Canadian Mormon history books are few and far between, in part because there are so few members in Canada and part because most of the historical work on Church history is done in the USA. In fact most of the work that has been done have been folk tale like personal histories which while somewhat useful have to be taken with a large measure of salt.
So it was nice to find a book which included American and Canadian academics talking about the early history of Canada and Mormons. B.Y. Card, who edited The diaries of Charles Ora Card: The Canadian years, 1886-1903 is one of the editors of this volume. The book, called The Mormon Presence in Canada, was published in 1990 and details an overview of the Mormon exodus from eastern Canada in the 1830s and their return to southern Alberta area in the 1880s and the aftermath of the settlement.
Lets talk first about what I liked about the book, first the book looked a various parts of life in Canada for the settlers, things like polygamy, life on a hard unyeilding prairie and how the neighbours perceived them have significant sections in the book.
If you could only read a few chapters in this book I would recommend:
A. A. Den Otter – A Congenial Environment: Southern Alberta on the Arrival of the Mormons
Why: It gives a good overview of the reasons why Card et al met such a supportive community in southern Alberta while so much of the rest of the country were dubious of the Mormons.
Howald Palmer – Polygamy and Progress: The Reaction to Mormons in Canada, 1887-1923
Why: This was a great example of how economic interests trumpeted religious feeling as the non-Mormon Galt Mining company used its friendly media to defend the church against attacks about polygamy.
Jessie L. Embry – “Two Legal Wives”: Mormon Polygamy in Canada, the United States and Mexico
A comparision study of the three countries and how they handled polygamy. My wife’s ancestors have the distinction of being one of the few to have brought their spouses north to unite the families.
William A. Wilson – Mormon Folklore and History: Implications for Canadian Research
Fascinating look at how folk tales in Canada were used to strengthen faith and show humour in the face of adversity.
Maureen Ursenbach Beecher – Mormon Women in Southern Alberta: The Pioneer Years
Beecher does a really great job discussing how pioneer women came together to try and build common bonds while being seperated by considerable distance.
So that was the good, the bad, the age of the book and the lack of a more modern update means most of the discussions focusing in the modern period were dated and unfortunately not very helpful.
Rather give a blow by blow account of the chapters I did not care for I will say I was disappointed with Leonard Arrington’s contribution which seemed almost like an add on. Carmon Hardy wrote a chapter similar to Embry’s but less interesting about the Mexico, Canada, & USA dynamic. And Dean Louder’s section on French Canada and Mormonism was almost negative in tone and I found kind odd.
Otherwise the book is generally interesting and some of the topics discussed were new to me and I would certainly suggest that if you are doing Mormon History in the late 19th century you should look at this book if for no other reason than the amount of footnotes and sources used which are not contained in many other more American focused works.