Prince Edward Island: Members find peace in 'little land' where 'you find your soul'

A sense of peace pervades Canada's tiniest province, Prince Edward Island, where green rolling hills are dotted with well-kept farm houses, and red and white sandy beaches and an occasional lighthouse add vibrance to the tranquil seascape.

Roughly the size of Delaware, Prince Edward Island is located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, surrounded by its much-larger neighbors, the provinces of Quebec, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.Perhaps Lucy Maud Montgomery, a native of the island and author of Anne of Green Gables (set in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island) said it best: "You never know what peace is until you walk on the shores or in the fields or along the winding red roads . . . on a summer twilight when the dew is falling and the old, old stars are peeping out and the sea keeps its nightly tryst with the little land it loves. You find your soul then."

For years, that sense of peace also has drawn members of the Church to the island, one of the three Canadian Maritime provinces, which covers only 2,184 square miles. Approximately 490 members of the Church live on the island out of a population of 129,000 people. Church members make up the congregations of three branches in the Saint John New Brunswick Stake - the Charlottetown, Summerside and Montague branches.

Charlottetown is the capital and largest city in the province.

The Summerside Branch was the first branch created on the island although the Charlottetown Branch is the largest of the three with 250 members. About 150 members live in Summerside and 90 in Montague.

Ralph Waugh, one of the first members of the Summerside Branch and a native islander, still resides in Summerside and has kept a history of the Church on the island.

The first missionary to preach on the province was John Sherry, coming to Prince Edward Island in 1845, Brother Waugh noted. Branches were organized in Bedeque and Charlottetown, but were disbanded in 1850 when all members immigrated to Utah, according to the Deseret News 1993-1994 Church Almanac.

The Waughs were among the first members to meet on the island in the 20th century. Brother Waugh had moved in the 1940s to New York, where he married Gerda Wood in 1951.

"We joined the Church in New York and then a year later moved here in 1964," Brother Waugh explained. "There were no missionaries here, but we made contact with a woman who was a member of the Church and began meeting together for Sunday School.

"I can see now that we were supposed to move here," he continued. "I think the Lord wanted us to help establish the Church. It was almost two years before we had missionaries again on the island."

Elder Boyd K. Packer, then an Assistant to the Twelve, was president of the New England Mission at the time, which included Prince Edward Island. Elder Packer visited the Waugh home with missionaries in July 1966. About two weeks later full-time missionaries were transferred to the island and missionaries have been here since then.

Brother Waugh was called as the first branch president of the Summerside Branch on Dec. 21, 1969. In 1974 the branch was divided and the Charlottetown Branch was formed.

The Church continued to grow on the island, and in 1982 the Prince Edward Island District was formed. Excavation also began in Summerside on construction of the island's first meetinghouse. The building was completed on June 18, 1983.

A second meetinghouse in Charlottetown was started in 1983 and completed on July 14, 1984. The Montague Branch was then formed in November 1985 and a meetinghouse was completed in June 1988. The three branches became part of the Saint John New Brunswick Stake on June 26, 1988.

"We are still building a foundation here, but we have seen the Church grow from a handful of members to three branches," he remarked. "We have some very strong members who really have good testimonies of the gospel.

"Many have worked hard to establish the Church here and gain acceptance in the community. Things get better all the time. At first when we spoke of the Church a lot of people never heard of it, but now many have at least heard of it."

Brother Waugh, his wife, and their four children have grown along with the Church on the island. (The family was sealed in the Washington Temple in 1981.)

"Our children were quite young when we came, but I think the experience here has been good for them," Brother Waugh noted. "We were very few in numbers and our children knew that they were a little bit different in their beliefs than a lot of people. It made us a stronger family unit. Family home evening did a lot for us as a family. At first about all we had was each other."

While living in a remote area hasn't always been ideal for the family, they have enjoyed the beauty of the island and the fresh air the area offers, Brother Waugh remarked. "It's a more relaxed, quieter life here than a lot of places and we have liked that."

John O. Bryson, president of the Montague Branch, decided to retire on the island with his wife after traveling here for vacation three years in a row. The Brysons are originally from the eastern United States.

