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Culture

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

For over a century Canada’s Mormons have been a predominantly English-speaking people. The “Mormon country” in southwestern Alberta has been studied as a linguistic region where broad vowels, strong rs, and a drawl reflect Utahan origins. Yet Mormon communities have always had some linguistic diversity. Danish speakers were among the early pioneers, and converts arrived who spoke other languages. Mormon missionaries returned from work assignments among non-English-speaking peoples. In recent decades, francophones, immigrants, and native peoples from different parts of Canada have added to the diversity of languages in the Mormon community. The sacred language used in temples, in the scriptures, and in worship has been enriched through translations, adding a multilingual dimension to contemporary Mormon culture in Canada. A rudimentary knowledge of other languages is regularly used in the course of genealogical research. At the same time, the dominance of English in North America makes bilingualism a necessity for many non-English-speaking Mormons in this country.

A vigorous culture has characterized each phase of Mormon history – in Nauvoo, Illinois, in Utah, in Alberta since Mormons arrived there in 1887, and in other parts of Canada where they have established themselves. The diffusion of cultural traits extends into local communities and the larger society. Four processes have been at work: amelioration, that is, the improvement of Mormons and their environment; countering, in which the culture is used to offset other cultures that would inhibit the development of Mormons as a people; exchange with other cultures, as they seek to find a place in the broader society; and the preservation of their culture through such means as community histories and ancestral research. Permeating Mormon life and culture is the process of organization, which contributes to group identity and occupies a large part of members’ time.

These processes are reflected in the history of sports among the Mormons in Canada. When the pioneers arrived in the late nineteenth century, they brought with them a tradition of play and recreation as a bona fide part of religion. Horse racing for fun was expanded to include local fairs, stampedes, horse-breeding and racing associations, and the activities of jockeys and cowboys who gained international reputations. Freestyle wrestling and boxing according to the Queensberry rules, introduced from Utah to Cardston around 1900, brought provincial and national championships to Mormon communities in southern Alberta and led to sports exchanges with the Blood and other non-Mormon neighbours.

Foot racing and jumping at pioneer picnics developed into organized track and field meets, including the Caledonian Games established in Raymond in 1903, speech, music, and athletic competitions organized by the Mormon Mutual Improvement Associations, beginning in 1910, and community and high school meets. In the 1960s the Toronto stake inaugurated a track and field program, and in the 1980s Calgary Mormons introduced a Saturday bicycle and running biathlon as a fitness activity open to citizens of all ages and both sexes. In Alberta, Mormon athletes have been well known in provincial circles. The first of national prominence was Cardston’s Doral Pilling, who represented Canada in javelin events at the 1928 Olympics and the 1930 British Empire Games.

Team sports were introduced soon after the Mormons arrived. Baseball teams were formed in the 1890s and began playing against groups from Lethbridge and Fort Macleod. The Mutual Improvement Association sponsored senior men’s baseball in 1923, fast-pitch softball in 1949, and slow-pitch softball in 1962. Mormon women’s, as well as men’s, teams began playing basketball in Alberta in the early 1900s, first in the open air during the summer and then indoors in the winter months when the Raymond opera house and school gymnasiums became available. Sometimes ward meeting houses with the benches removed served as courts. Later, cultural halls became standard components of ward and stake buildings. In southern Alberta especially, Mormons and basketball have been closely linked, and the community produced strong leagues and numerous championship teams, including the male Raymond Union Jacks and the female Cardston Shooting Stars.

Enthusiasm for sports has also been reflected in the participation by Mormons in rod and gun clubs, archery, tennis, golf, swimming, curling, football, and cheerleading. Members of the community have been prominent in coaching, officiating, organizational support, and leadership, as exemplified by awards presented to Cardston’s Charles Cheesman and Willard Brooks by the Sports Alberta Hall of Fame. Church promotion of sports included stake and regional competitions in the 1950s and 1960s, in which Canadian basketball and softball teams were selected to participate in all-church finals in Utah. Annual stake youth days were started in Cardston and spread to other places. Held on Saturdays, they began with a morning of activities for all, followed by lunch, ball games in the afternoon, and a banquet, dance, or fireside gathering in the evening. Mormon sports in Canada has been strengthened by visits from leading Canadian and American figures with whom the young can identify and by Brigham Young University, with its sports training camps, athletic visits, and broadcasts of basketball and football games.

