“The Saints in Saskatoon: Building a Center Place of Faith,” Ensign, Mar. 1994, 76–77
“Arise, Saskatoon, Queen of the North,” said John Lake in 1882 as he scanned the site along the South Saskatchewan River where he hoped to found a temperance colony. Lake’s dream never materialized, but his words proved prophetic in later years. Saskatoon—named for the delicious berries growing along its riverbanks—arose from a prairie town of thirty-five original settlers to become an incorporated city of five thousand in 1906 and the largest city in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan today. Called the “Hub City,” Saskatoon is the trading center for western Canada’s vast farming region and the supply base for Saskatchewan’s potash mines and for the uranium and timber industries of the north.
The city is on the rise in a different sense as well: Saskatonian Saints belong to a blossoming stake of Zion, one “increas[ing] in beauty, and in holiness” (D&C 82:14) as its members meet their challenges through a firm hope in Christ. Of the city’s 180,000 inhabitants, more than 730 are Latter-day Saints served by two wards and one stake, the Saskatoon Saskatchewan Stake, which covers all of the province (nearly 252,000 square miles) and parts of Alberta and Manitoba.
“We’re no huge presence in the city, but the Church is well known as a force for good,” says John Spencer, an alderman in the nearby village of Clavet. He notes that in recent years, LDS high school students have achieved “a high reputation for excellence” in student government despite their small numbers.
Sunday School meetings were held in Saskatoon beginning in 1943, and one year later the Saskatoon Branch was created, with Sidney B. Smith called as the first branch president. His wife, Elsie, organized eight Primary groups in the area, only one of which was composed of LDS children.
To raise funds for a chapel of their own, branch members sold homemade chocolates and potato-flour doughnuts called spudnuts, a hit at the branch’s food booth at the annual Saskatoon fair and exhibition. The chapel, completed in 1960, served 440 Saints by 1967. The stake was formed in 1978. Today the second-phase meetinghouse includes stake offices, two wards, and a family history center that opened in 1979.
Brian Reddick was a volunteer worker in the family history center for three years before he joined the Church in 1990.
“It was fantastic,” Brian says, referring to the day he and his wife and children were sealed in the temple. That day, he and his wife, Donna, also were able to do temple work for some of their ancestors. “I knew my grandparents were there with us as we were being baptized for them,” he says. The Reddicks cherish their increased family unity and an eternal perspective that assures that the good experiences in life “outnumber the bad.”
Les and Bernice Buell own a grain and cattle farm near Radisson. On Sundays they travel about fifty miles to attend church at the Saskatoon First Ward. There are no other LDS families in their area.
“The Church is what has held our family together,” says Sister Buell, recently released as ward Relief Society president. “It’s a way of life, our direction, what gives us a feeling of peace and a sense of security.” The Buells joined the Church about fifteen years ago. Of their three children, one is serving a mission in Taiwan.
Stake president Kenneth A. Svenson and his counselors all live in the capital city of Regina, 150 miles southeast of Saskatoon. They travel several hundred miles each month while carrying out stake business and trying to keep the scattered stake membership unified. Stake high council meetings alternate between Saskatoon and Regina.
Besides these daunting distances, other challenges beset Church members in Saskatoon—economic downturns and shifting ward populations. The latter has checked Church growth in the area from the start, when most members of Saskatoon’s first branch were in the armed services. Today the ward populations are similarly fluid due to the ebb and flow of families or students connected with the University of Saskatchewan, located in Saskatoon.
But these challenges continue to forge strong members who learn to put the Lord first in their lives and thereby reap great personal blessings. One ward’s current focus is on overcoming setbacks through spiritual preparation, getting back to gospel basics, and learning about and thus knowing the Savior, says Bishop Clinton Dietze of the second ward.
“We’re on a spiritual frontier,” he says, referring to how Church members in Saskatoon are a minority presence with attendant struggles. “But it is marvelous to see Saints who take their struggles and look for peace through the gospel.” Bishop Dietze is a mining engineer who met his wife, Elizabeth, at a singles ward family home evening night in Calgary. They have three young children.
Susan Derry, Spiritual Living teacher in the first ward Relief Society, says, “The gospel is true, and we are stronger because we need to be examples to others not of our faith.” Her baptism seventeen years ago becalmed her restlessness and filled a void in her life so real that today the bishop’s wife and mother of six children “cannot imagine life without God and the ‘mighty change’ that allows us to make better choices and to have better relationships with family members.”
“The Church is both an anchor and a foundation,” says John Spencer, who feels linked to the ward and stake even though only one LDS family lives near him and his family. He is a former bishop now serving as Gospel Doctrine teacher in the second ward. Like many other area Saints, he views the Church as a lifeline for him and his family, “providing incredible support to help us reach our goals and survive tough times with our self-esteem intact.”
“There are no ‘cultural Mormons’ here,” he adds. “We are either in or out; and if we’re in the Church, we’re all the way in—very active.” His twin sons are serving missions in Switzerland and in France. “I am very impressed with the vitality and sacrifices of individual Church members and with the special enthusiasm that converts add to the Church in Saskatoon,” he says.