News Release

Celebrating 200,000 Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada

From its humble beginnings in Ontario, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada has expanded to include 200,000 members living across the country.

Since its earliest converts joined in Eastern Canada in 1830, the Church in Canada has come full circle. In the mid-19th century, nearly all the early Canadian Latter-day Saints joined the migration of Saints to Utah, where the Church is currently headquartered. In the late 19th century, Latter-day Saints returned to Western Canada as pioneer settlers, and some slowly migrated back to Eastern Canada. Other Canadian members joined the Church through missionary efforts or emigrated from other countries. Canadian Latter-day Saints are now found coast to coast.

Church membership numbers in Canada may be small compared with the overall membership of the global Church. However, historically, Canada has played an integral role in providing essential leadership since the Church’s early days and served as a place of refuge in the pioneer era.

Church’s First Missionaries Outside the United States

Canada was the first country outside the United States to receive missionaries from the then-fledgling church. In 1832, missionaries travelled north to Kingston, Ontario, from upstate New York, where the Church was founded in 1830. They preached the message of the Restoration and baptized new members. Other missionaries visited Quebec and the Maritime provinces. Between 1830 and 1850, approximately 2,500 residents of Eastern Canada joined the Church. But by 1861, only 73 members of the Church remained in Ontario, according to the Ontario census.

This drastic decrease in Church members came about because most of the new converts left Canada to gather with the main body of the Church in the United States, under the direction of the prophet Joseph Smith and, later, Brigham Young. The Saints gathered mainly in Kirtland, Ohio; various counties in Missouri; Nauvoo, Illinois; and eventually Utah. Some have wondered how much larger the Church might have become in Canada if so many of its early members had not migrated southwest.

Historian Helen Warner, a native of Ontario and Church member, says simply, “It wouldn’t have worked if they’d stayed here. They had to gather with the other Saints to build Zion. It was important for them to join the big group in the trek west and have their faith strengthened. God wanted them to go. If you know what God wants you to do, you do it. That’s who we are as members of the Church.”

Warner only wishes that more people knew that so many of the Church’s early leaders came from Ontario. “Records only mention their birthplace, such as in England, Scotland or the U.S., and where they died, such as in Salt Lake City,” said Warner, contributor to a book titled Canadian Mormons: History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada.

A Second Canadian Migration

Beginning in about 1887, many members of the Church began migrating north to find safe haven and economic opportunity in Canada. The Church’s then-practice of polygamy had been declared illegal in the U.S. and anyone found practicing it was prosecuted.

“The Canadian government didn’t approve of polygamy, but they needed people to settle southern Alberta,” said Rebecca Doig, a historian and Church member in Magrath, Alberta. “So, they welcomed the fleeing Saints, at the same time making sure not to be seen as being easy on polygamy or doing favours. The new settlers were allowed to keep one wife in Canada, and the government turned a blind eye to the fact they might have another wife elsewhere.”

Southern Alberta’s arid climate made farming very difficult for the newcomers. But early Latter-day Saint settlers understood irrigation and collaborated with Church leaders and local businesspeople to build canals that would divert water from nearby rivers to their crops. As part of the irrigation project, settlements were built in Magrath and Stirling, but the newcomers needed more help with canal building and settling the land.

Called to Serve

Church leaders in Utah began sending members to Alberta on missions to help build the canals. According to Doig, a cluster of small settlements popped up. Some of those who were called to serve missions in Canada ended up staying, but others found living conditions too harsh and eventually returned to the U.S. Others began coming to Canada voluntarily when they recognized the opportunities to homestead, ranch, build industries (such as the sugar beet production in Raymond, Alberta) or pursue education and employment in its cities.

“The vast majority of people who came to Alberta were not polygamists, only the very first ones,” Doig added.

Although there was prejudice initially from locals toward the early Church settlers in Canada, the government and local business leaders appreciated them for their potential to help colonize the area. “After polygamy officially ended in 1890, just a few years after their arrival, members of the Church [in Canada] became well accepted and were involved in local politics and business,” Doig said.

Southern Alberta, Seedbed for the Church in Canada

In time, the Alberta settlements became the seedbed for the spread of the Church throughout all of Canada. By 1923, when the Cardston Alberta Temple was dedicated, almost 9,500 members were living in about 20 communities. It was the first temple built in Canada and the first temple constructed by the Church outside the U.S.

Many of these communities — such as Magrath, Cardston and Raymond — are still predominantly populated by members of the Church. “We are the Utah of Canada,” jokes David Goldthorpe, Church member and Magrath resident.

Since the early 20th century, the Church has expanded across all of Canada, making significant contributions in communities coast to coast, largely through the result of missionary work, aided by the migration of Saints from Alberta and elsewhere.

Current Statistics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada compose about two per cent of the population.

Population of Canada: 35,540,419
Church Membership: 200,430
Missions: 6
Congregations: 495
Temples: 9
Family History Centres: 152
Percent of population to membership: 0.53 per cent, or 1 in every 191 people

Contributed by Gail Newbold, Canada Communication Council

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