HALIFAX, Nova Scotia "The missionaries probably held their breath, wondering if I would return to Church," said Aubrey Fielden, remembering the humble circumstances of a rented room where he first met with the small Halifax branch in the early 1950s.
"But I came back, not for what I saw, but for what I felt," he said. Yet, as an early member of the Church in Eastern Canada, Brother Fielden has seen much of the growth of the Church during the past half century.
When Brother Fielden and his wife, Thelma, were baptized in 1953, Church members were meager in number and spread throughout Atlantic Canada in remote and isolated areas.
But these were members of faith who, over the years, have distinguished themselves as doers of the work and dreamers of a day when a temple would be dedicated in their charmed corner of Canada.
"Why wouldn't the Church grow, considering the fine leaders we've had here, such as President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder David E. Sorensen of the Presidency of the Seventy who served as mission presidents," said Brother Fielden. "These men wanted to do all they could for the Savior. I consider it a wonderful opportunity to have served with them."
Atlantic Canada is composed of four provinces, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. Each province borders the Atlantic Ocean and, when taken together, occupy a geographic area roughly equivalent to the size of the Western United States.
Members living in the far reaches of the Maritimes, such as the Bay Roberts Branch in Newfoundland, where all 27 families and individuals subscribe to the Church News, drive upwards of eight hours to the coast, where they are ferried across the ocean during the night, then drive another four hours to attend the Halifax temple.
"The Lord blessed me to travel great distances while living on a modest income," Brother Fielden said. Serving in many leadership positions over the years, including as a member of the mission presidency and later as district president, Brother Fielden recounted how he drove 25,000 miles during an average year. "One year I drove 35,000 miles," he said. "We were happy to do it."
Though trained in the construction trades, which enabled him to serve as an assistant supervisor on the construction of the first meetinghouse in the Halifax area in 1958-59, Brother Fielden chose to sell insurance so he would be appropriately dressed to conduct Church business at any time during the day. He remembers occasions of cancelling evening appointments with clients when he expected to close an insurance sale so he could attend to Church business.
As a member of the mission presidency, he would leave Friday evening after work and, with others from the Halifax area, drive directly to Cambridge, Mass., where he would meet with President Truman G. Madsen for a monthly presidency meeting.
"My wife packed sandwiches that I ate while driving during the night," he said. "We held meetings on Saturday and met with members during conferences on Sunday. Then we'd drive all night to be home just in time for work Monday mornings.
"The Lord never let me down," he said. "It's amazing that we drove all those miles without incident."
Church growth fluctuated over the years, but by July 1, 1973, the Canada Halifax Mission was organized. Today, two stakes have been organized in the Maritimes. The Dartmouth Nova Scotia Stake was organized on May 12, 1985. And the Saint John New Brunswick Stake was organized on June 26, 1988.
When the Halifax Nova Scotia Temple was dedicated on Nov. 14, 1999, Lloyd Hart stood looking over the area, remembering when the land was covered with trees and how children would sleigh ride down the hill during the winter.
"Thousands of missionaries have passed through here over the years," he reminisced. "Many probably felt they made little difference. If they could see it now!
"My biggest challenge used to be attending the Toronto or Washington D.C. Temple," he said. "But now with a temple across the street from my home, my biggest challenge is not having a big challenge."