Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints National Historic Site of Canada
© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1992.
348 3 St. W., Cardston, Alberta
Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
1913 to 1923
Event, Person, Organization:
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Alberta Temple The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Research Report Number:
Existing plaque: Temple main entrance Cardston, Alberta
A striking modern building dominating Canada's first Mormon settlement, the Alberta Temple is an architectural and historical monument of national significance. Designed in 1912 by Pope and Burton of Salt Lake City, its geometric composition of white granite blends ancient and modern themes, notably Mayan-Aztec and the Prairie School architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Special rooms reserved for sacred ceremonies are richly embellished with woodwork, murals and furnishings. Restored in 1991 with meticulous care, this building emphasizes the pre-eminent place of the temple in Mormon religion.
Description of Historic Place
The Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints National Historic Site of Canada in Cardston, Alberta, is a monumental granite building sited on a rise in the middle of a large, landscaped site, set against the dramatic backdrop of Chief Mountain. The building’s severe, interlocking geometric shapes ascend in a pyramidal shape, evocative of Pre-Columbian architecture. Located in the heart of the town, both geographically and spiritually, the temple continues to serve its religious function. The official recognition refers to the building on its landscaped site.
The Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1992 because: the building is constructed in the finest of materials and exhibits an exceptional level of craftsmanship; it is a striking modern building dominating Canada's first Mormon settlement.
The temple is a striking example of modern building design in the Prairie School style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Designed by the American architects from Salt Lake City, Hyrum Pope and Harold Burton, the building is a radical departure from other Mormon temple designs. The exterior, mainly the work of Pope, is reminiscent of Wright’s Unity Temple in its strong horizontal lines with contrasting vertical emphasis. The same aesthetic informs the interior designed by Harold Burton. Utilization of Prairie School architectural motifs and the building’s monumentality reflect both architects’ desire to achieve a unity of both “modern and ancient” in the building design.
The Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is also notable for its use of high quality materials and its exceptional level of craftsmanship. Pope and Burton were followers of the Arts and Crafts movement which strove for continuity of design from exterior structure to interior detailing and furnishing. The high quality execution of the interior features is evident in the craftsmanship seen in inlaid and paneled hardwoods, interior furnishings and light fixtures. Although construction started in 1913, it was not until 1923, when the interior finishes and artwork had been completed, that the building was consecrated.
The temple sits on a landscaped square at the town’s centre. In the 1950s, an early wooden tabernacle that shared the site was demolished and the area was landscaped to give the grounds a more open appearance. Closure of an existing road allowed the erection of a new temple-fronted courtyard and visitor centre, which both blend with the original architecture. Over the years other additions have included a small area on the east side as well as the redecoration and modernization of interior spaces.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1992.
Key elements contributing to the heritage value of the site include: the location of the temple on a square in the centre of the town; the siting of the temple in the midst of a landscaped square with a surrounding stone wall separating it from the surrounding town; the open nature of the landscaping with views to Chief Mountain; the temple’s staggered profile and roughly octagonal massing under a pyramidal capped roof; the Greek cross plan with its arms of equal lengths each facing a cardinal direction and stairwells placed diagonally in the corners of the cross; the surviving original interior layout with the four ordinance rooms (Creation, Garden, World and Terrestrial rooms) in the outward arms of the square cross arranged around the centre square containing the Celestial Room at the top, and a baptistery directly below so that a procession through these rooms constantly ascends, attaining an increasingly higher spirituality; the identical treatment of each of the four elevations which feature deeply recessed windows set between vertical piers and framed by two projecting stone piers surmounted by a stone lintel; the original patterns of fenestration and window styles; the white granite exterior cladding; the use of Arts and Crafts decorative motifs, notably on the columns, beams, and the front gates; the original art work, murals and bas relief sculptures of the interior; the surviving original interior finishes, such as inlaid wood and wood paneling; the surviving original fittings, fixtures and furniture which were part of the architect’s original design.