The Saints in Canada’s Maritime Provinces

By Eleanor Knowles

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    The far northeastern area of North America is blessed with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world: thousands of miles of rugged coastline, thick forests, rich farmlands, and deep rivers and bays; a land that sparkles with deep snows in the winter, lush greenery and wildflowers in the summer, and a profusion of red, gold, and bronze foliage in the autumn. It is also a land where, in recent years, many hundreds of persons have found new joy and purpose in life as they have accepted the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

    The Canada-Maritimes Mission, one of the newest missions in the Church, was formed August 1, 1973, as a result of the division of the New England Mission. The new mission includes within its boundaries four of Canada’s ten provinces—New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland—as well as two branches in northern Maine and a branch in far-off Greenland, covering a total area of 105,625 square miles.

    Map of eastern Canada

    The mission is divided into two districts. The Maritime District comprises the Bridgewater, Dartmouth, Halifax, Kentville, New Glasgow, and Sydney branches in Nova Scotia; St. John’s Branch in Newfoundland; Goose Bay Branch in Labrador; the Thule LDS Servicemen’s Group in Greenland; and dependent Sunday Schools at Liverpool, Truro, and Digby, Nova Scotia. In the New Brunswick District are the Caribou and Springfield branches in Maine; Moncton, St. John, and Fredericton branches in New Brunswick; Summerside Branch, Prince Edward Island; the Amherst, Calais, and Chatham dependent Sunday Schools in New Brunswick; and Houlton-Woodstock dependent branch in Maine.

    “We feel we have been blessed abundantly by being called to serve in this beautiful land,” writes President Thurn J. Baker, whose mission headquarters are in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. “As we travel throughout our mission, we are thrilled with the beauty of the countryside. This country is rich in historical background, and the stalwart character of its earliest founders is found in the Saints, who exhibit great faith and devotion to the gospel. We are witnessing the growth, happiness, and strength the gospel brings into the lives of those who subscribe to it and strive to live its teachings.”

    In the Maritimes one senses a feeling of pioneering, of rugged individualism, of great strength of character in the people. Most of the Latter-day Saints there today have embraced the gospel within the past 20 years; in fact, the Church membership has risen dramatically, particularly in the past few years. As of December 31, 1973, there were 2,603 Saints in the Canada-Maritimes Mission, compared with 1,380 in the Maritime provinces December 31, 1966.

    Canada’s Maritime provinces were first visited by intrepid European explorers and fishermen as early as about 1000 A.D., when Norseman Leif Ericsson spent a winter at a place he called Vinland, somewhere along the northeastern coast of North America. Several Viking settlements were established along Greenland’s and Newfoundland’s coasts, and are believed to have survived for several decades. In 1398 the Earl of Orkney, an Englishman, is believed to have explored the North Atlantic coast, and there is evidence that European fishermen were regular visitors to the rich fishing waters there. In 1497 explorer John Cabot, while seeking a route to China, probably landed at Cape Breton Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia. Other explorers from Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and England also explored these coasts and bays in the next two centuries, and by the 1600s a number of settlements had been established.

    The gospel was taken to the Maritimes in the early days following the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1833 Elder Lyman Johnson of the Council of the Twelve, accompanied by John Heriot, began proselyting in parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In the spring of 1836 Elder Johnson preached at St. John, New Brunswick, from where he reported there was “little opposition except from those whose craft was in danger.” The first branch in the Maritimes was organized at Sackville, New Brunswick, where Elder Johnson baptized 18 persons.

    One of the earliest members in Sackville was a woman who was baptized in about 1834 by John Heriot. Though her husband was opposed to the Church, she had a strong testimony and taught gospel principles to her children. In 1852 her 20-year-old son, Marriner W. Merrill, was baptized. He served as a missionary in his homeland for about six months before emigrating to Salt Lake City, the only member of his family to emigrate. In 1870 he returned to visit his Canadian homeland and to preach the gospel. He later became a member of the Council of the Twelve, as did his son, Joseph F. Merrill.

    In May 1843 two missionaries were sent by the Prophet Joseph Smith to Nova Scotia, and that September they held a district conference in Preston with three priesthood holders and fourteen others present. The Halifax Branch was organized November 18, 1843, and small branches were also established at Preston, Popes Harbour, and Onslow, Nova Scotia.

    One of the members in Nova Scotia, John Sherry, visited Prince Edward Island in 1845, partly for business reasons but also to preach the restored gospel. He wrote that “the God of the Saints was pleased to make [him] the instrument of raising up a branch in November at Beddeque on that island.” A branch was also organized at Charlottetown.