"We liked it and decided why not move here? It's peaceful, quiet and very scenic. It's just a good way to live."

Madeline Rea, a member of the Charlottetown Branch, is like many islanders who live on a farm with her husband and sons. She joined the Church four years ago after hearing about the Church through a co-worker.

"She [the co-workerT was different from the others. I really noticed that she was positive and smiled a lot. We got talking and I found out she was a Mormon. I had never met a Mormon, but I wanted to find out more about what her Church did for her."

Sister Rea and her two sons, Rick and Dan, began taking the missionary discussions. They were baptized shortly after.

"Before I joined the Church there were so many gray areas in life," Sister Rea said. "I didn't have the direction I needed. When I became a member of the Church everything became clear.

"It's really nice to know why I am here and what my purpose is in life. It gives me a real sense of security and it has made our family happier and I think we are closer. Even my husband, who was against our joining the Church at first, has remarked on the change that has come about in us. He sees that it has been good for us and I think that is why he has changed his outlook."

Son Rick, 16, added: "Before, I didn't have standards and such, but now I have a model to follow. I know now what I should do. The gospel has given us all a purpose - something to live for. Before we were just drifting along."

Randy and Robyn Wright and their two daughters, Catherine and Mary, moved to the island after feeling drawn to it. They are members of the Charlottetown Branch.

"We wanted to go on vacation there," Sister Wright recalled. "As we planned the trip, I felt I should call the Chamber of Commerce. Randy had his own dental lab in Salt Lake City and was doing well. But in that phone call we found out they were looking for the manager of a crown and bridge lab. He was soon hired over the phone for the job."

The Wrights sold their home in 24 hours and set off on a new adventure. By moving to an area where the Church is still young, they've had a chance to help the Church grow on the island.

"We are in a growing stage here, but it is exciting to see members understand their callings and become more committed to the gospel," Brother Wright said. "We will grow more when members become even more committed to living the gospel. It's great to see people become really converted."

Sister Wright noted that women in the area are gaining interest in the Church by attending Relief Society functions. About 20 percent of those attending homemaking meetings, for example, are non-members.

"We try to get non-members involved as much as we can so they have a greater understanding of LDS beliefs."

Missionary work on the island can be difficult, Brother Waugh noted, because traditions are deep among the local residents. "People who live here are friendly, but to get them to change - having been brought up generation after generation in one religion - is hard. Most people believe in God, but they do have their own beliefs and own churches. Missionary work is a slow process."

Brother Wright added: "It is very much like the early Church here. A lot of members bring traditions with them and it takes awhile to be acclimated to being LDS.

"Some youth have really caught hold of the gospel. Our goal is to get all the young men on missions. We are young as a branch in the gospel, but as the principles are taught, things turn around."

Sister Wright added: "It has been a good experience for us to be here. We have really grown spiritually. I know there was a purpose for moving 4,000 miles away. Our hope is that more families will become entrenched in the gospel and help young members get a grasp on living the gospel."

Jeff and Linda Campbell and their two sons, Alexander and Matthew, are typical of some of the young families who are establishing roots as members of the Church on the island. Brother Campbell's family was one of the first to join the Church in Charlottetown.

Although Jeff has been a member of the Church since he was 9, he was less-active until several years ago when he and his wife started having children.

Sister Campbell, a non-member at the time, grew up the daughter of a minister and was happy with her religion. But she attended Church with Brother Campbell and began accepting callings even though she wasn't a member. She was baptized three years ago.

"My parents have been very supportive," she said. "I've always had a close relationship with them. They are happy that I am happy. Being active in the Church has definitely made life better for us and made us better people.

"We have our sight set in the right direction now where before we really didn't know what we were doing. I know what I'm doing now. My other church had its good points, but this church has given me direction. Growing up I felt like something was always missing. I didn't know what, but when I found the Church I knew I had found it."

Brother Campbell noted that there is great potential for Church growth in the area. "We just have to have faith and work hard to be good examples and do what we are supposed to do."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed