Important Events and Historic Sites within the boundaries
of the Kingston Ontario District
Since important events of the Restoration took place in upstate New York, just across Lake Ontario from Kingston, it is not surprising that the Kingston area was the first place outside the United States where the restored gospel was heard and that it was the site of other important firsts in the establishment of the Church in Canada.
This map shows the location of Palmyra, New York, south of Lake Ontario, and also shows various historic areas in the Kingston Ontario District, including Sydenham, Kingston Mills Locks, Portland, and the historical marker at Finkle Shore Park in Bath.
First Recorded Testimony of the Book of Mormon outside the United States
In April 1830, Phineas Young, a Methodist preacher living in Mendon, New York, received a copy of the Book of Mormon from Samuel Smith. Phineas believed the book must be a great fraud and accepted the book for the sole purpose of exposing its errors to his congregation. He read the book twice in a two-week period, searching for doctrinal inconsistencies. To his surprise, he found that the book agreed perfectly with his understanding of the Bible, and he believed it to be the word of God.
Later that summer, Phineas accompanied his brother Joseph Young on his Methodist preaching circuit in the Ernestown Township, Upper Canada. While in Canada, Phineas found that he was unable to put his heart into preaching Methodism because his thoughts were so much on the Book of Mormon. In August 1830, Phineas decided to leave Ernestown and return home. On his way home, he stopped in Kingston to attend a conference of Episcopal Methodist ministers. Standing in a doorway adjoining two large hotel lobbies, Phineas asked the group of about 100 assembled ministers if any of them had ever heard of the Book of Mormon, sometimes called the Golden Bible. This question pricked the interest of those present, and someone invited him to give them an account of the book.
In Phineas’ own words, “I commenced by telling them that it was a revelation from God, translated from the Reformed Egyptian language by Joseph Smith, jun., by the gift and power of God, and gave a full account of the aborigines of our country and agreed with many of their traditions, . . . and that it was destined to overthrow all false religions and finally to bring in the peaceful reign of the Messiah. . . . I had forgotten everything but my subject, until I had talked a long time and told many things I had never thought of before. I bore a powerful testimony to the work, and thus closed my remarks and went to bed, not to sleep, but to ponder with astonishment at what I had said, and to wonder with amazement at the power that seemed to compel me thus to speak.” This was the first recorded testimony of the Book of Mormon outside the United States, borne at a Kingston hotel in 1830 by Phineas Young.
First Missionaries, First Converts, and First Branch Outside the United States
In the summer of 1830, Joseph Smith, Sr., and his son Don Carlos travelled from Palmyra to visit Joseph Sr.’s father in Potsdam, New York. As the two men journeyed along the St. Lawrence River by boat, they reported distributing copies of the Book of Mormon at several Canadian ports along their way. These Canadian ports could have included Kingston, Gananoque, Brockville, and Prescott. This was the first effort by ordained missionaries to introduce the gospel to Canada.
In April 1832, after they had been baptized, Phineas and Joseph Young returned to the Kingston area, this time as part of an organized group of ordained Mormon missionaries. These six elders preached for several weeks in the Ernestown and Loughborough Townships and baptized the first Canadian converts. A branch was organized in Ernestown, the first branch of the Church in Canada, in 1832. Joseph Young reported organizing a second branch in the area later that summer.
Brigham Young, brother of Joseph and Phineas, made a total of four trips to the Kingston area to preach the gospel between 1832 and 1835.
In January 1832, after a long period of investigating the restored gospel, Brigham had decided to be baptized, but wished first to share his new-found religion with his brother Joseph, who was still preaching Methodism in Upper Canada. Brigham travelled to Canada and found his brother in Ernestown, where he shared his knowledge of the Restoration. Brigham’s persuasions were effective, for Joseph immediately returned with him to Mendon, New York. They were both baptized soon thereafter.
