Toronto: A Growing Light in the East


Marjori Innis, now in her eighties, remembers the days when the LDS missionary work in Eastern Canada was conducted in open-air meetings, rented halls, or theaters. There were years of holding regular Sunday meetings in those rented halls. Sometimes Church members would have to make way for a convention or a dog show, moving their meetings upstairs to smaller quarters. And it was common, before Sunday meetings could begin, to have to clean up debris from whatever activity had taken place in the hall on Saturday night.

When President Heber J. Grant dedicated the first LDS chapel in Eastern Canada, in Toronto in 1939, Sister Innis was among the five hundred members of the Toronto Branch.

Gladys Willmott remembers when Toronto’s single branch was divided in the 1950s to create a second Church unit in the city. Sister Willmott was one of a number of Latter-day Saints who had immigrated to Canada from Britain after World War II. Like Marjori Innis and other Canadian-born members, these immigrant Saints lent their strengths to the Church in the Toronto area.

Sister Willmott recalls fondly the enthusiasm of youth in the branches, the dedication of leaders and teachers. Members sacrificed willingly to fulfill their callings. To attend Relief Society leadership meetings, for example, a group of sisters would have to make an all-day trip, leaving early in the morning, driving to Detroit, and returning late at night.

What a joyous day it was for these and other dedicated members when the first stake in Eastern Canada was organized in Toronto in 1960! A young leader named Thomas S. Monson presided over the mission at the time. Now he is Second Counselor in the First Presidency, and the mission area over which he presided includes 10 stakes, 4 districts, 3 missions, and 113 LDS meetinghouses. Four more chapels and a temple are under construction.

Still, some of those stakes are geographically quite large. For example, the Brampton Ontario Stake, in which the Toronto Temple is being constructed, is about 75 miles (125 kilometers) wide, and about 135 miles (215 kilometers) long. Members in its most northern unit must travel two and one-half hours to stake conference.

Toronto, with a population of 2.5 million, is Canada’s largest city. It is the financial and industrial center of the nation. With 7 stakes and 24,000 Church members in the area, Toronto also sits at the hub of Canada’s largest concentration of LDS stakes east of Alberta. (Half the Church membership in Canada live in Alberta.)

John W. Hardy served under President Monson as a young missionary. Today he is president of the Canada Toronto Mission. Since his first mission, the number of local leaders and the quality of Church programs have both grown tremendously, President Hardy says. “People are more aware today of the Church and its standards. There are fewer misconceptions. Twenty-five years ago, no one even dreamed of a temple being built here.”

Three decades ago, most members in the area had roots in the British Isles. Today, Latter-day Saints in Toronto reflect the area’s ethnic diversity.

Kit Singh and his family, for example, joined the Church in 1987, after the mission president turned a fender-bender car accident into a teaching opportunity. Brother Singh, an oilfield worker, is of East Indian ancestry but was born in Trinidad. “We belong to a unique Church,” he says. “I checked other denominations and found some good things, but I found the Church very attractive because of the teachings—the importance of family life, self-reliance, and being prepared.”

Elvi Deguzman is a Filipina nanny who came to Canada via Israel, where she had lived with her brother. On a visit to the Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane near Jerusalem, she had prayed earnestly for a witness of the truth of the Savior’s life and of the existence of Heavenly Father. She had received a warm spiritual assurance.

But a few months later she found herself caught up in Jerusalem’s night life, seeking the things of the world. Elvi continued in that life-style when she moved to Canada. But one of her co-workers stood out; the woman did not take part in partying, and she always carried her Bible and another scripture book with her. That co-worker was the means of introducing Sister Deguzman to the Church. In prayer, after listening to the missionaries, Elvi felt the same witness that had come to her in the Garden of Gethsemane.

After she joined the Church, her sister, visiting from Israel, noticed a difference. “There is something in you. You are so happy here,” she said. Elvi was glad to explain the reasons—all night long. Five days later, her sister joined the Church. Elvi’s patriarchal blessing promised that she would share the gospel with her friends and associates. She has helped bring three of them into the Church.

