Teenage members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pull handcarts along logging roads near Lake Cowichan. They were re-creating treks across the Great Plains by Mormon pioneers in the mid-19th century. (Photos courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

Victoria area teens take a step back in time

Group of youth recreate 19th century crossing of the Great Plains by Mormon pioneers

About 80 teenagers from the Greater Victoria area recently spent four days pulling and pushing handcarts up and down logging roads near Lake Cowichan. They slept on the ground, and went without digital technology, daily showers and other modern amenities

And generally had a good time.

The teenagers, along with adult leaders and volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were re-enacting the crossing of the Great Plains by Mormon pioneers in the mid-19th century.

By the time the transcontinental railway was completed in 1869, about 70,000 Mormon migrants had crossed the plains. Most did so in wagons drawn by horses or oxen, but some could not afford that mode of transportation. About 3,000 immigrants from Britain and Scandinavia pulled handcarts on the 2,000-kilometre journey from Iowa and Nebraska to the Salt Lake Valley.

The 2017 re-creation of a handcart trek was not meant to imitate the original journey in every detail, said Dan and Cheryl Sulzen, leaders of the committee that organized the trek, but to give the youth a glimpse of the hardships and challenges people faced in an earlier time. Girls wore sunbonnets and long dresses; boys were cloth trousers and brimmed hats — no blue jeans or baseball caps.

“The aim was to teach lessons in faith and perseverance,” said Dan Sulzen. “And it succeeded. We saw kids who were discouraged at first rise to the occasion and help each other.”

Taryn Koide, 15, was a bit nervous about participating in the trek – pulling a heavy handcart up and down hills and along about 20 kilometres of rough mountain roads didn’t sound very appealing.

“But it was worth it,” she said, as she learned about the problems pioneers faced, and she learned what she could do.

“I knew it would be kind of fun, but it was a lot more than that,” said Nathan Paul, 15. “It helped me understand the past a lot better. It was definitely worthwhile.”

Mannie Sharma, 17, isn’t descended from migrants who crossed the Great Plains, but he said he feels he has much in common with those people – he was born in India and immigrated to Canada with his family.

“My family also came to a new land, an unknown land, looking for a better life,” he said.

The event was based at Scouts Canada’s Camp Woodlands on the shore of Lake Cowichan.

Dan Sulzen said while the trek was based on historical events, the event was more about the future than the past.

“We wanted the youth to look to the past for lessons that will help them in the future,” he said. “In some ways, they face more difficult challenges today than the pioneers faced in the 19th century.

“This trek gave them the opportunity to learn what they can really do, and to learn the satisfaction of overcoming adversity.”


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