The history of crematoriums in Singapore is relatively short, with the first cremation facility being built in the 1960s. Before that, burial was the traditional method of laying a deceased’s cremated remains to rest, keeping with cultural and religious practices.
However, the limited land availability and the city-state’s increasing urbanisation prompted the government to encourage cremation as a more practical and sustainable option.
The first crematorium in Singapore was the Mount Vernon Crematorium, opened in 1962. Over the years, additional crematoriums were built to meet the growing demand, including:
- Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium Complex
- Bright Hill Crematorium & Columbarium
- Tse Tho Aum Crematorium
Today, cremation has become a more accepted and sustainable method of burying the departed. Let’s look deeper into Singapore’s cremation history.
Table of Contents
Funerals During The British Colonial Rule
In the early days of British occupation, Chinese burial grounds increased rapidly. The monarchy had very little control over burial spaces because the Commissions had very little authority to sanction the creation of such spaces.
Chinese clan associations in Singapore took it upon themselves to create Chinese immigrant communities which functioned independently from the state. This led to small communities performing their death rites and designating sacred, ethnic burial grounds for the dead.
These clan-owned cemeteries were classified according to the dialect spoken, such as Hokkien, Teochew, and other dialects.
Local authorities soon began to view these informal cemeteries as dangerous hotspots for diseases and hazardous wastes. Singapore’s land scarcity exacerbated the situation as more and more family members demanded space to bury their dead.
Thus, the 1965 Master Plan, one of Singapore’s earliest forms of urban planning frameworks, was introduced. In this framework, cemeteries were considered land “available for development”. Cremation was also recommended as a viable alternative in dealing with exhumed remains from traditional burial grounds.
To encourage the predominantly-Chinese public to adopt this new idea of laying their dearly departed to rest, the state appointed “funerary middlemen”. They were responsible for changing public perception and conversation around cremation.
Not long after, in 1972, the state ordered the closure of all cemeteries around Singapore City to preserve land. To help the populace manage waste disposal, the state offered burial space at the Chua Chu complex (which, at the time, was government-owned). However, they emphasised that cremation was only the sustainable long-term burial option.
Early Days Of Crematoriums In Singapore
The Mount Vernon Complex served as the first crematorium in Singapore. When it started operations in 1962, it had only one funeral service hall and averaged 4 cremations a week.
The Mount Vernon Complex also had a dedicated site for a columbarium, with several phases for columbarium niches. These structures featured Chinese-style green roofs and other traditional adornments.
The complex could no longer cope with the ever-increasing demand for columbarium niches. So, the state ordered the construction of another crematorium-turned-columbarium complex, the Mandai Columbarium.
Mandai Columbarium housed several cremators and more than 60,000 columbarium niches for storing cremated remains. Eventually, in the ’80s, voluntary communities were allowed to build their columbaria to keep the remains of exhumed bodies from clan-owned cemeteries.
The demand for space in land-scarce Singapore persists until today. The launch of recent exhumation projects, like that of Bukit Brown cemetery, is a testament to the dying tradition of burial in Singapore.
While the cemetery was closed nearly 5 decades ago, descendants still visit it to revere their ancestors. These projects will mark the end of such cultural practices, as Bukit Brown is scheduled for reclaiming by 2030.
Rise Of Public Columbariums In Singapore
A rapidly developing nation and decline in land burials led to more and more public columbaria being more commonplace in Singapore.
After the Mandai Columbarium, the government contracted the building of the Yishun Columbarium. These two were considered the pioneers of the “high-rise columbarium” in Singapore.
Mount Vernon was also quick to accommodate more cremated remains. It followed suit in 1987 when it finished the construction of a nine-storey pagoda and a church-like building.
Several years later, the Choa Chu Kang columbarium was erected, housing more than 140,000 niches. It became the largest columbarium, followed by Mandai, then Yishun.
Mount Vernon ceased operations in 2004 as a government directive to make Mandai the primary place for cremation. Singapore’s first crematorium closed its doors for good in 2018 after the National Environment Agency and Housing and Development Board announced the construction of a housing estate on its 7.1-hectare land.
The Arrival Of The Private Columbarium
There are more than 60 columbaria at present in Singapore. Many of these have religious attachments to sacred spaces like temples and churches.
However, families that want to lay their departed loved ones to rest in these private columbaria/crematoria may expect higher costs. This is again due to land scarcity, which drives up the prices of niches.
Congestion is another issue facing private columbaria. Peak seasons like the Qing Ming period can inconvenience worshippers and family members.
Lease periods for private columbaria are also limited to 30 years. This can cause anxiety for customers who wish to store their deceased family members’ urns in the niches.
Families that cannot afford the expense of storing urns in private niches have resorted to a cheaper, hassle-free alternative: arranging dedicated spaces for altars at home. This allows them to revere their ancestors at any time in a respectful and honourable manner.
Conclusion About History Of Crematoriums In Singapore
The development of crematoriums in Singapore reflects the city-state’s progress and modernisation over the past decades. Limited land, urbanisation, and a growing population have made cremation a practical and sustainable option for handling the deceased.
It may have taken some time before the public welcomed this practice, but it has now become widely accepted.
As Singapore continues evolving, its approach towards death and funerals will likely evolve. Methods like sea burials, sustainable funerals, and other unconventional burial techniques may no longer be unimaginable in the distant future.
For more information, contact Casket Fairprice. We provide funeral services in Singapore and assist grieving families throughout the process. We offer funeral packages for Christian, Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Soka, Taoist, Freethinker, and other religious beliefs.
Frequently Asked Questions About The History Of Crematoriums In Singapore
How Are The Dead Cremated In Singapore?
During cremation, the body is put in a cremation chamber. It is then heated to high temperatures, where the bones burn and turn to bone fragments. After cremation, the fragments are stored in an urn and returned to the family/relatives.
Can You Keep Cremated Remains At Home In Singapore?
Yes. Families can store ashes at home or in a private or public columbarium.
Can A Foreigner Be Cremated In Singapore?
Yes. According to the National Environment Agency, the body of a foreigner may be brought into Singapore for cremation. A funeral director can assist in securing the proper documentation and the entire process.
How Much Does Cremation Cost In Singapore?
The prices of cremation in Singapore are as follows (for Government Crematorium) :
- Adult – $100
- Child (under 10 years of age) – $50