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Canada 150: Homesteading in Saskatchewan

Submitted by: Mary (Poterieko) Yawney, Visiting Teacher, Raymond Alberta Stake

Sod roof log cabin

Editor’s note: In commemoration of Canada’s 150th anniversary a project was undertaken by missionaries Roy and Carma Prete to compile a book depicting the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Canada. Several writers authored chapters describing separate aspects or periods of that history.

That book, titled “Canadian Mormons: History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada,” has been completed and has now been released.

With the Pretes’ permission, a number of the authors were contacted and invited to provide articles based on, or related to their chapters in the book. The following is one of those articles.

We at canada.lds.org wish to extend our appreciation to Brother and Sister Prete for their kind assistance and for allowing this to happen, and to the authors who have agreed to participate.

Raised on a homestead

My parents came to Canada in the spring of 1927 from Lvov, Western Ukraine. Lvov is the biggest city in Ukraine. The Canadian government gave them 160 acres of free land to homestead in the northern Saskatchewan bush country. Dad had to chop down many huge trees before he could build a log cabin.

I was born one year later in that log cabin on the first day of May 1928. It was a very rainy day and the cabin did not have a very good roof. It was a sod roof that they cut from the grass fields. My Mom said that there wasn’t a dry spot in that cabin to lay her baby down. She held me in her arms day and night until the roof stopped leaking.

Two years later my Dad built another much larger log cabin, with two large rooms, a large porch, shingles on the roof, glass windows, factory made doors and a floor that was made of boards, not clay like the first one.

My parents belonged to the Ukrainian Catholic church and our homestead was near a Ukrainian Catholic community. While I was growing up we went to the church every Sunday. We never missed church.

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Love of the Bible

About five years after my parents came to Canada a Seventh Day Adventist came to see my Dad and gave him a Bible and he wanted to read it. The whole church congregation found out about it and started talking. The Priest said that he better get rid of it or he will be out of the church. No body except the Priest could have a Bible. My Mom told my Dad to get rid of the Bible. She said, “Destroy it.” My dad loved his Bible and would not destroy it. He hid it in the forest in a hollow tree and would sneak into the woods to read it. He said he read it ten times, over and over.

I got married at 17 years of age. My mother arranged my marriage because she was so afraid that I would marry someone outside of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. I had been dating boys that belonged to other religions and my mother was not happy with that. She said that she was going to find me a man. I was going to run away from home. My mother said, “If you want to run away from home go, but if you get into trouble don’t come back. Why do you want to run away when I have found a good man that can provide for you?”

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I decided to stay and marry him. His name was Paul Yawney and he was very good to me; he was perfect for me. My husband built me up; he treated me like I was the queen. He was a Ukrainian Catholic and we lived in a Ukrainian Catholic community. He was 15 years older than me and he had lots of money [she said laughing].

After I got married, the first thing I wanted was to get a Bible. I wanted to know what my Dad was reading. My Dad was a very good man. He never smoked in his life and he did not use alcoholic drinks. I did not know what a Bible was, but I knew my Dad would not read bad books. “What is a Bible?” I thought and, “Why was my Dad reading it if it was such a bad book?”

Shortly after we were married, two Baptist missionaries knocked on our door in rural Saskatchewan. They asked me if I had a Bible; I said that I did not. They said if I would promise them that I would read the Bible, they would give it to me as a gift. I told them I would read it and they gave me the Bible.

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I started reading it at once, and I was so touched that I cried and cried. I thought to myself, “What a beautiful book, and my Dad had to hide it in a hollow tree and sneak to read it.”

After reading the Bible, I started to search for the true church. I studied with every church that I could think of. I even read up on Buddhism and the Hindu religion. I looked for the true church for twenty years.

Eventually, when our two oldest children, seventeen year old Rosaline and fifteen year old David, were going to a Catholic boarding school, I told my husband that there was no future for our six children out there in the bush of northern Saskatchewan. I said we needed to move to Yorkton, and that I would keep on searching for the true church. My husband told me, “You can shoot me, you can cut my throat but I will not leave the Catholic church.”

