James Cardinal founded the firm in the northern town of Fort William, now known as Thunder Bay, in 1925. James emigrated from Ukraine in the 1880s and served in World War I, worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and served on the city council before devoting himself to the funeral service profession. In 1941, James moved to Toronto, and opened Cardinal Funeral Homes at the current location of the Bathurst Chapel, 366 Bathurst Street.
While James’ son, Leo, had become a licensed funeral director in 1940, he didn’t join the business, but enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying mosquito bombers with the Pathfinders in missions over Germany. Later, he served as an air force flight instructor in Gimli, Manitoba. After leaving the Air Force, Leo worked with his father-in-law in the hotel business, in Ottawa. In the mid-1950s, Leo returned to Toronto to support his ailing father and to assume leadership of Cardinal Funeral Home.