Canadian Mormons by Roy and Carma Prete: Interview with the Authors by Erin Gazdik

A valuable new contribution to the history of the Latter-day Saints will be published this month. Canadian Mormons: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada edited by Roy and Carma Prete (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2017) details the important role Canada and Canadian Mormons have played during LDS history. Missions “without purse or scrip” to Canada began in the early 1830s, and after many vital contributions to the growth of the Church over the decades, Canada continues to be a source of strength in the Church. It’s great to see a volume giving attention to this important part of the Church.

Many thanks to the editors, the 21 authors who contributed to the volume, and the many others who contributed to this work.

Courtesy of Erin Gazdik with the Religious Studies Center at BYU, I am able to share a recent interview Erin conducted with the authors in preparation for the launch of this book. You can order it now on Deseret Book, and I’ll add a link to Amazon when that becomes available.


Interview of Roy and Carma Prete by Erin Gazdkik, Aug. 21, 2017

Erin Gazdik: My name is Erin Gazdik and I am a marketing and media specialist at BYU Religious Studies Center. It is my pleasure to interview today a couple who have played a major role in the creation of a new book, which will be of particular interest to Canadians, or anyone with a Canadian connection. Would you be so kind as to introduce yourselves and your role in writing the new book?

Roy: My name is Roy Prete, and I am one of the editors of the book, Canadian Mormons: History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada, which will be published this October 2017.

Carma: I am Carma Prete. I am married to Roy Prete, and I am also an editor of this Canadian Mormons book, which is coming out soon.

Erin: I am interested to know what inspired you to write this book on Latter-day Saint history in Canada.

Roy: In Canada, where we live, we have fragments of Latter-day Saint history, such as stake histories, and some ward histories, but no overall history has been written since 1968, which is 49 years. So it’s a long time; such a book is much overdue.

Carma: The Church has changed a lot in the last 49 years.

Roy: In 1966, there were 50,015 members of the Church, and there were nine stakes and one temple. And now there are 195,000 members of the Church, spread all across the country, with eight temples and one under construction. So this is a tremendous opportunity to tell the whole story.

Erin: Very interesting! So please tell me briefly what the book is about.

Carma: This book tells the story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada. It’s mostly an historical book. It takes the history from the very earliest preaching in Canada in 1829, all the way to the present. It covers the history of the Church in each province. And there are some other chapters that are more analytical, that give the whole picture and talk about demographics and various other issues.

Erin: This covers a very broad topic over a long period of time. I’d be interested to know how the book was written and to learn about its main features, some of which I understand are quite innovative.

Roy: The preparation of this book involved a team of 40 people. There are 21 authors. It is a collective book written by people living in the field and whose research was combined with that done at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City—the equivalent of four years of research for one person. About 50 oral history interviews are cited in the book. It is really quite an academic book, peer-reviewed, and it is written to the academic standard. It is also an astounding book in that it is made to read like an illustrated book, so that it has in it 512 photographs, 94 maps, charts, and graphs, and about 100 sidebars. When you pick it up, every page—or every two pages at least—has some kind of visual material, with captions. It is beautifully designed. The design originated with Stephen Hales Creative, professional people in Provo, Utah. We are really quite excited about it. Anybody can read the chapter that interests them and get the gist of the rest of it by seeing the photos and the captions.

Erin: Carma, what was the hardest part of writing this book for you and what was the best part for you in producing this book?

Carma: There were a lot of hard parts. It took a lot of effort to do the research. It was not a superficial research job. We were working in the Church Archives and looking for records, and then looking for photographs and tracking down who were in the photographs and who took the photographs and getting permissions. That was very time-intensive. Probably the thing that I enjoyed the most about it was researching about the early history, the early period of missionary work in Canada. The history of the Church in Ontario, Canada, is very, very rich. That’s where the first missionaries that ever served outside the United States came—to Ontario, Canada. And I had done a bit of research on this already and knew a bit about it, and then, a few years ago I found out that my own ancestors were in that first group of converts in Upper Canada in 1832. So I have a personal passion for this subject.

Erin: How do you think Canadian Saints or those with a Canadian ancestry or connection could benefit from reading this history of the LDS Church in Canada?

Roy: Many Latter-day Saints in Utah and elsewhere have Canadian ancestors, whose overall history will be most intriguing. In addition to Ontario, there was missionary work in Quebec and in the three Maritime provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, in the early period, about 1832 to 1853. About 2,500 people joined the Church, and of course they all gathered and went west with Brigham Young when the pioneers came to the Salt Lake Valley. The next major phase in the story starts with the Charles Ora Card expedition in 1887, that came up to found a small settlement in southern Alberta at a place called Cardston, just fifteen miles across the US border. And then another group came to build irrigation canals in 1898-99, and then after that the Church has been built up across the country, largely through missionary work. There were 486 congregations at the end of 2015, with 48 stakes and almost 200,000 members. Many people in the United States have connections with southern Alberta and other parts of Canada, and many missionaries from the United States have served in Canada, and assisted in building the Church in Canada. These would all be interested in the development of the Church in Canada.

It’s quite a story, a story of pioneer faith and dedication. We have written it according to the beliefs and views of the people who actually participated in the history, so it has stories of the visitation of angels, dreams, conversions, miracles performed, people praying for rain, people being healed. It contains the actual experiences, so it’s really quite an heirloom in terms of the heritage. Our intent was to preserve the faith heritage of the Latter-day Saints in Canada.

