Church in Upper Canada: rich history is celebrated

On a calm summer morning of blue skies and sunshine capped by a gentle breeze blowing inland from the northern shore of Lake Ontario, President Thomas S. Monson dedicated a marker honoring Latter-day Saints who brought the message of the restored gospel to eastern Canada. The geographical area is commonly referred to here as "Upper Canada."

The dedication of the marker, placed on a native limestone slab about seven feet high, was the highlight of events Aug. 9 in the Trenton District, Canada Toronto East Mission. While linked to the sesquicentennial of the arrival of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley, the events placed appropriate emphasis on this area's rich LDS history.The day's activities began with a parade through the village of Bath to Finkle's Shore Park, a distance of about two miles. Featuring some 500 people, it is likely that the parade had about as many participants as spectators.

The procession had just about everything one would expect of such an event honoring Mormon pioneers. Near its head was the Pioneer Brass Band, augmented by volunteers from the Trenton Citizen's Band. Following were a bagpiper, floats portraying various phases of early Church history, a contingent of handcarts and covered wagons, youth carrying banners and placards with values-based themes, and young children toddling along with red wagons or pedal cars that were covered with bits of white cloth to make them look like little covered wagons. Missionaries serving in the Trenton District carried a giant Canadian flag.

At the end of the route, parade participants and spectators settled down on the park's dry, sun-scorched grass or lawn chairs to witness a new event in eastern Canada's Church history. The event was an outdoor meeting featuring an address by President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency.

He spoke of the mission call that brought him, his wife, Frances, and their two young children to Canada in 1959. He proudly acknowledged that their third child, a son, was born in Canada, and that their daughter began Primary and kindergarten in Canada. He affirmed, "Our roots have gone down deeply in the soil here."

As president of the Canadian Mission, President Monson had responsibility over the entire provinces of Ontario and Quebec, with seven member districts, 55 branches and more than 5,000 members. The only Church-built meetinghouses were a chapel on Ossington Avenue in Toronto and a modest building at Hamilton, Ontario. All other units met in rented quarters or in chapels purchased from other denominations. The geographical area that was then the Canadian Mission now incorporates three missons: Canada Montreal, Canada Toronto East and Canada Toronto West.

President Monson said that wherever he goes in the world he finds that the spirit of the Latter-day Saints is one that "brings joy to our life and comfort to our soul. We recognize that each one of you is a pioneer in your day, in your time, in your own right."

President Monson told of having attended a Boy Scout Jamboree at Fort AP Hill, Va., recently. He recited the Scout motto, which begins, "On my honor I will do my best. . . . "

"I would like to leave that as a challenge to each one of us here today – to do our best in all our endeavors. In the true meaning of the word pioneer,' which, according to the dictionary, isOne who goes before showing others the way to follow,' every one of us can be a pioneer. We can go before and show others the way to follow. The apostle Paul said to Timothy, Be ye an example unto the believers.' That's our role: to be an example of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ will do for any person who kneels to pray, opens the scriptures to read, and who, in his heart, comes to the conclusion, with the inspiration of God, that thisis where I should be, this is what I should be, this is what I should be doing.' . . .

"We're going to dedicate a plaque in honor of those stalwart early missionaries who came to this land," President Monson said. "I've done some researchabout those early pioneers. I know it must have been difficult for them to make the journey. . . . But come they did because they loved the Lord and because their faith motivated them to go before and show others the way to follow. I pay tribute and honor to their names and to all that they did."

He said that, as president of the Canadian Mission, he enjoyed assigning missionaries to labor in towns and villages where Joseph Smith preached his first sermons outside the United States; where Parley P. Pratt walked as he took the gospel message to John Taylor, who became third president of the Church; where Brigham Young baptized 45 people in 30 days; and where John E. Page preached to and was instrumental in converting some 700 people.

President Monson explained that when the Prophet Joseph Smith called John E. Page to go on a mission to Canada, Brother Page said he could not go because he did not have a coat. President Monson declared, "If you've spent any time in Canada in the winter, you'll realize what Brother Page meant by that." He said that the Prophet removed his own coat, handed it to Brother Page and told him to go to Canada on his mission and promised, " . . . do this, and the Lord will bless you."

"Those last words are the ones I want to emphasize," President Monson said. `Do this and the Lord will bless you.' Live a good life. Keep the commandments. Be an example, and the Lord will bless you in your own life, in your own time.

"We have a plaque that we will dedicate. The honor that we pay those pioneers is going to include all the pioneers who have lived in this land, some who are members of the Church and some who aren't. We recognize we're part of a great community, and there is room for every person's faith and every person's service, wherever that might be given. I believe that we have seen in our lifetime a great movement toward an understanding that we're all God's children, whatever our color, whatever our faith, whatever our background. We're not all pioneers historically, but we can be pioneers today.

Before the program began, a town crier, Scott Fraser Jr., dressed in 17th-century knickers, vest and top coat, and sporting a tri-corner hat, vigorously clanged a hand bell and called out "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" or "Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!" to capture the crowd's attention. Brother Fraser, town crier of the city of Woodstock, Ontario, since 1992, is believed to be the only Latter-day Saint in North America to hold the honored office. He was instrumental in getting the traditional post of town crier restored to villages in Canada.

Certainly his proclamation is unique in the chronicles of town criers: " . . . As we commemorate the migration of the faithful to Utah, we as Canadians can claim our pioneer heritage from this region. May we forever preserve their courage and sacrifice in our hearts. May the same be done for all who have been pioneers in their own right in wards, branches, stakes and families in the years since the Church was restored. May we all have faith in every footstep in our journey home to the Giver of all life."

During the program Carma Prete, who chaired the Trenton District's sesquicentennial committee, presented a brief history of the Church in Ernestown Township, which incorporates the village of Bath. She spoke of early converts, including James Lake of nearby Switzerville, who is mentioned in local history as a man who took all his family and went off with the Mormons. She said that the writer of the history wondered whatever became of him.

Sister Prete explained: "I can solve that mystery. This same James Lake and his wife, Philomela, were part of Brigham Young's group of immigrants in 1833 and eventually crossed the plains to Utah, where they remained faithful throughout their lives and raised a large posterity in the Church. I am their great-great-great-granddaughter."

In welcoming remarks, Paul Gilmore, reeve (elected head) of the Township of Ernestown, said, "This is an area that was first settled by a people called the United Empire of Loyalists who chose for different reasons that they did not want to live in the United States at the time of the Revolution. They were in a way like you folks – pushed out of a certain area, became refugees and had to find a new home. They came here and settled. We're proud of our heritage. We're honored that the early missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to this area, perhaps on this very shore, and started the first [LDS] church outside the United States. That, indeed, is a great honor. You folks are a credit to your communities, wherever you live. You are solid citizens."

Kelley Hineman, reeve of the village of Bath, spoke of associations he and his family had with missionaries when he was a boy. "I've always had a great spot in my heart for your church. This village has a great spot in its heart for your church. We welcome you with open arms," he said.

The ceremony was conducted by Trenton Ontario District Pres. Daren Heyland. A Primary children's chorus sang songs about pioneers and a Relief Society chorus sang "Faith in Every Footstep." The opening prayer was offered by Beverly McKee, district Relief Society president. Clara Shepherd, an early convert in the area from the Belleville Branch, gave the closing prayer.