Music has been central to Mormon culture in Canada from the earliest days. Hymns are drawn from both Mormon and non-Mormon sources. Some, such as “Come, Come Ye Saints” and “We Thank O God, for a Prophet,” are closely associated with Mormon history and identity. Singing was an important part of Sunday schools for children, and Mutual Improvement Associations emphasized recreational singing for both youth and adults. Each ward and stake usually had a choir. Individuals are still called to lead, accompany, or coordinate musical activities. Hymns continue to knit together generations of Mormons.

The pioneer communities formed choral groups, bands, and orchestras, some of which were church-sponsored and some initiated by music lovers for family and community enjoyment. Music also provided a link with the larger society. Andrew Archibald, a cornetist from Utah, organized a band and an orchestra in Cardston in the 1890s, formed and led the stake choir for eighteen years, and in 1901 introduced the first competitive music festival in western Canada, held in the Mormon assembly hall. In 1909 Raymond citizens built an opera house by donating their labour and selling $10 shares. A thirty-piece orchestra was formed, and musicals and other stage productions presented. Three years later Samuel Smith Newton, a London-born architect, stonemason, and bandmaster in Cardston and Raymond, directed a one-hundred-voice choir from Mormon communities at the World Dry Farming Congress in Lethbridge. As well, Mormons became regular and successful competitors in Alberta music festivals. The Singing Mothers from British Columbia joined with a group of the same name from Seattle to perform in the Salt Lake City tabernacle at a general conference in 1966. The following year 350 Singing Mothers from Alberta sang there to honour Canada’s centennial in the Mormon heartland.

Integration into Canadian music circles has been greatest at the individual level. Members of the community assisted at the Lethbridge Conservatory of Music in the early 1920s, and others were music teachers affiliated with British and Canadian examining boards or conservatories or taught in university departments of music in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario. Among Mormon composers, three were from Raymond: Christian F. Tollestrup, who wrote the music for anthems and cantatas, such as “Moroni, the Solitary Warrior,” Robert Wesley McMullin, who composed the widely known Rocky Mountain Suite, a number of symphonies, and numerous scores for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation productions, and Kenneth Hicken, professor of music at the University of Lethbridge, who provided the music for the Alberta Temple pageant in 1987 and composed a major choral work, Movements from Psalm 139, based on Arnold Schönberg’s theory of harmony. In rock music, Mormon convert Randy Bachman of Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive has been both a composer and a performer. The Mormon musicians most frequently celebrated within the community, however, are those who perform in their own families.

For Canadian Mormons, dancing is an integral part of religious life and serves as group recreation, socialization in male-female relations, and exercise. In Mormon circles, dances often open and close with prayer, especially when they are church-sponsored. In the pioneer era they were held in church halls and then later in schools. The Raymond second ward built an open-air dance pavilion adjoining its chapel in the 1930s, and in every stake in Canada until the 1970s there were Gold and Green Balls. As well, Canadians regularly performed at the all-church dance festivals held in Salt Lake City every June. Currently, youth and young adult dances are sponsored in wards and stakes on a regular basis.

Mormon drama in Canada began with a comedy produced in a log cabin in the winter of 1887. Three years later, after the building of an assembly hall, a drama club was formed. Theatre flourished in southern Alberta communities under the direction of capable dramatists, and Mutual Improvement Associations and civic groups sponsored the presentation of plays in local communities. Regional and provincial drama festivals, begun in Alberta in the 1940s, linked Mormons with theatrical activity elsewhere in the province. By the 1970s they were involved with community theatre organizations. The Cardston Community Theatre was founded in 1979, and the Raymond Playhouse Society three years later. Mormon stakes in Canada occasionally also produce plays as a way of sharing their talent with the larger, non-Mormon community.