In January 1833, Brigham Young made his first journey to Canada as an ordained missionary, accompanied by his brother Joseph. They arrived at Gravelly Point, on the New York side of the eastern end of Lake Ontario, where they found that the lake had frozen over the previous night. They undertook the six-mile crossing to Kingston, but the ice was so thin that the two men had to separate from one another, the ice not being capable of supporting their combined weight. Even then, Brigham reported that the ice bent under their feet so that icy water came halfway up their shoes. After arriving safely in Kingston, the two men moved on to the Loughborough and Ernestown Townships, where they baptized 45 people in a one-month period. Among their converts was Artemus Millet, who later supervised construction of the Kirtland Temple.
Brigham Young returned to the area in April 1833, where he laboured until July and brought a large convert family back with him to Kirtland.
Brigham’s fourth visit to the Kingston area was in June 1835, when he and five other members of the newly-called Quorum of the Twelve held a conference in Loughborough (in or near the current village of Sydenham).
First Canadian Converts to Emigrate to Zion
James and Philomela Lake and their large family, living in the village of Switzerville in the Ernestown Township, were converted to the Church by the first group of missionaries in Canada in 1832 and were members of the first branch in Canada. When Brigham Young made his missionary journeys to the Kingston area in 1833, he stayed in the Lake home. In July 1833, Brigham Young accompanied the Lake family as they boarded a ship in Kingston and traveled to Kirtland. The Lakes were the first known LDS converts to emigrate from Canada to join the main body of the Church.
First Visit by Members of the Quorum of the Twelve
The Quorum of the Twelve was chosen and ordained in February 1835. In June 1835, six of the original twelve Apostles held a conference in Loughborough, probably in or near the current village of Sydenham. Those present at the 3-day conference included Apostles Thomas B. Marsh, Brigham Young, Orson Hyde, William E. McLellin, Parley P. Pratt, and William B. Smith. The Apostles gave much needed instruction to the Saints of the Loughborough Branch. This was the first time that members of the Quorum of the Twelve had visited Canada.
The Extraordinary Mission of John E. Page
In 1836, one of the most remarkable missionaries ever to serve in Canada began his mission in Eastern Ontario. When Page was first called by Joseph Smith to serve a mission in Canada, he declined, saying he couldn’t go to Canada because he didn’t even own a coat. Joseph Smith responded by taking off his own coat, giving it to Page, and telling him he would be greatly blessed in his missionary labours.
And indeed he was. John E. Page preached in the Camden and Loughborough Townships, but the bulk of his labours were centered along the newly-completed Rideau Canal, in an area roughly bounded by Kingston, Westport, Perth, Smiths Falls, and Morrisburg.
He was a particularly effective missionary. He and his companions converted more than 600 people during his two years in Canada. Among his converts was the family of Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, grandfather of President Gordon B. Hinckley.
In June 1837, Page held a conference in Portland, just southwest of Smiths Falls, which was attended by more than 300 members of the Church, representing branches in West Bastard, Bedford, Bathurst, North Bathurst, East Bastard, Williamsburg, Leeds, and South Crosby. Wilford Woodruff came to Portland to attend the conference. Even after Page and many of his converts left Canada for Missouri in 1838, missionary work continued in this area into the 1840s, with many more converts being made, including some in L’Orignal, Osnabruck, and Mountain.
The village of Portland, 66 kilometres northeast of Kingston on Highway 15, was the site of a major conference of the Church in June 1837. More than 300 members of the Church in good standing attended the event, representing eight branches in the area, most of whose members had been converted by John E. Page and his companions. Five people were baptized during the conference. The photo, taken at the end of Main Street just west of Water Street, shows Big Rideau Lake, a likely site for these baptisms
Kingston Mills Locks. Wilford Woodruff attended the 1837 conference in Portland. He boarded a passenger boat at Kingston Mills and travelled along the Rideau Canal to Portland. The Rideau Canal, which provided a water highway from Kingston to Ottawa, connecting a vast network of rivers and lakes by a series of canals, dams and locks, was an important artery for transportation in eastern Upper Canada, where roads were poor or non-existent in many places during the early period. Built originally for military purposes, the canal was also used to transport commercial goods and passengers, including, occasionally, Mormon missionaries. In the present day, the locks at Kingston Mills are still operated by hand, just as they were when Wilford Woodruff was there.
