News Story

Pioneer Trek Re-enacted by Mormon Youth in Canada

Youth from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently completed a four-day historical re-enactment — a simulated journey of early Church pioneers.

With Chief Mountain as a backdrop, trail boss Eric Peterson led youth, organized into “families,” through 16 kilometres of heavy terrain, mud holes, washouts, steep hills and deep ruts in the foothills near Waterton–Glacier International Peace Park.

Mormon youth in Canada are increasingly taking part in pioneer treks that commemorate the Mormon pioneers’ flight from religious persecution in the Midwest to the Salt Lake Valley in the mid-19th century.

The girls dressed in bonnets and long skirts and the boys wore suspenders and broad-brimmed hats as they towed heavy wooden handcarts along the trail. They constructed shelters out of tarps and twine in the rain and ate cornmeal mush while wearing sodden clothes. The youth enjoyed pioneer games and activities including log sawing, black powder rifle shooting, candle making and a lively old-fashioned hoedown in the evening.

The experience was life changing for 16-year-old Dayn Phin. “It gave me the experience to walk in the pioneers’ shoes and a chance to connect with them and what they were dealing with. …[It] has given me memories to recall for years to come that will help me continue to push along and endure through the hard times.”

Local Church event chairs Judy and Ritchie Whitehead said that one of the highlights was watching the groups of families become cohesive units. “We were pleased with the way the families bonded and worked together.”

Mormon pioneers began leaving Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846 to escape persecution. About 70,000 pioneers made the trek in covered wagons or on horseback to the Salt Lake Valley. Another 3,000 came by handcart. The excruciating trek and mass exodus remains a defining narrative of Mormon identity and spirituality.

At one point during the trek, Whitehead explained the plights of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, which ran out of provisions and experienced difficulty after leaving too late in the season. Each youth was given a small bag of four ounces of flour, representing the daily ration given to the pioneers. “This is a very small amount of food and was a very sobering thought. Our trekkers were then given an apple, a small piece of cheese and a piece of jerky for their lunch. This seemed like an abundant meal in comparison.”

As the youth trekked along, they were each given a short biography about the life of an actual pioneer. Phin said, “I gained a deeper understanding of the importance of the gospel in my life and the significance of our ancestors. I realized how what they did long ago and the difficulties they went through affect us today and continue to bless us.”

Adult leaders Matt and Lily Sherwood acted as “Pa” and “Ma” for one of the families. “What stood out most to us was that for those four days, nothing else mattered. We had no electronics, no communication with the outside world and few luxuries. Stripping out all of the noise of the world gave a singular purpose. … It didn't matter if it rained, hailed, was muddy or if our pit roast dinner didn't cook properly. Everyone knew that we were experiencing something unique and wonderful.”

In 1883 a group of pioneers left Utah to help lay track for the Canadian Pacific Railway and eventually settled Cardston, Alberta, among many other settlements. In 1895 the Alberta Stake (similar to a diocese) was the first stake created outside the U.S.

Local Church leaders encourage youth to participate in pioneer treks so they can understand the sacrifice early members of the Church have made, as well as provide positive examples of courage and faith. Mormons pay tribute to the early pioneers, who remained faithful in the face of oppression, who made great sacrifices for their beliefs and whose resourcefulness and resilience ultimately brought them to a new home where they could worship in peace.


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