    The early members and missionaries suffered from persecution and hardship, and by the late 1840s they were being advised to join the main body of the Saints in the Rocky Mountains, more than 3,000 miles away. During the next few years most of them did leave their homes, and the small Halifax Branch was discontinued when 50 members, led by branch president John A. Jost, boarded the ship Barque Halifax for the first leg of their long journey west. No organized branches are known to have functioned beyond this time until missionary work was resumed in 1920, under the direction of the Canadian Mission. The Maritimes were transferred to the New England Mission in 1937.

    Between 1920 and the 1950s a few small branches were organized, generally presided over by missionaries and with meetings in rented halls or private homes. The greatest growth of membership in the Maritimes, however, has come in the past 20 years, and most of the members there today who call themselves “old timers” have been Latter-day Saints for fewer than 15 years.

    For example, the Moncton (New Brunswick) Branch, located in the second largest city of that province, had a membership ten years ago of about 15; today it is 160. The branch president, Damon McKay Downey, has been a member for six years, and his first counselor for just two.

    One of the oldest members in the Moncton Branch, in both years of age and years of membership, is 81-year-old Mary Trave. A native of Blythe, Northumberland, England, she recalls hearing missionaries in her native land when she was a child, but her father became very angry and forbade her to go to their meetings. She did purchase a copy of the Book of Mormon from an Elder Allen in 1912 and still cherishes that well-worn copy. Following her marriage, she and her husband moved to Canada, and she has lived in Moncton since 1929.

    One day in the early 1950s, as she was coming out of a restaurant at lunchtime, she saw two young men in dark suits across the street. Excited, she ran out of the restaurant and caught up with them.

    “I know who you are!” she exclaimed.

    “You do?”

    “Yes, you belong to the Latter-day Saint Church.”

    She then invited them into the restaurant and they talked for two hours. They began to systematically teach her the principles of the gospel, and on September 4, 1954, while on a trip to visit friends in Bountiful, Utah, she was baptized.

    “I knew from the beginning that the Church was true,” she recalls. “For many years I attended another church with my family because there were no Mormons here in Moncton, but I always felt in my heart that I would someday become a member, and I always had a strong testimony of the divine origin of the Book of Mormon.”

    As the Church grows in the Maritimes, more and more younger people are being attracted to it, and young people who might have left the area permanently in earlier years are now returning after obtaining their schooling and serving missions.

    “Nova Scotia has great traditions and family ties are strong,” according to W. Owen Tustian, former president of the Maritime District. “In the past the youth went away to work and the old people stayed on the family homesteads. Now we’re seeing a reversal of this trend. It’s like a new frontier, with a wonderful pioneer spirit.”

    President Tustian’s father was called to Nova Scotia from Ontario, Canada, to serve as a building missionary and worked on several chapels. He fell in love with the magnificent scenery and decided to return there at the completion of his mission. All seven of his children and their families also moved to Nova Scotia and are providing great strength to the Bridgewater Branch, some sixty miles south of Halifax.

    “Today we find less antagonism toward the Church than ever before,” President Tustian says. “And there are many opportunities here for service in the Church, for employment, and for housing. The area is still wide open, and recreational areas in particular are being developed. We are thrilled when members move here from other areas; we feel that we now have excellent resources among us to help them become established.”

    The Church owns a beautiful chapel in Bridgewater, with enough land to serve someday as a stake center. “When we built the chapel, people in the community marveled and said we’d never succeed,” President Tustian recalls. “They wondered how we had been able to obtain such beautiful property on a choice wooded hillside, and for years the Church members here were known as the ‘Mormons on the hill.’ But we have survived—even thrived—and once a group gets a five-year history of success here, their chances for acceptance are then great.”

    The largest concentration of Latter-day Saints in the Maritimes is in the twin cities of Halifax-Dartmouth, separated by the beautiful Halifax Harbor, Canada’s largest Atlantic seaport which remains ice-free year round, though the surrounding land may get up to 75 or 100 inches of snow a year. The Dartmouth Branch was recently divided to form the Halifax Branch, with 445 members, and the Dartmouth Branch, with 305 members. Although the chapel in which the branches meet is only 15 years old, for several years it has been necessary to rent classroom space in a nearby school for some of the Sunday School classes.

    The Dartmouth and Halifax branches share the same spirit of vitality and enthusiasm found elsewhere among the Saints in the Maritimes. Many of the members are young people who are living in the area while they obtain their schooling or work in the city, and there is great esprit de corps among the youth. Most of them are the only Latter-day Saints in their schools, and they have sincere desires to serve their Father in heaven and be good “member missionaries.”