Visual art among Canadian Mormons reached a high point in 1923 in the murals of the Alberta Temple in Cardston, painted by leading artists from Utah. Others have enriched Mormon and Canadian life through their works, among them Dutch-born Garreth J. Rynhart of Vancouver, Swiss-born Ernest Edward Riethman of Lethbridge, who organized sketching clubs in southern Alberta, and Jessie Redd Ursenbach, an artist whose paintings have been widely exhibited in North America. She was the first teacher of Canada’s foremost Mormon artist, Brent R. Laycock of Calgary. His work has appeared on Canadian postage stamps, in large murals in Calgary, Lethbridge, and Toronto, and in international exhibitions. Handicrafts as an art form, prominent in the pioneer era among Mormon women, are kept alive by church relief societies, community craft groups, and some commercial cottage industries. Canadian Mormon culture has had limited expression in film-making. Mormons: Zion Builders of Alberta was made in the early 1970s for a series on religions produced by the Department of Religious Studies at University of Alberta. Takin’ Care, a film produced in English and French by Mormon cinematographer Karl H. Konnry of Toronto in the same decade, portrays the everyday life of Mormons in all parts of Canada.

The country’s Mormons have been so richly served by the literary output of their American co-religionists that their own writing tradition is not well known. Charles Franklin Steele, who was born in Raymond, was southern Alberta’s resident Mormon journalist, supplying articles on the community to the Deseret News in Salt Lake City and other American publications, in addition to his duties as reporter, columnist, and associate editor of the Lethbridge Herald from 1920 to 1961. Novelist Herbert Harker, raised near Glenwood, Alberta, drew upon his farm, small-town, and church experience in his books: Goldenrod (1972), made into a full-length motion picture, Turn Again Home (1977), Circle of Fire (1985), and Hostage (1988). Leslie Beaton Hedley of Calgary described the lives of women in a fictitious Calgary ward in Twelve Sisters (1993), which won an award as the best novel from the Association of Mormon Letters that year. A second novel, Zoe’s Gift (1995), links the pioneer Mormon settlement at Frankburg with contemporary life.

Another genre of Canadian Mormon writing is the inspirational work, which sometimes takes the form of autobiography. Ardith Greene Kapp, formerly of Glenwood, wrote about her experiences in Echoes from My Prairie (1979) and seven other titles; Jeannie Takahashi of Edmonton produced a memoir, Happily Every After (1981), and Sharon E. Coleman of Toronto and Calgary a work entitled He Comforteth All: My Journey ... No Piece of Cake (1992). Alexander B. Morrison of Guelph, Ontario, since becoming a church general authority in 1987, has authored three books, including Visions of Zion (1993). The only in-depth account of a Mormon congregation in Canada is Dean Louder’s unpublished “Film de la Branche de Québec” (1983).

Most of the material read by Canadian Mormons is produced in the United States and marketed in this country through privately owned bookstores. These stock the Mormon scriptures, works by Mormon authors and scholars, greeting cards, audio cassettes, religious jewellery, family entertainment, and the forms and other materials used for genealogical research. In addition, Canadian Mormons may subscribe to church publications (all based in Salt Lake City: the Ensign for adults, the New Era for youth, and the Friend for children up to twelve. Some also receive the weekly edition of the Church News, published by the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

There are virtually no Canadian scholars who would admit to being specialists on Mormon life. Such activity is not part of Mormon culture in Canada, although it is in the United States. However, the community does include university teachers and scholars in fields outside Mormon studies who occasionally write about the group. As well, inactive or former Mormons and non-Mormon scholars may study the community. A third category is made up of American scholars who have researched Mormons in this country. More numerous than any of these individuals are the scholars who teach in the church’s seminaries and institutes of religion. Their careers are devoted to studying Mormon scripture, history, and doctrine and counselling young people in schools and post-secondary institutions. Theirs is a sacred scholarly function that preserves and transmits Mormon faith, knowledge, and culture to the rising generation.

The Canadian Mormon Studies Association was formed in 1987 following the first nationwide conference on Canadian Mormons at the University of Alberta, held to mark the centennial of the group’s arrival in that province. This association, in cooperation with the University of Lethbridge, organized a second conference in 1990, which focused on life in southern Alberta. In 1995, together with the Utah-based Mormon History Association and the John Whitmer Historical Association of the RLDS, it co-hosted a major symposium at Queen’s University devoted to the spread of Mormonism in Canada in the early nineteenth century. Such events have done much to stimulate scholarly study of the community in this country.