Saturday is the day the elders quorum of the Annapolis Royal Branch has set aside for cutting wood. Equipped with a power log splitter and three chain saws, the men meet this June morning in the field of a friend of one of the members. The pile of logs near a pond and woods is long and high—a typical sight in this land of trees and inland lakes, where most people burn wood for heat. Having cut 142 cords of wood last year, the men have worked together so often that everyone knows just what to do. They put in their earplugs, pull on their gloves and safety glasses, and get right to work. They move in harmony like a rhythmic machine, cutting, splitting, and stacking wood. Sawdust and sunshine fill the air. Perspiration drips. They are a team.
In the Annapolis Royal Branch, this teamwork, born of tradition and isolation, has carried over into a feeling of family among the 78 members. Solid leadership, commitment to regular home teaching and visiting teaching, an attitude of looking for the good in each other, and service are only a few of the reasons why families in this branch are so blessed. Since 1980, when early members renovated a large, three-story building so they would have a place to worship, working together has been a tradition. Those hours of labor had a “cementing influence on the Saints,” records their branch history, “making them feel as a large family. That feeling has remained as a key factor in this branch and has never diminished.”
Annapolis Royal, founded by the French in 1605, is the oldest permanent European settlement in Canada. Replicas of the 1605 French settlement and the 1635 British fort draw tourists to this eastern maritime province. Winters are long but mild. Spring brings with it the fragrance of flowering bushes and apple blossoms. Neat gardens, clothes drying in the breeze, and carefully preserved century-old homes are proof that the people work hard during their short summers. The nearby Bay of Fundy boasts the highest and lowest tides in the world—falling one foot every 15 minutes. Lighthouses mark the rugged coastline, where fishing has kept many people of this rural area employed for centuries.
Within the last decade, however, the economy suffered a double loss. “A lot of people lost their jobs when the military base at Cornwallis closed down and when restrictions were placed on fishing,” says Michael Yaciuk, elders quorum president and a retired military man. “People love it here, but the lack of jobs is forcing some to go even though this has been their home for generations.”
Latter-day Saints here have lost jobs also, but like a family they help one another. “We’ve been fortunate as a branch because we’re all used to working in the woods and hayfields and doing carpentry and plumbing. That gives a feller a little bit of diversity when it comes to finding jobs,” says Roland Hamilton, a counselor in the branch presidency and a fisherman who started his own business. “We hire branch members first, if we can use them. It helps them, and it helps us,” he says of his eel fishery, which employs as many as 20 people catching baby eels, called elvers. Shipped to Hong Kong, the elvers are dispersed from there to the Asian market.
Other members are equally generous. Philip Lewis, a carpenter, builds everything from picture frames to homes. Since work with Brother Hamilton is seasonal, Brother Lewis can often help by offering work to others in the fishing off-season.
Norman and Joy Naime, in their desire to protect the environment, started the Great Oaks clothing factory, which makes T-shirts and other clothing using recycled cotton and natural dyes. Brother Naime, who teaches Gospel Doctrine class, employs 15 workers at Great Oaks, including several members. He echoes Brother Hamilton as he says, “When you help others, it comes back to you and helps the whole branch and the community.”
Stephen Maxwell, president of the Dartmouth Nova Scotia Stake, speaks highly of the Annapolis Royal Branch. “Thirty-one families live within the boundaries, which extend about 90 miles along the coast,” he says. “They have nearly outgrown the Phase 1 building where they have met since 1987. Nearly every adult is a convert. Most have a temple recommend even though the closest temple is a 13-hour drive to Toronto. Though unemployment is high in the area, members faithfully pay their tithes and offerings.”
The branch is unusual in that it is made up almost entirely of families. They willingly support President William Goucher, a retired school principal, who is like a father to this branch. His leadership, like the needlepoint he enjoys doing, is firm and even, and it wins him the love and respect of others. “The gospel gives us standards,” he says. “There is no doubt what they are and what the Lord expects.”
Seven branch members have served missions since 1989. “They are like my children,” says President Goucher, who writes monthly to every missionary and university student, and even to past missionary couples.
Many people benefit from the loving service of Latter-day Saints in Annapolis Royal. “When someone has a problem, help is immediate and we do not let it go until it is finished,” says President Goucher. “Our members have learned that they can help each other without always calling me. It’s important to keep the circular flow of service.”
The Naimes remember when they moved into a large, old home in Annapolis Royal from Barbados, where, in 1978, Norman was the first person baptized in that country. “I had to remove the chimney and it left a big hole in my roof,” says Brother Naime. “That weekend Brother Lewis and six elders came with hammers in hand and fixed my roof. I was touched. It was the first time I ever felt brotherly love outside of my family. Now, after years of going on work projects myself, I realize that when every man helps his brother it draws them closer together.”
One of the most extensive and long-term community projects in which branch members are involved is the area food bank. It was organized in 1992 by the Annapolis Area Council of Churches when the military closed the base at Cornwallis and 600 people lost their jobs. Following President Goucher’s lead, Latter-day Saints serve on the board of directors and work as volunteers.
Home teaching and visiting teaching require sacrifice, but promised blessings flow to the branch. Unity within the branch increased after President Goucher challenged members in 1993 to do their home and visiting teaching every month. Visits grew from 30 percent a month to nearly 100 percent, where it has remained. Priesthood holders visit about five families each, and Relief Society sisters visit up to six members. The longest route is a 50-mile round-trip.
In an unusual set of circumstances, the Annapolis Royal Branch has three women with multiple sclerosis. All three live in nursing homes; nevertheless, these sisters have home and visiting teachers. Since these ladies cannot attend branch meetings, members visit them—a different family every month.
Watching “over the Church” through consistent home teaching and visiting teaching has helped members here “see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting nor evil speaking” (D&C 20:53–54). In Annapolis Royal, the link between regular home and visiting teaching and the lack of gossip, with the resulting unity, is evident. “We work at avoiding gossip in our branch and encourage members to go to each other if there are hurt feelings and talk it out,” says Sister Lewis, who serves as Relief Society president.
Sister Naime agrees. “We have very little gossip in our branch. I remember at one point a problem started, but President Goucher spoke about it in sacrament meeting and it stopped. We feel a certain comfort here with few negative feelings. Regular home and visiting teaching helps us get to know each other. Our financial struggles keep us humble. Living in a rural area, we are used to pulling together. I don’t think I could have become as ‘other-oriented’ as I am now if I hadn’t moved here.”
Primary president Adele Thompson, who is always ready with a wide smile and a hug, says, “We love each other and try to spend time together having fun.” Three times a year, the branch has a party at the Thompsons’ home, which is on an inland lake. Bob is a photographer who retired from the Canadian air force and has a small photo studio in his home. The Thompsons are generous with what they have. Members ice-skate in the winter, boil corn in the fall, and roast hot dogs in the summer.
Nearly everyone came to the Saturday evening party last June. They brought salads, baked beans, and chips. Kids jumped on the trampoline. Mothers with babies on their laps sat in the shade of a tree near the pier and talked. Fathers took turns teaching their youngsters how to paddle a canoe in the lake. Teens rode Brother Hamilton’s jet ski. Some of the men built a fire near the pier, and soon everyone was roasting hot dogs and eating. Gradually the warm light of the setting sun began to reflect off the lake. Smoke from the dying fire drifted through the air. Members gathered in small groups and talked quietly as the children chased fireflies. In the morning they would meet at church and teach one another the gospel, sing together, pray together, and plan for future activities, but tonight they relaxed as friends. Members of this small branch in Annapolis Royal have become a spiritual family—a team that enjoys the programs of the Church and a rich outpouring of the spirit of the gospel.