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Religion

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

The Mormon religion began as a personal quest for truth by the young Joseph Smith. For individuals and families, it has remained a search for knowledge, values, and structures that would lead to eternal life. This quest,


Sources: Statistics Canada, Religions in Canada (1993), and the 1991 census, which combines LDS and RLDS (Reorganized Mormons). RLDS numbers have been subtracted for column 2, Mormons (LDS); they were obtained from the RLDS regional office in Toronto.

Mormon population in Canada’s largest Census Metropolitan Areas in 1991
Census Census Mormons Mormon (LDS)
Metropolitan Area (LDS + RLDS) populations
Calgary 12,285 12,095
Edmonton 6,280 5,873
Vancouver 5,740 5,215
Toronto 5,855 4,552
Montreal 2,570 2,536

often expressed as “gaining a testimony,” has remained a dominant motif in the lives of Mormons. Testimonies are an indication of the degree of one’s commitment to Mormon beliefs and willingness to be involved in the community. Being a “covenant people” like those in the Bible and the Book of Mormon is a second essential element. The making and renewing of covenants – pledges with God to live a righteous life and keep his commandments, commemorated through ordinances and ceremonies – provide the focus for Mormon faith.

As a restoration of the primitive Christian church, the Mormon religion reflects practices found in the Bible. A newborn child is named and recorded as a potential church member; in this ritual the child’s father or other priest offers an impromptu blessing, always mentioning that he does so by authority from God and in the name of Jesus Christ, key phrases in all Mormon ordinances. An individual becomes a full church member at the age of eight or later through baptism by immersion, followed by a ritual laying on of hands and conferral of the gift of the Holy Ghost. He or she may request a blessing by the priesthood at any time, including during illness. As well, one may ask for direction for one’s life course from a patriarch. Through belief and ritual, Mormons belong to a modern Israel within a Christian framework. This Judeo-Christian blend is prominent in their scriptures, the organization of the priesthood, and the character of their temples, and it permeates their culture.

The temple is pre-eminent in Mormon religion as the sacred place for connecting generations past, present, and future. Through genealogical research, Mormons seek to identify ancestors and have their temple ordinances performed vicariously for them. Temples also provide direction for present and future generations of Mormons, instilling through instruction and ceremony the hope that entire families as well as individual persons can progress in this life and the next towards a closer union with divinity and enjoy the greatest happiness. Canada has two temples, the Alberta Temple at Cardston, dedicated in 1923 and designated a historic site in 1995, and the Toronto Ontario Temple at Brampton, dedicated in 1990.

Mormons emphasize the eternal nature of marriage and the family, confirmed by the “sealing” of parents and children in temple ceremonies. The person and the family are each units of salvation, with the greatest blessings coming through the family. An individual’s gender is also considered of the highest spiritual significance. A basic equality is assigned to men and women, though their roles are differentiated within the home, the family, the church structure, and the culture generally. Traditionally, as in the Judeo-Christian past, only males are members of the priesthood, and they have certain prerogatives regarding offices and administration in the church. Females, through the bearing and nurturing of children as well as through their participation in the governance of the church and various church church activities, also share in the priesthood.

As an organization, the Mormon Church relies on a pattern of universal male priesthood. All worthy male members aged twelve or over can be called and ordained to this office, which has two levels; the first, the Aaronic, is preparatory for the second and higher level, the Melchizedek. As members of the priesthood, individuals are continually being trained to hold office and take attendant responsibilities. The young, as Aaronic deacons, teachers, and priests, prepare to become Melchizedek elders and high priests. The latter are the group from which the bishops and counsellors of the local wards and the stake presidents, two counsellors, and a high council of twelve are called. From among the high priests also, general authorities for the church as a whole and its large divisions, or areas, are chosen. The church structure has an apex of high priests called to life-long service. The president and his two counsellors are the top-level decision makers for the entire organization; the president is also its prophet, seer, and “revelator.” A quorum of twelve apostles assists in decision making. Upon the death of the president, they preside until they have ordained one of their number, traditionally the senior apostle, to take his place. Two quorums of seventy, high priests with much church experience, are ordained to assist in the administration of area presidencies and the other offices needed to manage a complex organization. Priesthood leaders, except the general authorities, work part-time in these functions and are self-supporting.