We sold our 320 acres and all our implements. We loaded up the U-Haul and headed for Yorkton. A local farmer allowed us to stay in an empty house while we were building our house. We moved into our house before it was finished, and it had no front steps or driveway.

Two missionaries

One day I saw two missionaries walking down the sidewalk across the street from us. No one would let them in. I was thinking to myself. “Why don’t they knock on my door. I’ll let them in.”

A few days later they showed up on our side of the street. Elder Shamo and Elder Palmer were tired, hungry and discouraged. They had looked at our house and decided no one lived there as there were no front steps and no driveway.

They had started walking back to their apartment when the still small voice stopped them. Elder Shamo said to Elder Palmer, “Lets go back to that unfinished house,” and Elder Palmer felt the same way. They came, knocked on our door and I came to the door.

I knew they were sent by God. Elder Shamo told me that The Church of Jesus Christ had been restored to the earth. I felt the spirit so strong that I knew what he said was true.

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They set an appointment and gave me a Book of Mormon. My husband, Paul, came home and I told him that the missionaries were coming. When they came back they gave the first discussion to Paul, Eugenia, Konrad, Joseph, Cathenia and myself. All the children felt the spirit.

I was waiting for Paul to put up a big fight with the missionaries. He used to fight with all the other churches like the Jehovah Witness and Seventh-Day Adventists. I asked him why he did not say anything to the missionaries. He said that he felt something that he had never felt before.

After the missionaries had left, Paul was very confused. He could not get over what they had told him. They told him that Christ’s Church was not found on the earth for many years and that is why it had to be restored through the prophet Joseph Smith.

Paul did not know who to believe. Who was right? Was it the Ukrainian Catholic Church, or was it the restored church. Which was the true church?

My husband saw a vision

I told him that he did not have to listen to me and he did not have to listen to the missionaries. I told him to go down into the basement where it was nice and quiet and ask the Lord through prayer.

He went down to the basement and started to pray.

He later said that the room lit up and light flashed through his whole body. On the wall, he saw people; it seemed like it was summer and several men were standing around on green grass in a forest. He could not figure out what that could mean. He did not tell this to anyone, not even to me. He pondered upon it and kept it all to himself.

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The next day, the missionaries came and showed the very same slide that he had already seen on the wall the night before. He asked the missionaries who these men were and they told him that it was the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon. He then knew the Church was true.

Every time the missionaries came to teach us more, our whole house was filled with the spirit of the Lord. It seemed as if our whole house was on fire. (See “The Spirit of God, Hymn #2”)

Two weeks after our first meeting, in September of 1965, the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints baptized Paul, David, Konrad, Eugenia and myself. A few months later our eldest daughter Rosaline was baptized as well.

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A year after our baptism, in 1966, our entire family travelled to Cardston, Alberta to be sealed as a family forever in the Alberta Temple.

A Family Legacy in the Church

We have now been members of the Church for 51 years and there are now 67 members of our family. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been a great blessing in our lives and in the lives of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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Paul and myself filled a year and a half mission. All three of our sons, David, Konrad and Joseph, have filled two year missions proclaiming the gospel to the world. Our youngest daughter, Mary Ann, has filled a year and a half mission. Five of our grandsons, Jeremy, James, Matt, Mark and Lucas, have filled two year missions. A granddaughter, Tamara, filled a year and a half mission. There are many more that are currently preparing to go on missions in the future.

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We moved from Saskatchewan to Cardston in June of 1998. Paul passed away on April 14, 2000. He was 83 years old at the time of his passing. We would have celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary in November 2000.

We had a most exciting life together. We worked together, we laughed together and we cried together. We went to the Church together. We raised our eight children together. We went through trials together. We lived through the good times and the bad times.

Our experiences in life made us strong. It is comforting to know that our family will be together forever because of the blessing of the temple.