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Our History


150 years of Our Family Serving Yours

One of the best-known funeral homes in the Maritime provinces, W.J. Dooley Funeral Service Ltd. of North Sydney will mark 2024 as the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the original "Dooley" Funeral Services and Home.

The Dooley Story is keenly interesting, covering advances the firm followed as it carried on business from its humble origin more than a century and a half ago.

The Dooley firm can claim a number of firsts in the profession. It was the first to use a horse drawn hearse in Cape Breton Island, the first to use an electric embalming machine and the first automatic device for lowering caskets into Cape Breton graves.

Dooley's was also one of the first funeral home establishments in Cape Breton to add a motorized funeral coach to its facilities.

John J. Dooley


The son of an Irish immigrant, John J. Dooley founded the first funeral home business in North Sydney. Originally a carpenter by trade, John J. Dooley took on the responsibility of carrying out the additional duties of becoming the town's undertaker in the 1880's. This came at a time when the town's population was around eighteen hundred.

When a death occurred in those days, a group of friends and neighbours would help in the washing, dressing and casketing of the deceased prior to burial. John J. Dooley was one of the persons often called upon to build the wooden caskets that were used for the burial. He decided after a period of time to relieve the community of this burden and went about the matter of establishing an undertaking and funeral services business.

A prominent citizen, active in numerous community affairs, he served as a town assessor, a member of town council and was an immigration official for several years. Dooley operated the funeral home for a long period of time prior to the business being taken over by son William J. Dooley.

William J. Dooley

The Enduring Legacy

Born in North Sydney in 1881, William or “Will” was the eldest son in the six-member family of Mr. and Mrs. John J. Dooley. He first started working as a very young lad, helping with the cleaning duties and performing small chores of the time such as lighting the stove and collecting coal and wood, all while attending grade school. At the age of 21 he earned his first embalming certificate which is still proudly hung in the office of the present day funeral home which bears his name.

In 1902 Will attended a seminar in Saint John, New Brunswick, that featured an address by the father of modern day embalming, Dr. Auguste Renouard, along with a series of lectures on the subject of arterial embalming. This seminar was greatly impactful as it lead to the formation of the Maritime Funeral Directors Association and the adoption by its members of the arterial embalming method.  

William J. Dooley was active for seventy-seven years as a licensed embalmer and funeral director. He could recall having personally known famed inventor Alexander Graham Bell (in fact, he was present in Baddeck to see the Silver Dart make its first flight) and the noted engineer and inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who brought to us wireless and radio communication. Will also carried on a family picture framing business. He had a photographic mind enabling him to quickly recall names of people, places and events.

Will was among a number of funeral directors and embalmers who went to Halifax to help in the work required after the terrific loss of life in the Halifax Explosion of December 1917. He also provided help when a mining disaster took place in New Waterford, NS, and thirty-eight minors lost their lives in an explosion.

After a tragic fire in the 1950s, Will moved the location of the funeral home from Commercial Street to his own home on the corner of Blowers and Pleasant Streets and built a new home for himself and his wife Bertha on the adjacent property. It is here that the funeral home is still located to this day with a sign that still bears Will’s name.

Will was a past president of the Nova Scotia Association (former Maritime Association) of Licensed Embalmers and Funeral Directors. He also served on the Nova Scotia Board of Registration of embalmers and Funeral Directors for a number of years. He was a strong supporter of many community causes and a charter member of the North Sydney Rotary Club and a fourth degree member of the Knights of Columbus.

Even into his nineties, Will would make daily visits into the funeral home. He passed away on December 1, 1979 at the age of 98 years.

Joseph A. Walsh

Joseph Walsh was a native of North Sydney who started working for his father-in-law, William J. Dooley in 1958 after returning home from serving thirteen years with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was stationed in England for two years during the Second World War where he was wireless air gunner aboard the mighty Lancaster Bomber. He served on twenty-one flight operations over enemy territory.

Known to most simply as Joe, he received his professional license in 1962 and took over control of operating the firm in 1969. He had a fervent belief in supporting his community. He was a past president of the local Kinsmen Club and of the K-40 Club. He was a proud and life-long member of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Knights of Columbus. He was an active member of the Board of Health of the North Sydney Recreation Commission and was involved for many years with the Holy Cross Cemetery Care Company. He was also a past president of the Seaview Curling Club and a member of the Seaview Golf Club. These are just a few of the organizations he was involved with as he seemed to thrive on giving his time and effort to various community programs and events.

His wife was the former Virginia Dooley, daughter of William J. and Bertha Dooley. Together they had three daughters – Maureen, Kathleen, and Laura, as well as two sons – William J. “Bill” Walsh and Peter V. Walsh, who would follow proudly in his fathers’ footsteps.

Even in his retirement, Joe would visit the funeral home on most days, lending a hand where needed, and attending most funeral services. He was a steadfast presence there right up until his passing in 2006 at the age of 81 years.

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L to R: Leonard Guy, Peter & Eileen Walsh, Michael Walsh

Seated Robert MacPhee, Mary Camp

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John Dooley Town Council

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WJ Dooley Profile Young

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WJ Dooley Older

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Joseph Walsh

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