Titanic. Another son, Fred B. Brenan served the firm from 1914 until his death in 1957. His son Fred K. Brenan joined the company in 1930 and, in turn, brought his own son Wilmot into the business. Fred K. Brenan, who would serve as President of Brenan's until 1970, made a significant mark on his profession early on. In 1947 he was appointed by the New Brunswick Funeral Directors Association to have an act drawn up for the government of New Brunswick which would legislate the licensing of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. Fred subsequently served as secretary-treasurer for the Board of Registration which was set up when the act was passed into law in 1948.
In the early years N.W. Brenan & Sons Ltd. would change premises twice, first to 715 Main Street and then to the current location in 1926. From a modern perspective the stately, columned building at 111 Paradise Row - an irony not lost on the locals - seems meant for its current purpose but it was actually built as a home for industrialist James Harris and then served as the manse for Portland United Church before being acquired by Brenan's. While early photos show that the familiar facade of the building has remained largely unchanged, changes beyond the front door have reflected a business growing with it's community. History records major renovations in 1955 and again in 1970.
The MacMackin Family & John W. Doyle – 1970 to the present
It was in June of 1970 that the Brenan family, after nearly 100 years of service, finally decided to retire from the funeral profession and the company was purchased by H. Douglas MacMackin, a well-known local businessman. While not a funeral director himself Mr. MacMackin would almost immediately hire a young director named John W. Doyle who, as it turned out, would become his closest associate and managing director of the funeral home. While Doug MacMackin concentrated his efforts on maintaining the facilities and standards of business that the Brenan's had established, John W. Doyle oversaw the operations and safeguarded the firm's reputation for personal service. Together they would see the business through the turmoil of urban renewal that erased most of its North End neighborhood and, in 1977, oversee the addition of a modern 150 seat chapel to the facility.
Mr. MacMackin would also preserve the family nature of the business. His two sons, Stephen D. MacMackin and William F. (Bill) MacMackin worked around the funeral home as students before pursuing other careers. Both, however, would return to Brenan's following their father's death and both would serve apprenticeships and be licensed as Funeral Directors in keeping with their father's wishes. When the elder MacMackin passed away in 1987, it was John W. Doyle's guidance and steadying influence, as a family friend and managing director of the firm, that allowed the MacMackin family to make a smooth transition to the new generation. Mr. Doyle's distinguished career at Brenan's has made his name one of the community's most familiar. He too has brought a family influence to the business with his wife, daughter and son all working in family-care roles, at the funeral home, at one time or another.
Expansion to West Saint John and Kennebecasis Valley
In 1995, the Brenan name appeared on a new building for the first time in nearly 70 years. A second Saint John location, Brenan's Bay View Funeral Home, was opened on Manawagonish Road to better serve the city's growing west side and suburbs. Brenan's has long been a leader in the profession adding an on-site crematorium and introducing comprehensive preplanning services and grief support programs in the recent era. In 2005 a decision was taken to offer the families of the Kennebecasis Valley and surrounding areas a convenient new location in the heart Quispamsis on the Pettingill Road. This new location, Kennebecasis Community Funeral Home was established as a unique partnership jointly owned and operated by Reid's Funeral Home of Hampton and Brenan's Funeral Homes of Saint John. Upon the retirement of the Reid family from the profession, the Kennebecasis location became a fully integrated part of Brenan's.