A Brief History of the Church and Temples in Canada
Latter-day Saints came to Alberta and established the Church in Canada for the first time in the late 1800s. Cardston was the settlement that became the center place of the Church in Canada. As more Saints came in the late 1890s, Stirling was a strong settlement as well. By 1899, Stirling had grown enough to have its own ward. The establishment of a ward was of sufficient importance that Joseph F. Smith, a counselor in the First Presidency traveled to Canada for that occasion.
At the Sacrament Meeting held to establish Stirling as a ward, President Smith thrilled and delighted the assembled Saints when he said: “If you people will live right, a temple will one day be built in Canada.” To the members who were there assembled, it must have been an astonishing thing to hear. However, they sustained President Smith as a “Prophet, Seer and Revelator” so many would have accepted and believed.
At the April General Conference in 1901, President Smith said: “I foresee the necessity arising for other temples or places consecrated to the Lord for the performance of the ordinances of God’s house, so that the people may have the benefit of the House of the Lord without having to travel hundreds of miles for that purpose. (History of the Church in Canada, p. 71)
It was only six months later, on October 10, 1901, that President Lorenzo Snow passed away, and Joseph F. Smith became the President of the Church.
The Canadian Saints had to have been delighted to sustain this great Apostle as the next President of the Church. He was the one who had told them that if they lived right they would have a temple someday. Additionally, he had proclaimed to all of the Church that he foresaw the need for more temples.
By 1912, the membership of the Church in Canada had grown to 7000. Virtually all of them lived in the two Southern Alberta Stakes. The Alberta Stake was the original stake and it was headquartered in Cardston. The Taylor Stake was the second stake and it was headquartered in Raymond. The leaders of the Church from Salt Lake visited the Canada stakes often and knew of the faithfulness of the Saints who had settled in Canada.
In the October Conference of 1912, Joseph F. Smith announced that a temple would be built in Canada. That occasion must have been especially memorable, as a new temple had not been announced for many years, and that the temple would be built in faraway Canada.
Following the groundbreaking, construction was slow. The temple was nearly completed by 1921, but funds were scarce and the completion of the temple was delayed until 1923.
Heber J. Grant was the President of the Church at that time, having succeeded President Joseph F. Smith, following his death in 1918. Accompanied by one of his counselors and nine members of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Grant traveled to Cardston for the dedication of the new temple. With so many General Authorities in attendance, Elder John A. Widtsoe, of the Twelve, said: “For a week, Cardston became the ‘Capital of Mormondon.” (A History of the Mormon Church in Canada. P. 74) Eleven dedicatory sessions were held over four days, from Sunday, August 26th, through Wednesday August 29th.
At the time of the dedication and for most of its history, the temple was known as The Alberta Temple. As other temples were built, it became known as the Cardston Alberta Temple.
For 60 years, the Cardston Temple was the only temple in Canada. Sometimes it was referred to as the Canada Temple. On April 7, 1984, President Kimball announced a temple would be built in Toronto. This was a great occasion for the Saints in Eastern Canada, as well as parts of the Eastern U.S., who found Toronto closer than the Washington D.C. Temple, which had been dedicated in 1974.
President Gordon B. Hinckley surprised and delighted the whole Church with this announcement in his concluding remarks at the General conference in April 1998: “I take this opportunity to announce to the entire Church a program to construct some 30 smaller temples immediately…. This will be a tremendous undertaking. Nothing even approaching it has ever been tried before. These will be in addition to the 17 buildings now going forward…. This will make a total of 47 new temples in addition to the 51 now in operation. I think we had better add two more to make it an even 100 by the end of this century, being 2000 years “since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh” (Doctrine & Covenants 20:1). In this program we are moving on a scale the like of which we have never seen before.” (CR, 4/98 p. 115)
This announcement had a huge impact on the Church in Canada, as four of the new temples that were soon announced were in Canada: Halifax, Montreal, Regina, and Edmonton.
In order to be able to build so many temples so quickly, they needed to be small and they needed to be a standard design and floor plan. The new temples were called “99-240” within the Temple Department, meaning they were designed to be built in 1999, and had two rooms seating 40 patrons in each room – thus the term “99-240.” For comparison, these new temples would have square footage of 10,700 square feet while the Toronto Temple has 58,000 square feet.
The announcement of plans to build four new temples in Canada was a joy for members throughout the country, but left some members in Calgary wondering about their city. By that time, Calgary had become the city with the largest concentration of LDS in all of Canada.
The Edmonton Temple was completed quickly and dedicated on December 11, 1999. It was the 67th Temple in the Church at the time of the dedication. The feverish pace of building and completing temples continued and when the Boston Massachusetts Temple was dedicated on October 1, 2000, it was the 100th temple in the Church. President Hinckley’s goal had been realized.
President Hinckley continued to announce and dedicate temples, including announcement of the Vancouver Temple in May 2006. It would be the 7th temple in Canada.
At the time of President Hinckley’s passing in early 2008, there were 124 temples throughout the world. The last temple he dedicated was the Helsinki Finland Temple, in October 2006.
With the pace of new temple announcements slowing, and realizing that Cardston was only a three-hour drive from Calgary, many wondered how long it would be before Calgary had its own temple.
Following the death of President Hinckley, President Thomas S. Monson continued the great work of temple building and his love for Canada was soon manifest. In the October 2008 General Conference, President Monson announced five new temples would be built in “Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Cordoba, Argentina; the greater Kansas City area; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Rome, Italy.” (Conference Report, Oct/2008, p. 3)
With all the excitement about the announcement of temples to be built in Rome and Kansas City, many almost forgot about the announcement of Calgary. But not for Canadians. Latter-day Saints across Canada knew that Calgary had the largest concentration of members in the country and the announcement of a temple there was great news.
Having been appointed Executive Director of the Temple Department by President Hinckley in 2007, I had the privilege of continuing in that assignment under President Monson. I was with the First Presidency when the decision was made to build the temple in Calgary. Several things that President Monson said on that occasion were especially memorable: “This will make the saints in Calgary very happy. Some of them were unhappy when we announced a temple in Edmonton.” Of course, the hand of the Lord was very much in the sequence of temple announcements. Had the Calgary Temple been announced in 1998, it would not look like the temple that is there today.
President Monson then said: “President Tanner will be very happy that we are announcing a temple for Calgary.” President N. Eldon Tanner was President of the Calgary Stake when he was called to be a General Authority in 1960. President Monson loved and admired President Tanner as they served together for many years in the leadership of the Church. President Tanner served as a counselor in the First Presidency to four Presidents of the Church, until his death in 1982.
Having a temple built in Calgary was a great blessing to all of the Saints in Alberta. It was the third temple to be built in the Province of Alberta – the place where the Church flourished and grew in the early days of the history of the Church. It is a miracle to have three temples in the Province of Alberta.
In the words of the Dedicatory Prayer for the Alberta Temple, President Heber J. Grant said: “We thank Thee, O Father in Heaven, for the splendid treatment that has been afforded by the officials in the Dominion of Canada, to those of Thy people who have immigrated to this country, and we humbly pray Thee to aid Thy sons and Thy daughters who have taken upon them Thy name, so to order their lives in righteousness and truth, that they may retain the good will of the people of this country, and merit the same, because of their good works.” (Temple Department records, italics added)
Surely those early Saints, and their descendants, did “order their lives in righteousness and truth” and “because of their good works” the Lord’s Church has flourished in Canada and we have temples from one end of Canada to the other, and the miracle of three temples in Alberta.