Intergroup Relations

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Mormons/Brigham Y. Card

In pre-Confederation Canada, intergroup relations were characterized by resistance and opposition from established churches and competing sects, especially the Methodists, from whose ranks converts to Mormonism most frequently came. Officialdom and the press, generally anti-American, regarded the community unfavourably. Conversely, the trust generated between Mormon missionaries and those sympathetic to them led to some three thousand converts and over two thousand willing migrants to Zions in the United States.

The Mormons’ status as an ethno-religious group was reinforced by the northward spread of anti-Mormon crusades in the United States and controversy over settlements in the Canadian west in the 1880s. Reaction ranged from the acceptance of Mormons as neighbours to demands for their exclusion from the country as late as the 1920s. Their quasi-segregation in southwestern Alberta intensified the nature of group relations even as it limited access to the wider Canadian community. Thus, an insider-outsider mode of thought and behaviour was spatially, as well as culturally, reinforced.

Such an attitude characterized Mormon relations with the native peoples in the settlement era, when the two groups competed for survival and status on contiguous land, separated only by the boundary of the Blood reserve. The Blood had rejected a reserve east of Calgary offered to them by the Crown in 1877 and had moved to Montana, only to return and negotiate a treaty six years later. Their numbers had been reduced by illness, starvation, and alcohol from 6,800 at mid-century to 2,735 when they signed the treaty. At about the same time, forty-one Mormons arrived to settle on the reserve’s southern boundary. In the early years there was limited contact between the two groups, but interaction increased as native land was leased to Mormon and non-Mormon ranchers and farmers and a hospital and government offices for natives were established in Cardston. Exchanges between Mormons and natives took place in the town in the course of work or trade, and some friendships developed.

In the 1940s the pattern began to change. The Mormon Church included the Blood and other natives in western Canada in a renewal of missionary activity among aboriginal peoples in North America. Some natives settled in Cardston in the 1950s, beginning a movement of native students to schools in the town. As a result, an integrated school was built in 1968, and 650 native students were attending Cardston schools by 1993. The same year there were approximately 5,100 Mormons living in and around the town. Interaction between the two communities suffered setbacks in the 1980s when the Blood twice set up blockades on roads leading into Cardston to put pressure on the federal government, in one case with regard to reserve land and revenue and in the other to rally support for native peoples at Oka, Quebec.

Opposing belief systems have also defined Mormons locally and nationally. In the 1960s organizations in the United States that discredited Mormon beliefs and challenged their right to be called Christian extended their activities into Canada. A few Mormons were recruited to these groups. Studies in the 1980s of social distance among religious elements in Alberta and the United States have shown that the greatest distance towards Mormons was manifest by members of evangelical groups. However, the trend in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada has been towards more interfaith association and mutual recognition.

An increasing openness has also characterized relations between Mormons and other ethnic groups in Canada. Japanese and later Hungarian labourers became involved in the sugar-beet industry shortly after 1903. Many remained to live in Mormon communities or on their own farms nearby. Chinese café and laundry owners established businesses in Mormon villages and towns as they did in other western communities. The Hutterites arrived in Alberta in 1918 and competed for land in Mormon country, despite some local opposition and government efforts to control the growth of colonies. By the 1920s communities established by Mormons were becoming ethnically mixed. The shift was symbolized by the purchase in 1929 of a pioneer Mormon church in Raymond by Japanese Buddhists for use as a temple shrine; the site was later recognized as marking the origins of Buddhism in Alberta.

In eastern Canada, intergroup relations have tended to be fluid, reflecting the changing ethnic composition of Mormon communities there, which have included immigrants as well as the Canadian-born. In Quebec and to some extent Ontario, relations have been influenced by the availability of educational options. Some Mormons seek bilingual or francophone schools for their children and choose to become immersed in francophone culture, while others have preferred to patronize anglophone schools. In Yukon and the Northwest Territories, Mormons generally participate as equals in local cultures, though they may be distanced by other religious groups.

Mormons in Canada are continually reminded that they are a North American people by changing political stances and intergroup relations in the United States that are reflected in this country. When American Mormon stakes in 1898 decided to memorialize the loss of American sailors in the explosion of a battleship at Havana, the Alberta stake did likewise. In this and other instances, Canadians have added to the moral capital of American Mormons and consider that they are increasing their own. As a group, they are shaped by the centralized structure of the church, but, at the same time, Mormons in Canada tend to remain emotionally detached from the involvement by their co-religionists in the United States in civil rights, racial issues, women’s rights, foreign policy, charitable causes, or other matters primarily of American concern. By being themselves, with their own patterns of intergroup relations, they contribute both to Canadian society and to the peoplehood of Mormonism in North America.