    Candy Pooley, a young student, says, “It’s really important for us to set good examples. Those who know that I am a Mormon really watch me, because in most cases the only thing they know about the Church is me.”

    Brenda Wright, another youthful member, says, “I can’t imagine what kind of person I’d be if I weren’t a Latter-day Saint. The most important thing the Church does for me is to answer my questions of why I am here and of life hereafter; it gives me standards to live up to and helps keep me strong in my faith. If I stop coming to church, there is no change in the Church, but there is in me.”

    Bruce Thomson, who is the only Latter-day Saint in his family, last year was head of his high school’s student government and editor of the school paper. “The Church gives purpose to youth in a time when youth are searching,” he reports. “It’s great to be able to associate with others who have the same high ideals and who let you know you are loved and needed. I believe that youth has all the questions and that the Church in this day has all the answers.”

    Though the mission covers a wide area, stretching all the way from the northeast corner of Maine to the far reaches of Newfoundland and even to a small servicemen’s branch at Thule, Greenland, mission and district priesthood and auxiliary leaders are devoted to their callings and make every effort to keep in touch with the branches under their jurisdiction. In November 1972 the first regional meeting of the Maritime and New Brunswick districts was held in Moncton; previously the leaders had to travel to the New England Mission headquarters in Boston, a round trip of more than 1,000 miles for most of them.

    According to Aubrey A. Fielden, who has served as a branch and a district president and in the mission presidency for many years, in order to visit St. John’s, Newfoundland, the district and mission leaders either go by plane or drive about 300 miles from Halifax to Sydney, on the northeastern coast of Nova Scotia, board a ferry for a 100-mile trip across the Cabot Straits, and then drive for five or six more hours to St. John’s, on the far eastern coast of Newfoundland. The branch there has a membership of nearly 200 persons spread out over a 500-mile area. “Some of the Saints who live in Newfoundland are actually as close to England as they are to Boston,” he observes.

    The mission is truly international in its makeup, for it includes a small servicemen’s branch at Thule, Greenland, an island in the North Atlantic that belongs to Denmark, and a branch that is also made up primarily of servicemen and their families in northeastern Maine: the Caribou Branch.

    The Caribou Branch was organized November 10, 1957, with 90 members; today there are 260. The members meet in their own chapel and hope to begin the second phase of their building project soon.

    “The branch is constantly being reorganized as our military families move in and out,” reports President Reginald Lewis McBreairty, “and there are many opportunities for service here. Our branch is really international, with members in both Maine and New Brunswick. This means keeping two separate financial accounts—one for the Americans and one for the Canadians. If bishops and branch presidents in other parts of the Church think they have problems with one financial account, they should try two!”

    Chester M. Jenkins, who served as branch clerk in Caribou until his recent military transfer, joined the Church in August 1971 in Rapid City, South Dakota. He writes: “The message the missionaries brought me was so logical and so true, it was electrifying! I received a testimony after the first discussion. Soon after, I was transferred to Caribou. I know the Lord sent me there to grow in the gospel, for I had the opportunity of serving as president of the branch MIA, in the district MIA presidency, and in the branch presidency.”

    John R. Frauzel, president of the New Brunswick District, resides in the small town of Oxford. “Two missionaries came to this small town in 1967,” he recalls. “I was away from home that summer, attending a science course, and I had also just been appointed supervisor of schools, so my mind was very occupied at that time. As a result, I did not share the enthusiasm of my family about the wonderful things they were hearing from the missionaries, although I did meet several of the missionaries and was impressed by them.

    “At the time I was superintendent of the Sunday School in the local Baptist church, and I also felt I should complete my term there. But I continued to read about the Church and the restored gospel, and I gave permission for my wife and children to be baptized. When I had completed my obligation to the Baptist church, I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I can honestly say that I have not uncovered one fact to discredit any claim that has ever been made to me by the missionaries.”

    Though branches were small during the 1950s and early 1960s, those who did belong to the Church were eager to share their blessings and testimonies with their friends and neighbors. One such person was a sister who held Primary in her home each week, often with more nonmember than member children attending. As a result, many families learned of the gospel. One such person was Joyce Wile of the Bridgewater Branch. She writes:

    “Even as a child I was very religious. I attended Sunday School but didn’t seem to feel welcome in my church. As I grew up and became aware of my real feelings, I searched for people who felt the same as I did about life, and especially the Word of Wisdom, as I understand it now. Then my daughter was invited to attend Primary in the home of an LDS family in our community. The communication the missionaries at that Primary had with the children really made me feel they were men of God. I felt a deep desire to be needed in a work I could enjoy. I realized as we attended that I had finally found a place to serve my Heavenly Father. And I didn’t dream there were people in the world who didn’t drink and smoke and fight with one another. I was baptized in December 1960, and since then I have had many opportunities to serve. I am now serving as both Primary president and Junior Sunday School coordinator, where I am in constant touch with children.”

