Our History

Our original location in Ridgetown has a storied past. The community came into existence in 1875, but shortly beforehand fields and forests were giving way to homes and several elaborate buildings. 76 Main Street East, the building we presently occupy today, was designed by a New York architect, for a budding banker, in hopes that his wife would come to look upon the area as home. This very same architect constructed a grandeur opera hall uptown. 

Several families lived on the grounds through the years, most famously Dr. "5 Ounce" Lawton, who practiced medicine in the lower level of the residence. During an era renowned for moderation, and even prohibition in some parts, Dr. Lawton often prescribed 5 ounces of alcohol to cure afflictions. 

Until 1934, Locke & Company Funeral Home was also found uptown, two doors west of where The Ridgetown Independent News is located today. Ben Smith, son-in-law of Mr. Locke, purchased 76 Main Street, which was vacant at the time, and so it began renewed life as a Funeral Home. 

The Funeral Home was operated by Mr. Smith until 1950, after which Mr. George Fennel ran the business until he moved to Chatham in 1954. Gord McKellar and Arch McIntyre had recognized a need, and so had begun conducting Funerals at the Bates Family Home, near where the present day Library is located. With Mr. Fennel's departure, Mr. McKellar and Mr. McIntyre purchased the property at 76 Main Street East in 1955. 

Like many teenagers, a young Robert McKinlay was uncertain what career path lay ahead. With the encouragement of teachers and family, Rob took a summer job in Guelph, working at the George Wall Funeral Home, while completing his grade 12 education. Rob attended the Canadian School of Embalming at the Banting Institute and served his apprenticeship in Toronto. Licensed in 1965, he returned to Guelph for a time. 

After Mrs. McKinlay overheard in the local drug store that Gord McKellar was hiring, she informed her son and Rob decided to soon after come home to Ridgetown. He purchased the business from Mr. McKellar in 1969, however Gord continued to work with Rob for a further 10 years.

In the early 1990s, Rob recognized that in order to continue offering the level of service the communities of Kent County had come to expect, it would be wise to expand to a second location. After much contemplation Rob purchased the former Mother's Pizza Restaurant, one of the first repurposed renovations of its kind, creating a fully accessible Funeral Home in Chatham. He expanded into the next plaza, creating an accessible reception centre across the parking lot from the funeral home. This was one of the first of its kind. 

In 2007, Jon Ford, a 4th generation Funeral Director in Blenheim, began seeking out a successor for his Business and turned to McKinlay Funeral Homes. 

Nathan McKinlay, Rob’s nephew, began working for McKinlay Funeral Homes as a licensed Funeral Director in 2008, moving into the apartment above the Blenheim Funeral Home. Nathan worked with Rob for many years, greatly benefiting from Rob’s mentorship. He thoroughly enjoyed getting involved in the communities within Chatham-Kent, which he is proud to call home. Eventually Nathan became Rob’s business partner and he ultimately purchased the three funeral homes from Rob in July of 2018. 

It was a busy year for Nathan, who got married at the Blenheim Funeral Home in October of 2018 to his lovely wife Amanda, becoming an official stepfather to her sons, Hunter and Keaton. Nathan and Amanda have since had two more sons, Archer and Cohen, and the six of them presently live in Chatham. Nathan and Amanda continue to carry on Rob’s mission of dedicated, compassionate service, as a family business.