“Eastern Canadian Saints Recommit at Toronto,” Ensign, Oct. 1979, 72–73
It was a time for firsts, not only the first area conference in Canada—at Toronto, the “New York of the North”—but also the first visit between a president of the Church and Canada’s chief officials.
In less than twenty-four hours, President Kimball and his official party had met Prime Minister Joe Clark, Governor General Edward R. Schreyer, and Ontario’s Premier William G. Davis, presenting them with copies of the Triple Combination and bound volumes of information on their family lines.
Meanwhile, Relief Society General President Barbara B. Smith and Young Women General President Elaine Cannon hosted Her Honor Pauline McGibbon, the lieutenant governor of Ontario, and The Honorable Margaret Birch, Ontario’s provincial secretary of social services.
In a Sunday morning address to 8,259 assembled members and guests, President Kimball’s central subject was tithing. “The earth is the Lord’s,” he reminded the members. He told of one acquaintance who boasted of his land and cattle yet went to a grave which was only “the length of a tall man, the width of a heavy one.” Another friend, he said, refused to acknowledge God as his partner in a flourishing orchard business. A third man’s palatial home stood proud and impregnable until a tidal wave came. “As the great sea murmured and went back to its place, only a concrete floor marked where it had stood.”
President Kimball blessed the members and assured them of his love. The Saints fully reciprocated that love, spontaneously interrupting the prelude music with “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.”
Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Council of the Twelve, glowing with pleasure at being back in eastern Canada where he had presided over the mission in 1960, when the first stake was organized, and presided at the organization of each of the five successive stakes, reminisced about experiences in Toronto, including the organization of that first stake, attended by 94.6 percent of the membership. He urged the Saints to “qualify to be honored of the Lord” and especially encouraged them to share the gospel with their families. He underlined the “uniqueness” brought to eastern Canada by its colonies of Ukranian, Rumanian, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian people. “I’m simple enough to believe that you came here to embrace the gospel and be benefitted by its teachings.” He recalled meeting a brother in Sydney, Australia, who claimed to be the only Estonian member of the Church. “So I told him about Hans Peets, the Estonian patriarch in Montreal. It turned out that the two men had been in the same Scout troop years before in Estonia.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the First Quorum of the Seventy, a former mission president of the area, extended the Saints’ love and appreciation to President Kimball. “You probably didn’t see it, President,” he said, “but many wept tears of joy just to see you.”
He commended the Ontario Saints and urged them, “Let us not let down in any way our great prophet and the great priesthood leaders that have been called to preside over us. Let us not let down in any way the Lord. … Let us continue to stretch, to reach out, to sacrifice that the kingdom may go forth.”
Maple Leaf Gardens, the setting for the area conference, had its hockey floor carpeted in blue for the event, its stage decked with sheafs of gladioli and mounds of carnations and chrysanthemums. All speeches were given in English. Some prayers and hymn verses were in French. All addresses were translated into French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Spanish, with a pool of about twenty missionaries and members providing simultaneous translation.
Deaf members seated together received the message by signing. The approximately 1,000-voice choir, directed by Sister Hazel McLaren, was one of the conference highlights, with its crisp articulation, brisk tempo, and powerful organ accompaniment. Dressed in blue shirts and homemade blue dresses, the choir members had been rehearsing twice weekly since March.
During the afternoon session, President N. Eldon Tanner, first counselor in the First Presidency and a former Canadian, bore a strong testimony of President Kimball: “We know we have a prophet in our midst. And I hope we appreciate it. If the whole of the Toronto area believed we had a prophet, there wouldn’t be a building large enough to accommodate the meeting. But we know, and how fortunate we are to know!”
Elder Charles Didier, newly appointed executive administrator for the area, called the conference “a launching platform to give the members energy to follow Jesus Christ.” “We must make a decision now,” he challenged them, “while we are in the presence of the prophet. When we are alone, tired, tempted, the decision will be much harder.”
Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve urged members to “stand and be counted” and recalled a “critical crossroads” in his own life when as a private in the military, wishing to become an officer so that he and his sweetheart, now his wife, could be married, he faced a board of inquiry which included a hard-bitten career soldier. The questions focused not on his military expertise but on his personal values. Did he pray? Did he think an officer should pray? Under the stress of battle could the moral code be relaxed?
Despite the temptation to “give noncontroversial answers,” Elder Faust expressed his real feelings and “left, resigned to a low score.” To his “complete surprise,” when the scores were posted he had received ninety-five percent.
President Kimball encouraged the 3,488 mothers and daughters in their session to keep journals, citing the careful record kept by “my darling wife” of her activities and the value of the “many little booklets” of his mother, an important record for him after her death when he was eleven. “Sisters, we’ve come a long way to tell you we love you and appreciate you for all you do to carry forward the program.”
President Tanner spoke glowingly of the great women in his life, including a public tribute to his own wife, Sara. “You can be sure that where we have great men we have great mothers,” he said. “Regardless of what any woman has done outside the home, no one will have a greater reward in heaven than those faithful, devoted mothers who helped their children know God and Jesus Christ, his Son, and live according to the teachings of the gospel.”
Elder Faust addressed his remarks to single women, emphasizing the “potential and horizons” rather than the supposed limitations. He cautioned, “It is a mistake to think that life begins only upon marriage,” and instead reminded them of the blessings of “daily selfless service.” He reassured single adults that “they are on an equal footing with all others in terms of their ability to keep the two great commandments: that is, to love God and to love their fellowman.”
Saturday evening 2,249 fathers and sons listened attentively as Elder Monson urged them first not to stumble in the race of life and then “to lift those who do stumble from their fallen position and to assist them that they might once again qualify for that eternal prize, even eternal life.”
Elder Didier stressed another priesthood responsibility, missionary work: “Our results should show baptisms in our wards and branches every week,” he said, counseling members to focus on “desired results rather than on programs. … Without the desire for baptisms in our heart, we will have no baptisms in our wards.”
Addressing the priesthood session, President Kimball encouraged fathers to give their children father’s blessings, “blessings that could include a mission for every son and for every daughter, if she wishes to go, and that include temple marriage for each child.” He also encouraged parents to put pictures in their children’s rooms of “the temple where it is most convenient to visit” and of missionary work.
The Saints also heard addresses from Sister Smith, Sister Cannon, Regional Representative Elden C. Olsen, and presidents Gerard Pelchat of the Quebec Ontario Stake and Harold Crookell of the London Ontario Stake.
President Kimball’s closing remarks stressed his “deep-seated affection and love” for the people “and our thanks for your coming.” He bore testimony and blessed the people “to find the truth in every matter and to honor it.”
The audience joined in a wholehearted last verse of “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” then weeping, waved goodbye to President Kimball, who took out his handkerchief and responded during “God Be with You.”
After the official party left the stand, the choir applauded their indomitable director, Sister Hazel McLaren, who tried to hush them, but the audience joined in enthusiastically.
The conference took place against a backdrop of 147 years of Church work in Canada. Missionaries came to Canada in 1832. In Toronto in 1836 Parley P. Pratt baptized John Taylor, later third president of the Church. In 1905 there were 2,800 Mormons in Canada. In 1979 there are 75,000. There are now approximately 38,000 members in Alberta, 17,000 in Ontario and Quebec, and 14,000 in British Columbia.