Editor’s note: In commemoration of Canada’s 150th anniversary a project was undertaken by Church Service Missionaries Roy and Carma Prete to compile a book depicting the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Canada. Several writers authored chapters describing separate aspects or periods of that history.
That book, titled “Canadian Mormons, An Illustrated History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada”, has been completed and we look forward to its publication and release.
With the Pretes’ permission, a number of the authors were contacted and invited to provide articles based on, or related to their chapters in the book. The following is one of those articles.
We at canada.lds.org wish to extend our appreciation to Brother and Sister Prete for their kind assistance and for allowing this to happen, and to the authors who have agreed to participate.
When Elder Henry B. Eyring, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, visited the Raymond Alberta Stake in October 2000, he requested that the stake president, Terrence C. Smith, drive him around the community and tell him about the town and its people. President Smith relates:
“We drove up and down most of the streets in town and he [Elder Eyring] asked me about several homes—who lived there, what they did for a living, and some general things about the demographics and economics of the community. During his visit he was very interested in the depth and commitment of the Church here in southern Alberta. He made a contrast with the Mormon settlements in northern Mexico where some of his family had lived. These settlements were both founded at about the same time by people leaving Utah and surrounding states over the conflict with the US federal government and polygamy. He noted that we had had a temple here in Canada in the vicinity for about 75 years at that time, while the temple in Colonia Juarez had only been dedicated the previous year in 1999. We talked at length about the effect of the presence of a temple in the creation of a strong multigenerational church community. He seemed convinced that the members’ temple attendance and activity had been a vital part of what made the Church and the community thrive and persist through the generations.”1
The blessings of having a temple in southern Alberta for nearly a century are simply incalculable. From the moment, it became operational, the Cardston Alberta Temple has stood as the great symbol of local Latter-day Saint membership. It remains a divine constant amid ever-changing physical and social circumstances. It also remains the anchor of faith for Saints living in the area, whose faith is reflected in much of its subsequent history.
As the sixth operating temple at the time, The Cardston Alberta Temple was dedicated during a series of eleven sessions on August 26-29, 1923. President Heber J. Grant presided over and conducted all the dedicatory meetings and gave the dedicatory prayer at each one. The dedicatory prayer included a blessing upon the people of Canada:
“We beseech thee, O God in heaven, that the people of Canada may ever seek thee for guidance and direction, that thy declaration that the American continent is a land choice above all other lands, and thy promise that it shall be protected against all foes, provided the people serve thee, may be fulfilled, and that the people may grow in power, and strength and dominion, and, above all, in a love of thy truth.”2
From the vantage point of hindsight, it is clearly evident that President Grant’s dedicatory prayer has been and is continuing to be realized. There are currently 49 stakes, 3 districts, and 9 temples in Canada. And in southern Alberta there are 10 stakes comprising 71 wards and 8 branches.3 (Note: For the purpose of this article, the term “southern Alberta” is used in reference to communities south of Calgary.)
Commenting on the temple’s significance at the time of its dedication, C. Frank Steele, a Church member and writer for the Lethbridge Herald stated: “Here was a crowning reward for their [the Saints’] faithfulness, a symbol of permanency in their new Canadian home, an evidence surest of all, perhaps, that this was destined to be a favored gathering place for the Saints…The Temple brought unity to the Saints and fortified them for their trials.”4
This statement proved to be prophetic. Trials and challenges were part of life in southern Alberta as the Church and the population in general continued to grow. One daunting challenge was the ongoing efforts to quench the thirst of the region’s semiarid soil, made even drier by the warm Chinook winds that frequent the area.
Irrigation proved to be a key. From humble beginnings when Latter-day Saints experimented with irrigation in the Cardston area, irrigation projects expanded to provide service to more than six hundred thousand productive hectares (nearly one and a half million acres) of land. And because the irrigation system depended on river flow, which was often low late in the growing season, reservoirs were created to guarantee the supply of water in drier years.
Still, it must be remembered that despite irrigation much of southern Alberta settlement was for dryland farming, therefore the agricultural industry was subject to nature’s fickle disposition.
During the 1920s exceptionally dry years followed one another in succession. The situation intensified during the Great Depression in the1930s. Conditions in the irrigated areas of southern Alberta, however, were not as bad as those in dry land areas, especially in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Because of the availability of water, the Lethbridge Stake had a bumper crop of potatoes and other produce.
Realizing how richly the Saints had been blessed, the high priests’ quorum inaugurated an initiative in 1934 to assist the farmers of southern Saskatchewan. Centres were set up in each ward where members could drop off cash and produce. Because of the stake’s efforts, many non-Mormon farmers began dropping off produce at the centres as well, and the United Church of Canada, working with the Lethbridge Stake, organized the relief effort.
