The date of April 6 has a lot of meaning to LDS folk, but did you know it was also the beginning of a mission to Canada that would have a huge impact on Britain.
On April 6 1836 Parley P Pratt left his wife behind in Kirtland to serve a mission to Canada. Over the next few weeks he would find himself crossing paths with two spirit led individuals – a nameless stranger in Hamilton and Isabella Walton in Toronto – who would both direct Parley’s path by some tender miracles.
Parley’s destination was Toronto, Canada – over 215 miles away. He began his trek:
- By wagon from Kirtland to Erie, on the shore of Lake Erie – 82 miles
- By stagecoach from Erie to Buffalo – 22 miles
- He then walked about 23 miles to Niagara Falls.
Parley was in awe. He wrote,
“As this was my first visit to this place it made a deep and awful impression on my mind. We halted a short time to view this wonder of nature, and to adore that God who had formed a world so sublimely grand. The leaping of a mighty river of waters over a perpendicular fall of one hundred and sixty feet, the foaming and dashing off its white spray upon the rocks beneath; the rising cloud of mist with its glittering rainbow, the yawning gulf with its thousand whirlpools; all conspired to fill the contemplative mind with wonder and admiration…”
- He continued walking another 45 miles to the settlement of Hamilton on the shoreline of Lake Ontario.
- His goal was to carry on further to Toronto, at least another 43 miles along, which by foot would take another few days – a “circuitous route, muddy and tedious to go on foot.” A quicker, and more relaxing way would be to catch a steamer between the two ports, but he was without the financial means to do so.
Thus the stage is set for miracle number one.
Parley decided to turn to the Lord.
“I retired to a secret place in a forest and prayed to the Lord for money to enable me to cross the lake. I then entered Hamilton and commenced to chat with some of the people. I had not tarried many minutes before I was accosted by a stranger, who inquired my name and where I was going. He also asked me if I did not want some money. I said yes. He then gave me ten dollars and a letter of introduction to John Taylor, of Toronto, where I arrived the same evening.” (Pratt, p. 113)
No mention is made of the name of this mystery benefactor, but the Lord’s hand is so clearly in his generous offer, and the subsequent events. Who was that man? How did he know John Taylor? What was it about Parley that inspired him to part with both money and contact information? We do not know, but what a great chain of events he helped speed along.
What at first seemed like a miracle was to fall flat on its face. John Taylor rejected Parley’s message!
As did other clergy members, and local authorities declined or blocked Parley’s attempts to preach. Despite a previous promise by Heber C. Kimball that Toronto would have a “people prepared” and would open the door to England, Parley became downhearted and decided to leave “a place where I could do no good.” He made a last visit to the home of John Taylor and expressed his intention to leave.
This is where miracle number two arrives.
Precisely at that moment a family friend, a Mrs. Walton, arrived at the Taylor’s front door, and, upon hearing Parley’s story and decision to go elsewhere, declared to Mrs Taylor:
I now understand the feelings and spirit which brought me to your house at this time. I have been busy over the wash tub and too weary to take a walk; but I felt impressed to walk out. I then thought I would make a call on my sister, the other side of town; but passing your door, the Spirit bade me go in; but I said to myself I will go in when I return; but the Spirit said: go in now. I accordingly came in, and I am thankful that I did so. Tell the stranger he is welcome to my house. I am a widow; but I have a spare room and bed, and food in plenty. He shall have a home at my house, and two large rooms to preach in just when he pleases. Tell him I will send my son John over to pilot him to my house, while I go and gather my relatives and friends to come in this very evening and hear him talk; for I feel by the Spirit that he is a man sent by the Lord with a message which will do us good. (Pratt, p. 116)
The prompt actions of this righteous widow were soon to bear fruit. Mrs Walton along with John & Leonora Taylor were part of a group that met regularly to seek truth. John later explained that for two years prior to Parley’s arrival,
A number of us met together for the purpose of searching the Scriptures; and we found that certain doctrines were taught by Jesus and the Apostles, which neither the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, nor any of the religious sects taught; and we concluded that if the Bible was true, the doctrines of modern Christendom were not true; or if they were true, the Bible was false….In addition to our researches and investigations, we prayed and fasted before God; and the substance of our prayers was, that if he had a people upon the earth anywhere, and ministers who were authorized to preach the Gospel, that he would send us one. (JD, 23:30)
That Sunday Parley accompanied Mrs Walton to one of their meetings and heard John Taylor declare to the group:
Now, where is our Philip? Where is our receiving the Word with joy, and being baptised when we believed? Where is our Peter and John? Our apostles? Where is our Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands? Where are our gifts of the Holy Ghost? Echo answers, where? (Pratt, p. 119)
The chairman of the group was informed that the ‘stranger’ in their midst might have something to say. Parley informed them he most certainly did have some remarks, but as the time was far spent he proposed that they meet again that evening. This was agreed upon, and imagine Parley’s excitement to hear the Chairman close that meeting with the following prayer:
O Lord, we have neither apostles, visions, angels, revelations, gifts, tongues, ordinances, nor a Christian ministry; we acknowledge that we are destitute of everything like the pattern of the true Church, as laid down in thy holy Word, and we pray thee to send whom thou wilt…” (Pratt, p. 120)
Here, as Heber promised, were his “people prepared.”
Oh, how I would have loved to have been there that evening, and the next evening and the next as Parley shared the restoration of the gospel with these people. How I would have loved to have seen the lights go on in their eyes. Many rejected him, including, sadly the chairman who gave that closing prayer. His heart could not see the answer to his heartfelt plea. But John recalled:
I made a regular business of it for three weeks, and followed Brother Parley from place to place. (Roberts, p. 38)
He and Leonora were baptised on the 9th of May, 1836.
So, we have found the promised “people prepared”, but how did this Toronto story help open the door to England and “cause a great work to be done in that land”
To be continued…
Pratt, Parley P. Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt. Deseret Book Company. Salt Lake City, Utah. 1938.
Journal of Discourses, London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1883.
Roberts, B.H. Life of John Taylor. Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1963.