This Week in History


Mormons Choose Alberta Home

For the week of Monday April 20, 1998

On April 26, 1887, a small group of Mormons, led by Joseph Ora Card, established the community that would become Cardston, Alberta. Because of their religious beliefs, these men were in trouble with the American government. Faced with a choice of going to jail, relocating, or changing their practices, some chose to move to Canada. Although relatively small in numbers, these homesteaders played an important role in the settlement and development of the west.

First Settlers at Cardston

First Settlers at Cardston
© Library and Archives Canada / C-37955

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or LDS) is the most prominent denomination of the Mormon faith. This religion was formed in 1830 in Upper New York State after Joseph Smith Jr. experienced a revelation from God. Some of the Mormons' beliefs caused conflict with the older Christian faiths ­ particularly their belief in polygamy ­ and they were forced to move farther and farther into the western United States. Continued conflict over this issue prompted Card and his associates to investigate Alberta as a place to settle. Within three years, both Canada and the Mormon Church rejected polygamy, but there were so many opportunities in Canada that migration continued.

Southern Alberta is much like Utah, so the Mormons had experience with land too dry for ordinary farming. After settling, they developed a system of irrigation and successfully introduced a variety of new crops into the area. During the droughts of the 1890s, the Mormons helped local farmers, and later the Church in Utah joined with the Galt Company in irrigating other areas of southern Alberta. Contracts between the Church and Canadian companies guaranteed that the Mormon settlers never experienced the hardships other immigrants had. The Galt Irrigation Canal, commemorated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, was the first large-scale irrigation project in Canada, and was fundamental in opening up southern Alberta for settlement.

Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Cardston, Alberta

Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter Day Saints, Cardston, Alberta

© Parks Canada / Mary Cullen

Although the majority of Latter Day Saints now reside in cities across the continent, distinctive Mormon agricultural villages can still be found in southern Alberta. These villages follow a grid pattern with houses and public buildings in the interior, and nothing but farmland in the countryside. The farmers resided in town, and commuted to their land every day. The Mormon Settlement Pattern is commemorated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board at Stirling, Alberta. The Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in Cardston, Alberta, is commemorated for both its historical and architectural significance. This extraordinary building was the first Mormon Temple built outside of the United States.

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