Mormon doctrines are derived from the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and two works that contain the revelations received by Joseph Smith, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. The writings and sermons of general authorities are regarded as continuing revelation, though they are not canonized. Mormon belief emphasizes the personal nature of God, the pivotal role of Jesus Christ in human salvation, the eternal nature of ordinances such as baptism and temple marriage, the importance of religious authority, the necessity for continuing revelation, Mormons’ role as a covenant people, and the perfectibility, over time, of those who have chosen to follow Christ. Human beings and the deity exist eternally in a cosmic natural order in which there is no supernatural, where spirit and matter are continuous, and where death is overcome by the intelligence and love of a living God and those beings seeking to become like him. Like Methodism, another of Canada’s earlier religious movements, the Mormon religion was at first suspect and strongly opposed. But it did not result in the disintegration of Canadian society, as some feared, and in time it helped to mould social attitudes in a positive way. Scholars have assigned Mormonism to the eschatological model; however, attempts to describe the community in Canada using European models have not been successful either theoretically or empirically. The community in Canada regards itself as an independent religion, though it has elements in common with other Christian churches, Jews, Muslims, native North Americans, and other groups.

Although Mormons are evolutionary in their theology, their religious practice tends to be pragmatic. The practical quality of Mormon life is reflected in abstinence from harmful substances such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and tea and coffee, in a system of tithes and offerings that provide for church needs without commodifying religion, in monthly visits made to members in their homes, in regular meetings to consider the needs of each ward member, and in the adaptation of Sunday services and other activities to optimize family time and meet the needs of women in the workforce. Although members may lapse into inactivity or face a disciplinary council for unbecoming conduct, shunning is not practised, and an individual may repent and to return to communion. Gatherings are simple; the ward sacrament meeting is attended by families, and hymns are sung by the congregation alone or with a choir, talks assigned to members in advance are presented, and opening and closing prayers offered by both males and females. Priests and deacons officiate in blessing and passing the sacrament (broken bread and individual cups of water) to the congregation. On the first Sunday of the month this gathering becomes a ward testimony meeting at which spontaneously given professions of faith replace assigned talks. Preceding or following these services, there are meetings of the priesthood for males and of the Relief Society for females over eighteen, Sunday school classes, and primary activities for the younger children.

The meetings are replaced at intervals by stake, regional, or general conferences, the last broadcast by satellite from Salt Lake City twice a year. Stake centres and some ward chapels have their own disk antennae to receive these and other church broadcasts. On weekdays there are scout and Young Women’s meetings and other activities for young men and women. Members are also involved in social-welfare projects or temple activity on behalf of themselves and their ancestors; others work in family-history centres doing research. Some members are called to full-or part-time missionary service, mainly financed by themselves or their families.

Recreation, reading, the development of talents, and informal visits with neighbours occupy Mormons between scheduled activities. They enter fully into the celebration of Christmas and Easter. Like other Canadians, they also observe Thanksgiving and national and local holidays. As well, they usually recognize 24 July, the anniversary of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in Utah in 1847. Special services and activities honour the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood in 1829 and the founding of the Female Relief Society in 1842. There are no distinctive festive occasions for all Mormons across Canada. Important historical events and anniversaries tend to be celebrated only at the stake or regional level.

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) shared a common origin and history with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until the death of Joseph Smith in 1844. It began as a dissenting movement that rejected Brigham Young’s leadership, polygamy, rituals on behalf of the dead, and some doctrines of the Nauvoo period. The RLDS sought to return to the primitive Christian church of earlier Mormon years. A provisional new organization, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was founded in Iowa in 1852. It was formally established there in 1860, with the founder’s son, Joseph Smith III, as the head by right of lineal succession confirmed by ordination. The differentiating adjective “reorganized” was officially added to the church’s name in 1869. It is centrally administered from its world headquarters in Independence, Missouri, with the units in Canada organized as congregations or branches, districts, and regions.

The RLDS in this country began in 1861 when a Canadian-born apostle, John Shippy, led a number of missionaries to Ontario. Numerous small congregations were started, the first ones at Buckhorn and Lindsay. The creative evangelism of Richard C. Evans, an apostle called to the Canadian mission in 1909, increased the membership in Toronto from 10 to 1,200 within a decade. With the opening of the west, groups of RLDS settled there, forming short-lived communities. The Reformed Church of Latter Day Saints in Canada was incorporated in 1952 under Ontario law. The two groups have been classified as Mormons or Latter-day Saints (Mormons) by Canadian censuses from 1871 to 1971; beginning in 1981 their numbers have been reported separately. The 1991 census counted 6,880 members of the RLDS church in Canada, while church records for the following year gave the figure in this country as 11,111, with another 150,143 in the United States and nearly 250,000 worldwide. Historically, the RLDS have been concentrated in Ontario; 80 percent lived in that province in 1921 and 68 percent in 1981, with the remainder almost entirely in the western provinces.