I have long considered the substance of what I want to share as we celebrate Canada Day. I love being Canadian and I am grateful for the country I call home. Somehow, I keep coming back to my ancestors that came to Canada not so long ago.
Very few of us can say that our ancestors have been here in Canada since before 1608 when the first permanent settlement by French explorers was established. In fact, according to Stats Canada in 2013, just under 40% of Canadians are first or second-generation Canadians (first generation meaning not born in Canada, and second generation meaning they were born in Canada, but at least one parent was not).
I want to tell you the story of how my grossvati (my Swiss grandpa) came to Canada.
This story is one that was included in a beautiful history book put together by my aunt for our family, and includes an irreplaceable letter written by a great-aunt. While this story is the history of my family, your family may have a similar story. I know that these accounts and experiences are important for us to know and remember so that we can appreciate the joy that it is to live in a country that welcomes us and allows us the freedom to worship as we choose. What better way to celebrate Canada Day than to honor the sacrifices made by so many that came before us not so long ago.
This story begins in 1853 in Zurich, Switzerland, on a farm. Johann Samuel Michel, the son of the farmer, had left for Germany to further his education and profession as a butcher. Times were different then. There was no instagram or Facebook, no email, not even a telephone to call home in an effort to stay in contact with his family.
During Johann’s absence, missionaries came to Switzerland from England to teach families about the new beliefs that came from America. Johann’s family learned about a young man named Joseph Smith, who had been called of God to restore the Church of Jesus Christ. With God’s help he had translated a book, the Book of Mormon, that taught about Jesus Christ. Johann’s father accepted the message whole-heartedly. He sold his farm and immigrated to Utah, where he could use the proceeds of selling his farm to buy an even bigger piece of land.
Johann Michel returned home, from Germany, in 1855 to find strangers living on the family farm. He soon learned the reason his family had left and felt that they had been scammed out of their home and money. He was angry towards the church and maintained this hatred even when his family tried to get him to join them in America.
Johann passed this attitude on to his son, Hans Michel, who was also convinced that Mormons, as they were then called, were thieves and cheats. Hans married Marie and influenced her thinking in this direction as well. Marie is my great-grandma and she first met missionaries just before World War I in 1914.
These missionaries were young, and she was interested in the message, but not in who was delivering it. She told them that she would listen when someone came to her door that had experience with life. The elders were recalled home because of the outbreak of the war.
After the war an older couple came to her door, and she let them in. She listened to this message even after all the negative things she had heard from her husband. Marie learned about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and accepted these teachings. She made the decision to join the Church, which was not pleasing to her husband. Hans soon became reconciled with Marie’s choice and let her practice her new faith.
Marie wanted her children to know and understand the truths she had found. Of eleven children in the family, nine joined the Church. One of these children was my Grossvati Walter Michel, my grandfather.
Walter was not active until after the death of his first wife, an event that was a turning point in his life. The story I know is that his older brother told him that if he wanted to see and be with his wife again, he would need to change his ways and give the gospel a serious look. Walter Michel took this advice to heart and as long as I knew my grossvati, he was a faithful and obedient member of the Church.
He brought his four daughters to Canada in June of 1947. Three years later, my grossmutti (grandmother), Helene, came to Canada and married Grossvati. Together they raised their family and taught the principles of the gospel.
Opportunities were available to my family in Canada, including the freedom to worship how they wanted to. I am grateful this Canada Day for those that have come before me, and for those who welcomed my ancestors into this beautiful country.