    The Church’s emphasis on the family has brought great unity and joy to many convert families in the Maritimes. Margaret Hodder of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, whose husband presides over the Sydney Branch, bears her witness to these truths: “As a mother I am so glad to have the teachings and standards of the Church to guide me in making our home such a peaceful, quiet, and happy place, a place where gospel principles can be taught and where our family can grow up and know what is right.”

    As the Church becomes more firmly established in the Maritime provinces, the Latter-day Saints are finding greater acceptance in their communities and are even enjoying participating in numerous community activities.

    The Halifax Branch decided last year to participate in the community annual charity bazaar held at a local shopping mall. They desired (a) to make the public more aware of the Church, and (b) to raise money for their building fund. Many hours were spent by the sisters in baking and decorating 100 gingerbread houses and in creating doll beds to be sold in their booth. While the Relief Society sisters baked and sewed, the Young Adults of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA worked on building the booth.

    “We learned so much about ourselves and each other,” one sister reported. “Many of us discovered talents we didn’t know we had, and we grew to love and appreciate each other more than ever before.”

    The branch won first prize of $100 for having the best-decorated booth and an additional $50 for having the highest sales at the bazaar. These prizes, combined with their sales, netted almost $900 for the building fund.

    Each year in Moncton the community paints an undercoat on the walls of a railroad underpass in the center of the city and invites groups to submit designs for panels of the underpass. The youth of the Moncton Branch had their design selected for one of the panels, and when it was completed, they proudly signed it “MIA” in big letters for all passers-by to see. In addition, a Latter-day Saint family submitted a design as a family home evening project and it also was accepted.

    In Bridgewater, James C. Aulenbach, who is now serving as Maritime District president, has organized the Tri-Lake Community Sing, which is held each year in a natural amphitheater overlooking a beautiful lake, and choirs from surrounding communities, schools, and churches as well as Bridgewater Branch members participate together in this popular community activity.

    The Canada-Maritimes Mission is in the Washington Temple district, and many members are now looking forward to the blessings of having their families sealed there for time and eternity. In the past many have traveled, at great personal sacrifice and expense, to the Salt Lake or Alberta Temples, both about 3,000 miles away, or even to the London Temple in England, to have these sacred ordinances performed. Now their journeys will be cut by about one third, and they rejoice in the blessings this will bring into their lives.

    Today the Church in the Maritimes is growing—growing in numbers, in leadership, in strength, in spirituality. Faith-promoting stories of conversions could be told by hundreds of members, all testifying of the Lord’s goodness to his children in this beautiful part of the world.

    President Baker expresses the feelings of his family and all those who have been called to labor in this choice mission area:

    “There are thousands of our Father’s children within the confines of this mission who have never heard of the Church or the message of the gospel. Our missionaries are making a determined effort to search them out and share the blessings of the gospel with them. They sense the great responsibility this new mission extends to them.

    “We know that the gospel is true and that it holds the keys of salvation for all mankind. We are very grateful for the privilege of helping take this message to the good people who live here. We are also grateful for the opportunity to assist the Saints in preparing for the day when they can share the joys of stakehood.”

    1. Queen’s Guard Regiment in New Brunswick.

    2. Rocky shoreline on Prince Edward Island.

    3. Open house aids missionary efforts at branch in New Brunswick.

    4. Bridge connecting Halifax and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

    5. MIA youth in Moncton, New Brunswick, participate in community beautification project.

    6. New Brunswick in autumn.

    7. Dinner dance attracts members in New Brunswick.

    8. Moncton Branch leaders and Scouts at flag dedication ceremony.

    9. Fishing fleet on Prince Edward Island.

    10. Heavy snow blankets Maritime Provinces home.

    11. Halifax Branch sisters make gingerbread houses for community fair.

    12. Colorful foliage in Maritime Provinces.

    13. Caribou Maine Branch meetinghouse.

    Show References

    • Sister Knowles, Deseret Book Company editor, is the cultural refinement teacher in the singles’ Relief Society of the Capitol Hill 2nd Ward, Salt Lake Stake.