Canadian Converts from Eastern Ontario
Most Canadian converts from the 1830s and 1840s moved to the United States to join the main body of the Church. Records of the Nauvoo Temple show that at least 98 Church members from eastern Ontario were endowed in the Nauvoo Temple. There were at least 15 members from eastern Ontario who enlisted in the Mormon Battalion. Many hundreds of Canadian converts crossed the plains to Utah, where they contributed significantly to leadership in their communities and in the Church. For example, William Draper, an 1833 convert from Loughborough, founded the settlement in Draper, Utah, and fellow Loughborough convert Daniel Wood was an early settler in Bountiful, the town of Woods Cross being named for him. Stephen Chipman and Arza Adams, 1836 converts from Leeds County, founded the town of American Fork. Ira Nathaniel Hinckley build Cove Fort and was a long-time stake president and community leader in Fillmore, Utah. Ira’s grandson, Gordon B. Hinckley, became the 15th President of the Church. Indeed, Canadian converts and their descendants became an integral part of the fabric of the Church as it grew and strengthened in the Intermountain West.
A monument was dedicated on 9 August 1997, by President Thomas S. Monson, as part of the Trenton Ontario District’s celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Mormon pioneers’ arrival in Utah. It was placed in Finkle Shore Park in the Village of Bath to commemorate several important events in the history of the Church in Canada in the nineteenth century that happened within the boundaries of what is now the Kingston Ontario District. Finkle Shore Park is just west of the Village of Bath on Highway 33.
This historical monument is located in Finkle Shore Park, just west of the village of Bath on Highway 33. Standing beside the monument are Thomas S. and Frances Monson with Becky and Daren Heyland. Daren Heyland was president of the Trenton Ontario District at the time. President Monson dedicated the monument on 9 August 1997.
The Twentieth Century and Beyond
After the Saints departed for Utah, there was very little Latter-day Saint presence in eastern Ontario for many years. The 1861 census reveals only 74 “Mormons” in all of Canada. Missionary activity was discontinued, except for a few small and sporadic efforts. It was not until the establishment of the Canadian Mission in 1919, with headquarters in Toronto, that missionaries once again visited eastern Ontario.
A small branch was formed in Ottawa in 1926, and by 1952 there were also small branches in Kingston, Brockville, Cornwall, Belleville, and Trenton. Church members held meetings in a variety of rented halls, as they worked diligently to raise funds to acquire their own meetinghouses. The Ottawa Branch purchased and renovated an existing church building in 1951. The Belleville Branch constructed its own meetinghouse in 1964, and the Trenton Branch followed suit in 1967. By the time stakes were created in eastern Ontario in 1976, there was a one-phase building in Brockville, a large LDS meetinghouse on Prince of Wales Drive in Ottawa, and a two-phase building under construction in Kingston. The Trenton and Belleville congregations were part of the Toronto Ontario East Stake (later the Oshawa Ontario Stake), while Kingston, Brockville, and Cornwall were part of the Ottawa Ontario Stake. In 1996, boundaries of the Ottawa and Oshawa stakes were realigned to create the Trenton Ontario District, which included branches in Trenton, Belleville, Napanee, Kingston, Campbellford, and Bancroft. The Trenton District was renamed the Kingston Ontario District in 2000, with the Brockville and Smiths Falls branches being added to the district and the Bancroft Branch being reassigned to the Oshawa Stake. In 2017, there are beautiful Latter-day Saint buildings for each congregation in eastern Ontario. Although there is no temple in the eastern part of Ontario, Church members are within a reasonable driving distance of temples in Toronto, Montreal, and Palmyra. The Lord has greatly blessed this area with growth and permanence, a solid foundation for future growth.