Wheat, The Staff of Life

Jesus Christ expects us to show love and good works, even when it is difficult

Ellison Flour Mill

Shortly after my wonderful parents, Reed C. and Eva R. Ellison were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1932, my grandfather, Morris H. Ellison, the president of the Ellison Milling & Elevator Co. Ltd., sent the newlyweds from Utah to Lethbridge, Alberta, to learn the milling business.

Reed C. and Eva R. Ellison
Reed C. and Eva R. Ellison

Thirty years earlier, in 1902, during a meeting in Utah, called by President Joseph F. Smith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my great-grandfather E. P. Ellison and Jesse Knight, another Utah entrepreneur, accepted assignments from the President to improve and enrich the lives of the many members of the Church who had migrated across the border between the United States and Canada.

Both men raised money by selling shares for their new ventures, a sugar beet factory for Jesse Knight and a flour mill for great-grandfather Ellison. Grandpa took on the responsibility to erect both buildings in the town of Raymond, Alberta. It was a leap of faith for both men because no wheat and no sugar beets had ever been planted in this hard-earthed, arid and drought-prone area, known as the Palliser Triangle. Their efforts, however, were successful.


In 1906, just four years later, a new and larger mill was built in Lethbridge to take advantage of the newly completed trans-Canada rail system. Over the ensuing years, Ellison Milling Company became a major, essential hub for the grain farmers in agricultural Southern Alberta.

Because the flour mill and rural grain elevators had essentially been built for the use and convenience of the growing number of Church members, the company had always kept the original mandate as part of company policy. Many of the office staff, mill and elevator workers were members of the Church. They were always supported in their Church callings, with time away from work when needed.

One senior member of the staff was the grain buyer, Octave W. Ursenbach. He was encouraged by management to accept a call from the Church to be the mission president for the Toronto Canada Mission. He was supported for over three years there and was welcomed back to his same employment upon his return to Lethbridge.

Octave W. Ursenbach
Octave W. Ursenbach

A plan developed

During President Ursenbach’s service in Toronto, Apostle Ezra Taft Benson, future Church president, came to visit the mission in 1947, post-World War ll. At breakfast one morning, Elder Benson described the dire situation in Germany. He had recently been sent by the Church to assess the needs of the members there. He told of severe shortages of food, shelter and clothing. Much of Germany had been bombed, and there was no fertilizer, seed, working farm machinery or able-bodied workers. He told the Ursenbachs that he could hardly bring himself to eat the breakfast they had prepared, saying, “How can I, when that much food can feed an entire family?”

President Benson
President Ezra Taft Benson

Soon the grain buyer and the agronomist [Elder Benson] started formulating a plan. When President Ursenbach forwarded this information to my father, Reed, who was now manager of the company, the plans took shape. As a counsellor in the Lethbridge Stake presidency, he was also able to contact other stakes in Southern Alberta to help. We were sitting in a region, blessed with grain, a flour mill and many farmers. Everyone wanted to help. Church member farmers in the Cardston and Milk River areas were invited to donate some of their grain. Other members donated money to buy more wheat.

The plan was executed

My kind and generous father decided to fill three big railroad cars with five, six and ten-pound bags of wheat to ship to Germany. My oldest brother, Howard, who was 12, worked sewing some of the bags at the mill. Others, including citizens of Lethbridge, helped in loading the rail cars for this much-needed project. Some who were home from the war in Europe were grateful for the chance to help save the lives of others in need.

Flour bags

At the mill in Lethbridge, the wheat was cleaned and then cracked. This way, nothing was lost in the processing. Every part of each kernel would be saved and easier to boil. It was very nutritious. The first two railroad cars left Lethbridge in December 1947. The first shipment was packaged in paper bags that had the Ellison name and company logo printed on them. For the second shipment, cloth bags were used as these were sturdier, ripped less and the cloth could be used as material for bedding and clothing for the destitute Saints. The final shipment, sent in early 1948, was packaged in cloth bags which bore the name and symbol of “Deseret,” a sign of love that the German Saints would recognize.


During the 1950’s, many of the German Saints longed to immigrate to North America. Those in the Russian-occupied area, which became East Germany, felt their occupiers’ hardening line on religious freedom. I remember some of these families who escaped to West Germany and then to Canada. Some ended up in Lethbridge, were employed at the mill and worshiped with us in our ward.

Lives were blessed

Lother Flade and his family came here. He was a musician who conducted our music in sacrament meeting. I was a young organist and I loved to hear his booming, bass voice as he conducted the music. They were grateful to be in Lethbridge, the origin of the bags of cracked wheat which fed and nourished them.

Ellison Flour Mill
Ellison Flour Mill

The Flades told a story of a German sister who used the cracked wheat and added water to make a thin soup for her hungry infant. At a medical visit there, the doctor exclaimed, “This is the only baby that I’ve seen that is healthy, and I have seen 100 children today!”

The Guido and Wella Fuchs family arrived in Lethbridge in 1953 after a treacherous journey from East Germany. It was long and hard, including many stressful stages, with illness adding even more stress. With the last of their borrowed funds, they boarded the west-bound train in Montreal. As the train slowly rolled past the mill, Wella saw “ELLISON” on the side of the white grain elevators. She was immediately filled with relief. She knew they would be safe here. She knew that those who had sent the wheat were people who would help them get settled in this new land. They also found employment at the mill.

Bread and Flour

Over the ensuing years, I have read some of the correspondence between my humble father and Church leaders regarding this post-World War ll project and other benevolent opportunities. These examples, some only known to our family, have shaped my desire to serve others. I have been blessed with three generations of parents and grandparents who lovingly chose to follow the prophets and the Saviour, by following the admonition for us to show love and good works. I am truly blessed!

“By love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13)

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22)

“Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink” (Romans 12:20)