News Story

Cardston Temple Centennial: Monument of Faith

How a magnificent temple came to be built in the small pioneer community of Cardston, Alberta, is a remarkable story. The Cardston Alberta Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is both a monument to and centrepiece of the faith of Latter-day Saints in Canada. The temple marks its centennial on August 26, 2023.

The Cardston Alberta Temple was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1992. It received this designation “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” (Parks Canada Directory of Federal Heritage Designations).

The temple was constructed using over 3,600 tons of granite and features priceless stone carvings, hand-painted murals and rare woods from around the world. It is the oldest latter-day temple outside the United States and the sixth oldest temple still in operation.

Temples established by the Church are considered houses of the Lord. They are places of holiness and peace separate from the preoccupations of the world. They provide a place where Church members can make formal promises and commitments to God and where the highest sacraments of the faith occur — the marriage of couples and the “sealing” of families for eternity.

To celebrate the Cardston Alberta Temple’s centennial, we share the story of this remarkable monument.

Faith and Hope

In 1887, Charles Ora Card, a Church leader from Cache Valley, Utah, led a small group of 41 Latter-day Saint settlers to Lee Creek in Canada. Lee Creek was later named Cardston, after its founder.

Just three weeks after this small group arrived, Sunday School Superintendent Jonathan Layne wrote about a Church meeting in his journal: “While speaking, the spirit of prophesy rested upon me, and under its influence, I predicted that this country would produce for us all that our Cache Valley homes and lands had produced for us, and that temples would yet be built in this country. I could see it as plain as if it was already here” (“The First Modern Temple,” 2019).

One year later, John W. Taylor, a visiting Church apostle, said, “I now speak by the power of prophecy and say that upon this very spot shall be erected a temple to the name of Israel’s God” (“The First Modern Temple,” 2019).

Over the next many years, Latter-day Saint immigrants came to southern Alberta from Utah in waves. They came for economic opportunity, by assignment to build a large-scale irrigation project, to work in the Raymond sugar beet factory and to homestead. They lived in agricultural villages, farmed the surrounding areas and enjoyed community life.

Temple Announced

By 1912, more than 7,500 Latter-day Saints were living in various communities in southern Alberta. They were excited when Church President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) announced in October 1912 that a temple would be built in Canada.

Smith did not announce the location for the temple, so Cardston and Raymond, the two largest Latter-day Saint communities in Canada, submitted competing proposals. In the end, a site in Cardston was chosen — the very spot about which John Taylor prophesied 25 years earlier.

Design and Architecture

The Church invited architects to submit designs for the temple. Harold Burton and Hyrum Pope of Salt Lake City created the winning design. The architectural plan for the Cardston Alberta Temple represented a radical shift from previous temple designs. It was designed in the octagonal shape of a Maltese cross, 36 metres square, with a three-metre-high retaining wall surrounding the entire building. The temple was described as having “Grecian massiveness” and “a Peruvian touch,” as well as being similar “to the ancient temples of the Aztecs” (“The First Modern Temple,” 2019).

Burton and Pope ensured that the design complemented the landscape. Placed on a small hill and surrounded by prairie, “the temple appeared equally strong, well-proportioned and handsome from all angles. … Although completely modern in style, [it] possessed the same feeling of permanence, solidity and dignity that had characterized all of the earlier temples” (Paul L. Anderson, “First of the Modern Temples,” 1977).

>Timeline and Costs

Presiding Bishop David A. Smith, who oversaw the construction, first estimated that the temple could be completed in one year at the cost of US$50,000. Once the designs were complete, that estimate was raised to US$150,000.

Before construction began, President Smith insisted on building the temple with granite instead of concrete. This increased the cost and greatly extended the time frame. Bishop Smith recounted how whenever President E. J. Wood, chairman of the building committee and president of the Alberta Stake, approached Church leaders about increased expenses for the temple — including for woodwork, artwork and furnishings — his requests were never denied.

The best craftsmen and artists of the time worked on the temple interior. Torlief Knaphus, a Norwegian convert and sculptor carved the bas-relief at the front entrance of the temple, which depicted Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. He also crafted the oxen for the baptismal font.

Ultimately, the temple cost more than US$750,000, of which the Canadian Saints contributed US$50,000. This calculation likely did not include the many hours of volunteer labour the Church members felt privileged to donate.


Finally, after years of work — largely without the aid of modern machinery and after delays because of World War I and lack of funds — on August 26, 1923, the Cardston Alberta Temple was dedicated.

C. Frank Steele, a Canadian Church leader and writer, expressed what the temple meant to the Canadian Saints: “With the completion of the Alberta Temple at Cardston … came a re-orientation of their whole thought, purpose and outlook.” He noted that [the temple represented] a crowning reward for their faithfulness, a symbol of permanency in their new Canadian home” (“Canadian Mormons,” Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center).

See “The First Modern Temple” for more information about the Cardston Alberta Temple and for a timeline of its construction.

Contributed by Becky Doig

Read the article in French

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