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 and 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.
New members of the Church throughout the world long for, and then celebrate the building and dedication of their own meetinghouse. Today, for most Canadians, the days of longing, labouring and celebrating our new buildings are only a memory. But for the first members in Canada the wait was long, the obstacles to building were many and, when the dedicated building was one they could call their own, it was a time of great rejoicing.
It is good for us who enjoy our precious chapels and cultural halls and to be reminded of the sacrifices made by our predecessors to ensure that we would have our own buildings.
At the dedication of the chapel on 41st Avenue in Vancouver, in 1952, President David O. McKay said, “Therefore when we build let us think that we build forever. . . Let it be such work that our descendants will thank us for it and let us think as we lay stone on stone that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them.”
There have been three chapels built and dedicated during my personal church experience and each process was different.
The first was in Timmins, Ontario in 1962. We were a group of about 60 members who had met first in members’ homes, then in the Oddfellows’ Hall, and finally in our own first phase building. Branch members worked hard and sacrificed much to put that building up. We raised a good portion of the necessary funds; we helped clear the property, kept it tidy during the working process, and did whatever we could to hasten its completion. Today that building has been enlarged to serve as a Stake Centre.
Timmins, Ontario Stake Centre. The section on the right is the first phase constructed in 1960.
I attended the dedication of the Burnaby, British Columbia Stake Centre in 1966. While I did not participate in its construction I heard the stories of what it took to bring it to the point where it could be dedicated.
As it neared completion and the dedication was scheduled to take place two weeks later, the stake still owed the Church $70,000 as its portion of the cost of the building. Keith M. Humphreys, president of the Vancouver Stake, wanted to turn over the building to the Lord free and clear of debt. He called a special meeting for all the priesthood holders in the stake and stressed his desire to have the building completely paid for before its dedication He then asked the congregation to consider how much each member could donate and then asked them to “double that figure.” He promised that if they did so, they would be greatly blessed. That afternoon $28,000 was pledged, and over the next two weeks, members showed their great faith as the goal came in sight. One little girl gave all the money she was saving to buy an aquarium. A less-active member donated the money he had set aside for his burial. Through their faith, the Vancouver members raised $70,000 in only two weeks, and on 22 October 1967, N. Eldon Tanner was able to dedicate their gift to the Lord. (Ruth Yates, “Canadian Mormons, An Illustrated History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada”, Chapter 7)
The last building, I watched being built was a chapel in Merritt, in the Vernon, BC Stake. The members there had been meeting in a commercial building when we were told in 2008 that we would get a building of our own. We were delighted to watch the process of the beautiful chapel being constructed. We did not do any of the work ourselves, nor did we have to raise any of the funds. All that was required of us was to enjoy it and invite our friends and neighbours to join us. While the process of acquiring a building has changed over the years, what they represent in terms of our worship and commitment to serve has not changed.
In Calgary, in 1935, the members were suffering through the Depression years, but were anxious to have a building. They managed to raise the 50% share that was required, salvaged building materials and put in long hours of labour. Unemployed church members worked on the site during the day, employed members worked in the evening. The basement was dug out with picks and shovels. “Despite the strenuous work Church members donated of their labor and means willingly and cheerfully with the usual co-operative spirit. (Linda Davis, “Canadian Mormons, An Illustrated History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada”, Chapter 9)
The chapel on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton was built between 1948 and 1951 and was claimed to be “the only stake centre built on chocolates.” As branch members sacrificed and worked diligently together they developed a “remarkable spirit of love and harmony” that in turn sparked tremendous growth in that city. (Walter C. Meyer, “Canadian Mormons, An Illustrated History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada”, Chapter 10)
In Cranbrook, British Columbia, the members were meeting in this old log house beside a fast moving stream. Knowing that they needed a proper facility they began working to raise funds for it. Their branch president George Atwood and his wife, Eliza, travelling on bumpy roads in their truck visited all the member farmers within 50 miles looking for donations for the building fund. He got the same answer everywhere he went, “No Money.” However, George said, “If you don’t have any money, you do have calves, pigs, sheep, chickens.” He would take whatever they would give him. It took many day-long trips to pick up all the donated livestock and deliver them to buyers. Two hundred people attended the dedication for the new chapel in the spring of 1949.
Hopeful discussions regarding the building of a meetinghouse in remote Fort Saint James, BC began in 1961. By 1964, branch members had raised enough funds to purchase an old Hudson Bay Store that had been left empty in the town. The members moved it onto some property they had acquired, renovated and refinished it to turn it into a beautiful meetinghouse that was dedicated in June 1967.
This Northern Interior Branch was dissolved in 1972 when the mill closed and many of the members moved away. The remaining members joined the Vanderhoof Branch, forty miles to the south. The large meetinghouse became too expensive to maintain and was sold. It became the courthouse and government office building for Fort St. James. The proceeds made it possible to build a new meetinghouse in Vanderhoof.
The members in Fort St. John in northern British Columbia list many fundraising projects they held in order to build their first-phase meetinghouse in 1976, such as selling homemade chili and root beer at the local rodeo, chocolate making at Christmastime, bazaars and bake sales, selling hand-stitched quilts, and harvesting member-grown potatoes. The familiar memory from that busy time was, “How very blessed we were.”
Having their own building, one the members had sacrificed to construct, meant so much to them. Now they could plan and carry out ambitious activities for children, youth, and adults. In the 1950s and 1960s, because chapels were few and far between, members were drawn to the chapels from long distances to participate in activities that included dance festivals, theatrical productions, gold and green balls, sporting events, and quarterly conferences.
The organization of Stakes with its auxiliary leaders and larger Stake Centres further enabled social and cultural activities that drew members together for both spiritual enlightenment and entertainment. These activities provided training ground for leaders, strengthened social bonds and taught members to serve and love one another.
Using the building replaced the financial costs and labour that had united the Saints in the past as they worked to provide these buildings for us. Let’s not take for granted the facilities we now have in place in most parts of the country and demonstrate by our devotion and willingness to serve that we are grateful for the sacrifices that were made for us.