Carma: It is probably good to point out that the people who participated in the making of this book were all good, faithful members of the Church. We are trying to make the history accurate, but we’re not leaving out the faith stories, the ones that have been documented. There are some wonderful, miraculous things where we can see the hand of the Lord in the building up of the Church in Canada.

Roy: Everyone who worked on it is a volunteer; no one was paid. Carma and I started a mission at the Church History Library in August 2013, and we were there for thirty months, and then we came back for six months to finish the project. [Turning to Carma] You did research on 7 ½ provinces and the northern territories. [Turning to interviewer] She wrote three chapters and did a horrendous amount of editing, so she’s really the indispensable woman in the whole project. We had eight people who did research—service missionaries and one other missionary couple (besides ourselves) who did a substantial amount of research at the Church History Library. So every province is extremely well-researched in terms of the archival record.

Erin: I am fascinated with the story of how the Church was built up in Canada in the twentieth century. Could you elaborate on how this was done?

Carma: We see the sacrifice that people have made as they have tried to build up the Church. You have a little congregation of just a couple of families who join the Church, and they try to pull things together and hold meetings. Missionaries come, and maybe they meet in their own homes, and then they get to where they can rent a hall, and they have to go and clean the beer bottles and the cigarette butts out of the hall and open the windows before they can hold meetings. So many of the congregations have gone through that kind of pattern before they had enough people that they could have their own meetinghouses. I think it helps people to appreciate what has gone on before, when they come into all these wonderful buildings and things are so convenient. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, as it were, to have all the blessings that are available now.

Roy: Well, in those early days, too, to raise the local portion, they had bake sales and bazaars, catalog deliveries and some people put on theatricals and charged money for them. In Saskatchewan they were washing oil well bore cores. In many places, they had booths at fairs and all sorts of things that went on for a long time. It’s a great story. It’s an heroic story, with pioneers in every era, and it is thrilling, it’s just thrilling to read. I am amazed at the history myself. I am astounded. The basic thesis is that the Church was built up by the faith, effort, and sacrifice of the people. That rings loud and clear. We are hoping that people will resonate. The important thing is that we all stand between the generation before us and the one after in terms of transmitting our heritage. This book will help people get out a few stories for family home evening, and some may find some stories to tell in sacrament meeting talks. It certainly builds a sense of unity among the people. We had a conference recently in Brampton, Ontario, on the Church history in Ontario, and the people who were there were amazed. There were all kinds of things they didn’t know about. But it built a sense of unity because they all had a shared background. Part of it is to bring that heritage to the fore. The faith and inspiration of the authors is reflected in the book itself.

Erin: What other features should we look for in reading the book?

Roy: We have a magnificent foreword written by Ardeth G. Kapp, who was Young Women general president for eight years, and who was raised in Glenwood, Alberta, and who has ties with every period of the history. People will be thrilled to read that just for the sake of hearing something from Ardeth Kapp. She has published 16 books and is a very popular, dynamic special events speaker. And the book has been beautifully, beautifully designed. Hats off to Maddie Swapp (at BYU Religious Studies Center), who did a magnificent job of designing the book. There are a lot of great, fairly large pictures that are quite impactful, and the photo editing has been nicely done by Brent Nordgren and others. The book is very well edited. It is written to be quite readable. I think anyone could sit down and enjoy it. We have tried to fluff out all the academic language as nearly as possible, so it is really quite accessible to the general public. There are exciting chapters. We have an overview chapter that shows the development of the Church across Canada. We have a chapter on the cultural development. We’ve got one on lifestyle, and we have another one called “The Global Perspective,” which puts the history of the Church in Canada in the broader perspective. Carma has done a chapter on the Canadian contribution.

Erin: What are some things about the contribution of the Church in Canada that aren’t well known?

Roy: We find that what is little known is how much Canada has contributed to the Church. Some of the key leaders, like John Taylor, were converted in Toronto. Marriner W. Merrill from New Brunswick became an apostle, and his son Joseph Merrill was an apostle. There are some amazing women-[Carma] Mary Fielding Smith, converted in Canada, [Roy] from whose lineage came Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Elder M. Russell Ballard. Canadian Latter-day Saints have founded communities in Utah. President Gordon B. Hinckley’s grandfather, was born near Smiths Falls, Ontario, not very far from Kingston, where we live. He founded Cove Fort, Utah. Because Canada is so close to the US border, the history has been fairly integrated. This is the first place people came, following the waterways, to preach the gospel. Then, when C. O. Card came up, that’s another trek north about 700 miles from Utah, and then missionaries have come back and forth. So the history has been quite a bit integrated. At one time, two members of the First Presidency, David O. McKay’s two counselors, Hugh B. Brown and N. Eldon Tanner, were both from Canada. That is quite remarkable. There have been a lot of general officer and leaders who have come from Canada and served the entire Church. At one point, Canada was providing most of the missionaries to South Africa when visas were not allowed to US citizens. The Church spread to England—and to Scotland, we learned in the history—from early converts in Ontario. So these are some things that are quite noteworthy. Latter-day Saints introduced irrigation to Alberta and made a tremendous contribution to agriculture in Canada. Some famous people, a lot of people, have made major contributions to the country, as well.

Thanks again to Roy, Carma, and Erin.

Publication Information:                                                                                                                                               

ISBN 978-1-9443-9443-9423-3: Release: 30 October 2017; Publishers: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book Co.; Retail US: $ 39.99; Hardcover, color, pp. xx, 685; Illustrated: 510 photos, 95 maps, timelines, graphs, charts.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

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