Two boxcars of produce were shipped by rail to Regina and then redistributed to communities across southern Saskatchewan. In a humanitarian gesture reflecting the gravity of the times, officials of the Canadian Pacific Railway waived shipping charges. The boxcars, arriving just before and after Christmas, were a timely blessing.5
Despite the success of farming in irrigated regions, challenges remained for farmers in dryland areas. President E. J. Wood, president of the Alberta Stake, spoke in a priesthood meeting in 1936 during the severe drought, prophesying that if the Saints were faithful, they would reap a miraculous harvest. However, the drought continued. No rain came and warm winds blew. Many people expressed doubt in the prophecy, saying, “The President has missed it this time. He was too anxious; we are near the end; the God of Heaven has forsaken us. The crop is beyond recovery and no harvest is in the offing.”
At harvest time, people had low expectations. But to their surprise, the heads of grain were filled out and crop yield averaged twenty bushels per acre. One witness to the event wrote, “We exclaimed, ‘The prophecy has been fulfilled! What seemed impossible has become a reality! How did it happen?’
The only analysis that seemed possible to us was that though the days were warm, the nights were cool and heavy dew fell, but no mortal had the ability to predict it. The President rose from a seeming failure to the full strength of the Lord’s divinely appointed servant, and there in the minds of most of his followers he will remain.”6
In time the Great Depression ended. The rains came, the economy rebounded, and people began picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild their lives.
Temple attendance began to increase and evening sessions were held twice a month to accommodate the growing numbers.7
Before the decade was through, dark clouds, this time the clouds of war, appeared on the horizon once more: World War II.
Although far from the battlefields of Europe, the communities in southern Alberta contributed significantly to the war effort.8 Volunteers and enlistees came from every stake and community, and there was not a congregation in southern Alberta that was not affected by the war.
Many of the 77,000-plus Albertans who enrolled in the armed forces lost their lives or were wounded in the defense of their country. War monuments now stand in communities across the province in honor of all who served in the war effort.
As might be expected, attendance at the Cardston Alberta Temple improved following the war. Youth were encouraged to come to the temple by establishing a designated time for them to “drop in” to do baptisms. The number of baptisms for the dead rose and endowment sessions were increased.
In 1948, an extensive renovation plan was implemented that included improvements to the exterior and interior of the temple, and in 1962 a new addition to the temple was made necessary by an increase in attendance. President Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency presided at the dedication service and gave the dedicatory prayer.
Beginning in 1988 the temple was closed for three years in order to undergo extensive renovations. When the renovations were completed in 1991, the temple was opened to the public, and more than one hundred thousand people attended. At the conclusion of the open house period, President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency gave the dedicatory prayer. This was the third set of dedicatory prayers held at the temple in its sixty-eight-year history.9
In September 1995, the Cardston Alberta Temple was designated a national historic site. Bud Olsen, a member of the Canadian Senate, unveiled a plaque and noted the temple had attained both architectural and national significance with the designation.10 The government recognized the temple for its “distinctive identity and national heritage,” but to the Saints it was and continues to be the House of the Lord, a building of eternal significance, a structure that is the great symbol of Church membership.
The entire story of the Church in southern Alberta is that of faithful members who are deeply rooted in their testimonies and in their loyalty to the Church. The temple has been the focus of their spiritual life and the symbol of their commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
While economic times have fluctuated and the population has shifted from rural to urban areas, southern Alberta has not only been the “seedbed” for the growth of the Church in Canada but has also provided a rich harvest of Church and civic leaders.
The strength of the southern Alberta Saints attests to the blessings that have come from having a temple in their midst—blessings that have created the “strong multigenerational church communities” which Elder Eyring lauded when he visited the Raymond Stake in October 2000.
1 Terrence C. Smith, president of the Raymond Alberta Stake, 1997-2001, unpublished article, in possession of Darrel Nelson.
2 V.A. Wood, The Alberta Temple: Centre and Symbol of Faith (Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 1989), 80.
3 “LDS Temples and Mormon Church in Canada” at www.ldschurchtemples.com/statistics/units/canada.
4 V.A. Wood, The Alberta Temple: Centre and Symbol of Faith, 104.
5 Ardis E. Parshall, “Lethbridge Alberta: ‘Ye Shall Obtain Riches…to Feed the Hungry,’” (The Keepaptichinin—A semi-occasional paper, Feb. 25, 2010, www.keepapitchinin.org/?s=Lethbridge&submit=Search.)
6 Olive Wood Nielsen, A Treasury of Edward J. Wood (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press), 1983, 612-13.
7 V.A. Wood, The Alberta Temple: Centre and Symbol of Faith, 120.
8 Melvin S. Tagg, Asael E. Palmer, and others, A History of the Mormon Church in Canada (Lethbridge: The Lethbridge Herald, 1968), 149.
9Cannon, “Alberta Temple ‘washed, polished,’” Church News, 29 June 1991, 3.
10 “Alberta Temple joins Canada’s historic buildings,” Westwind Community News, vol. 2, number 38, 19 September 1995.