The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada's Polygamous Mormon Sect.


496 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-307-35589-8
DDC 289.3'71162





Reviewed by Ashley Thomson

Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.


Most Canadians know that Wally Oppal, the former Attorney General of British Columbia, laid polygamy changes against Winston Blackmore and James Oler, both of Bountiful, BC, but that in September 2009, a BC Supreme Court Justice revoked the charges on the grounds that Oppal had shopped around for a prosecutor willing to argue his case.

Daphne Bramham, a columnist for the Vancouver Sun could not have been pleased to hear that. Based primarily on newspaper accounts and interviews with unsympathetic partisans, her book is a ripping exposé of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the awful effects that its practice of polygamy have had, not only on many of the “sister wives” involved—some as young as 14—but also on young boys expelled from the community—most with little skills or education—primarily because “polygamous arithmetic” only works for older men.

Bramham’s outrage has led her to ignore the geographical boundaries implicit in her subtitle. True, there are many connections between polygamists in both countries but Bramham cannot resist a juicy but irrelevant story about an American polygamist when she comes across it. More serious is the range of players within the book. Convoluted relationships should be expected in a book about polygamy, but at times the story can get confusing unless very close attention is paid. Example:

“The man who romanced [Debbie Older] with biblical poetry was fifty-three year old Ray Blackmore. He was eighteen years older than her father and was her stepgrandfather, the father of two of her stepmothers. He had a dozen children older than Debbie and twenty-one children who were younger … and Ray Blackmore was the father of one of Debbie’s closest friends, Ruth, whose birthday was five days after Debbie’s.” (p. 100)

Caveats aside, Burnham makes her point and it is heartening to learn that in reaction to the October decision, the BC government, backed by the federal justice minister, decided to ask the BC Supreme Court for an opinion on whether the federal law barring multiple marriage is constitutionally valid.

High time.


Bramham, Daphne., “The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada's Polygamous Mormon Sect.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,