Celebrations are currently under way to commemorate the centennial of the Canada Toronto Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Originally called the Canadian Mission, the mission was created on July 1, 1919, with headquarters in Toronto.
Decades before the organization of the Canadian Mission, eastern Canada was the site of extraordinary missionary success in the 1830s and 1840s, with Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, John E. Page, and other missionaries converting an estimated 2,500 Canadians. The Church’s presence in Canada in the nineteenth century was short-lived, as most of these converts moved west with the Latter-day Saints to the Rocky Mountains. At the dawn of the twentieth century, a few missionaries from the Eastern States Mission and the Northern States Mission ventured into Canada, with limited success. Church members were few and congregations were small.
Establishing a Canadian Mission
When Nephi Jensen, the first president of the Canadian Mission, arrived in Toronto in 1919, he had a most daunting task. He presided over a vast territory that included the entire provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. He began his work with a team of eight missionaries, though additional missionaries soon joined the ranks. When President Jensen arrived in 1919, there were only four organized branches of the Church in that entire area—in Toronto, Brantford, Hamilton, and Winnipeg. Only a few months after the mission was formed, Church President Heber J. Grant visited Toronto to authorize the purchase of a mission home. In 1921, President Jensen reported that there were only 351 members of the Church within the vast mission boundaries.
President Jensen travelled extensively by rail, regularly visiting missionaries and Church members from Manitoba to Nova Scotia. At each destination, he would interview, train, and encourage his missionaries and hold public meetings, sometimes in rented halls or on street corners. An attorney by profession and a former member of the Utah House of Representatives, he was an excellent public speaker who was particularly skillful when it came to handling hecklers at street meetings.
Through proselytizing in various cities (Winnipeg and Halifax), more converts were made and new branches formed. The first branch in Ottawa was organized in 1926, and the first in Montreal was 1928. Missionaries often presided in small congregations. Early branches held meetings in a wide range of facilities, typically in shabby rented halls where members had to arrive early to open windows, throw out beer bottles, and sweep up trash and cigarette butts before they could hold meetings.
Persecution was strong, and early Church members had to cope with lurid misrepresentations of the Church in the press and with prejudice and opposition from government officials and local churches. Missionaries were frequently prohibited from distributing literature or proselytizing door to door. In at least one case, a congregation was evicted from their rental hall because of pressure on the landlord from antagonists of the Church. In the face of such difficulties, some converts moved to Utah. In spite of challenges, the Church in eastern Canada grew: new branches were created and organized into districts.
Changing Boundaries and Growth
The geographic boundaries of the Canadian Mission underwent significant changes. In 1925, Manitoba was separated from the Canadian Mission to become part of the North Central States Mission. In 1937, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island became part of the New England States Mission. This left only the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in the Canadian Mission for 35 years. In 1972, the Quebec Mission (later the Canada Montreal Mission) was created, which included all of Quebec and eastern Ontario (including Ottawa), while most of the rest of Ontario became the Canada Toronto Mission. This mission was divided in 1993 to form the Canada Toronto West Mission and the Canada Toronto East Mission. These two missions were recombined in 2011.
Many outstanding mission presidents have served over the years, including Thomas S. Monson (1959-1962) and M. Russell Ballard (1974-1977). During President Monson’s term, the first stake in eastern Canada—the Toronto Stake—was created in 1960. President Monson also initiated sustained missionary work among the French-speaking population of Quebec. There are now two French-speaking stakes, one English-speaking stake, and a temple in that province.
President Monson trained local members across the mission to accept more leadership responsibility. When he began, 57 percent of the mission’s seven districts were presided over by missionaries. When he left, local members presided over 100 percent of branches and districts, freeing missionaries to preach the gospel. President Monson undertook an ambitious chapel-building program and in 1962 reported, “every branch in the Canadian Mission had either a chapel of its own, a chapel planned, or an active building fund.”
Significant milestones in the development of the mission include the Area Conference in 1979 in Toronto, attended by President Spencer W. Kimball and many other General Authorities and Church leaders. The Toronto Ontario Temple was announced in 1984 and dedicated in 1990. The Thomas S. Monson Recreation Camp was dedicated in 2011. A Welfare Services facility was established in Toronto in 2002. The Church has become more well-known and respected through the efforts of Public Affairs personnel and increased involvement of Church members in their communities. Service provided by Mormon Helping Hands has given the Church greater visibility. The JustServe program has been an outstanding vehicle for connecting volunteers, both members and non-members, with service opportunities in the community.
To illustrate how the Church has grown during the past 100 years, a few comparisons are enlightening. In 1919, there were 4 branches within the boundaries of the Canadian Mission; at the end of 2018, there were 172 congregations within the same area. In 1919, there were no stakes in the Canadian Mission; at the end of 2018, there were 15 stakes (1 in Manitoba, 9 in Ontario, 3 in Quebec, 1 in New Brunswick, and 1 in Nova Scotia), plus 2 districts in Ontario. In 1919, there were no temples closer than Utah; in 2019, there are 3 dedicated temples within the boundaries of the original mission and 1 more under construction. In 1921, there were 351 Church members within the original Canadian Mission; at the end of 2018, there were 77,481 within the same area.
Centennial Activities and Legacy
A Centennial Committee has been organized in the Canada Toronto Mission to spread awareness of the mission Centennial and to encourage wards, branches, stakes, and districts to celebrate this milestone event. One theme has emerged, “100 Ways in 100 Days.” Participating wards and stakes are selecting their own ways to celebrate, such as 100 hours of service, 100 items donated to a local food bank, 100 names cleared for temple ordinances, or 100 hours of family history research. Concerts and other public events, including two organ concerts and an August summer reunion picnic, will also feature the mission centennial.
Logos have been created.
Historical “nuggets,” small facts about the early days of the mission and the ongoing faith heritage, are being published in weekly ward bulletins. Talks on historical themes in various settings are raising awareness and appreciation of the “Early Canadian Saints.” Many people are reaching out to former missionaries who have served in the mission, and various memories and photographs are appearing on the “Canada Toronto Mission Centennial Celebration” Facebook page, with more than 1000 members as of this writing.
Looking back at the history of the mission helps each of us appreciate how far we have come and to recognize the debt of gratitude we owe to all the mission presidents, missionaries, and early pioneering members of the Church who laid the foundation for the well-established Church we have today. Whenever we walk into our local meetinghouses or temples, we should remember that our buildings represent the faith and sacrifice of many people over the years. Their legacy should inspire us to continue to love and serve God and our neighbours (Matthew 22:35-40).
Much of the information in this article is drawn from Helen K. Warner, “Ontario,” in Canadian Mormons: History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada, ed. by Roy A. Prete and Carma T. Prete (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book Company, 2017).