Clloyd Burns, who is mission leader in his east Toronto ward, joined the Church years ago as a teenager, after immigrating from Jamaica. “Attending Church [for the first time] was like coming home after a long vacation, where your family loves and cares about you. After the testimony meeting, I wanted to tell someone I wanted to be baptized, but I didn’t know who to tell. At the next discussion, my grandmother told the missionaries that her grandson wanted to be baptized.” He later had the opportunity to serve a mission.

Howard and Rhona Sandy joined the Church with their daughters in 1980. Since then, they have been sealed in the temple. Howard teaches early-morning seminary in their ward and loves teaching the gospel. As he learns more about the gospel, his appreciation for the gathering of Israel grows.

“All of that which was spoken of and promised by the Old and New Testament prophets finds its fulfillment in the house of Israel and its ensign, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he affirms.

William M. Davies, president of that first stake created in the Toronto area, has witnessed the development of the Church here during the past twenty-eight years. Now in his seventies, he is patriarch of the Toronto Ontario Stake. “The work has speeded up,” he says. “A lot of fine people have come into the Church. The manner in which members contributed so quickly to the temple is an indication of the faithfulness of the Saints.”

The temple. It keeps coming up in conversation. It is a focal point for members in Eastern Canada right now. It will serve sixty thousand Latter-day Saints in Canada and the northeastern United States. Its effect is apparent in the lives of many Canadian members, says Alex G. Barclay, president of the Brampton Ontario Stake. There is increased interest in family history research, he explains. “People are arranging their affairs to facilitate more temple work. Some are even planning to move closer to or retire close to the temple.”

Darryl and Faye Dabrowski are among those who have moved to be near the temple. Since she joined the Church in her late teens, this has been one of Faye’s dreams. “There is no place in the world to get closer to the Lord than in the temple,” she explains.

President Monson and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve officiated at the groundbreaking for the Toronto Temple in 1987. Both had served as mission presidents in Toronto. The construction of a temple, President Monson said during those ceremonies, “is the ultimate mark of maturity of an area pertaining to the establishment of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He told Canadian members of the penetrating question put by President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, as the question of constructing a temple in Eastern Canada was considered by the Council of the Twelve. President Hinckley turned to President Monson and Elder Ballard and asked: “Can you guarantee we’ll have enough members in Ontario to keep a temple busy?”

President Monson responded, “Brother Hinckley, we’ll have more than enough members in the city of Toronto, without considering Ontario. I’ll guarantee it, and Brother Ballard will second the matter.”

In the 1830s, early missionary work in the Toronto area brought into the young Church members who lent their strength. (They included such men as John Taylor and Joseph Fielding—both instrumental in opening missionary work in the British Isles.) But Latter-day Saints were drained away from Upper Canada as they gathered to Nauvoo and then migrated westward with the rest of the Church.

Today, Latter-day Saints are a growing presence in Ontario, particularly in the Toronto area. And they are looking forward to that day of growth foreseen by President Monson.

[photos] Photography by Welden Andersen

[photo] Toronto family history enthusiasts at a family history seminar held at the Brampton Stake Center in Etobicoke.

[photo] The Hernandez family are among the Latter-day Saints who live in the Toronto area. Here (from left to right), Karla, Maria, Ron, Ivonne, and Elisa hold a family home evening.

[photos] The Ossington chapel, the first built in eastern Canada. (Backdrop) A part of the Toronto skyline, with Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) in the foreground.

[photos] The Canadian flag flies proudly in the breeze. Latter-day Saints in Toronto—including Marjori Innis (left, inset) and Sam Baker (right), president of the Toronto Ontario Stake—look forward to the construction of the Toronto Ontario Temple at the northwest corner of Bramalea and Bovard Roads (left).

Richard Robertson is director of the LDS Public Communications office in Toronto. He is a high councilor in the Brampton Ontario Stake.