The construction of the Alberta (now Cardston) Temple inaugurated an effort led by Joseph F. Smith to build temples closer to Church members who lived far from the four operating temples in Utah. Completed during the presidency of Heber J. Grant, the building program brought temples closer to Latter-day Saints living in Alberta, Hawaii, the southwestern United States, and northern Mexico.
On June 19, 1887, just days after the first Latter-day Saints arrived at the future site of Cardston, Jonathan E. Layne addressed a Sabbath congregation and predicted that “temples would yet be built in this country. I could see it as plain as if it already was here.”A year later, Elder John W. Taylor prophesied that a temple would be built: “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.”
By 1912, the Latter-day Saint population in Alberta had grown to approximately 7,000, and the large, remote concentration of Church members drew President Smith’s attention as a potential location for a temple.
On October 4, 1912, Alberta Stake President Edward J. Wood was in Salt Lake City attending the semiannual general conference of the Church. Describing President Smith’s remarks at the conference, Wood wrote, “To the surprise of us all he announced that the Church would build a Temple in Canada.” On January 1, 1913, the Deseret Evening News reported it had “not yet been decided where the temple will be located ... however ... the location would undoubtedly be either at Raymond or Cardston.”
The two communities began lobbying to have the temple constructed in their town. Each selected their preferred site and sent photographs to Church headquarters for consideration.
On February 13, 1913, President Wood received a letter from Elder Orson F. Whitney telling him "in confidence that it was decided to build the Temple in Cardston.”With the site chosen, President Smith traveled to Cardston and dedicated the site on July 27, 1913.
The first temple to be announced in the 20th century would be different from any previously built. It was determined the temple would not require a large assembly room, as other temples had, thereby simplifying its architectural scheme. The Church invited prominent Latter-day Saint architects to submit plans for the temple and selected the entry of Harold Burton and Hyrum Pope. The Deseret Evening News reported that the inside design “would be similar to other temples in the Church, but outside it is totally unlike any of them.”The architects' goal was “to conform to the peculiar requirements of such a building rather than to imitate any [architectural] style.”
Joseph Young Card wrote of the temple: “Impressive and unique, it occupies a distinctive place of its own in the historic field of architecture. ... It has the Grecian massiveness, a Peruvian touch, and is similar only to the ancient temples of the Aztecs. ... Of the nine temples erected by the Latter Day Saints, there is no other of similar exterior design.”
On November 5, 1913, ground was broken and construction began. A contract was made with a quarry near Nelson, British Columbia, to ship white granite to Cardston. Two years later, on September 19, 1915, with nearly 2,000 people gathered to watch, Elder David O. McKay helped place and mortar the cornerstone, using a ceremonial trowel made for the occasion.
Over the next two years, work progressed slowly on the temple. On September 23, 1917, the capstone was set and efforts shifted to completing the interior of the building.
Edward J. Wood coordinated construction efforts in Cardston, having already supervised the construction of the Cardston Tabernacle, which was completed in 1914. He would later serve as Cardston's first temple president while still presiding over the Alberta Stake.
The construction of the temple sparked great interest throughout the Church. The Relief Society General Board received letters from many women expressing “a wish to donate their mite toward this glorious project.”The board decided to establish a penny subscription modeled after one started by Mercy Fielding Thompson and Mary Fielding Smith for the Nauvoo Temple. By saving a penny each week, the women of the Relief Society were able to contribute more than $13,000 to the construction of temples in Alberta and Laie, Hawaii.
Work to finish the interior of the temple continued from 1917 until 1923. The project culminated with the dedication of the temple on August 26, 1923. In the dedicatory prayer, President Grant prayed, “We thank Thee, our Father and our God, for those now living who embraced the gospel in this choice land and others who have emigrated from the United States and other countries to Canada, and that they are now to have the privilege of entering into this holy house and laboring for the salvation of their ancestors.”
The Cardston Temple was renovated throughout the 1950s. Ground at the base of the temple was excavated and roofed over, increasing the size of the building to make room for offices and locker areas. Because stone from the original quarry in British Columbia was not available for the addition, stone was manufactured in Salt Lake City, Utah, to match that of the original structure.
During this time, there was a general feeling that “all old things needed a ‘refreshing,’” leading to “older color schemes [being] replaced.”Many of the original features were covered and others were removed. Elements affected by the changes included flooring, lighting, wall coverings, woodwork, and other details of the interior design. The upper garden of the temple was removed and replaced with a glass and steel structure that served as a reception area. Following construction, these additions were dedicated by President Hugh B. Brown of the First Presidency, husband of Zina Card Brown, who was born to Cardston founder Charles Card and Zina Young Card just a year after their arrival in Canada.
Due to an increase in temple attendance, it was necessary to increase the size of the temple a second time. A 3,500-square-foot addition on the east side of the building was approved in 1964 and included an assembly room, library, and additional facilities for those who would perform baptisms for the dead. This work was completed in 1966.
Between 1988 and 1991 the temple was closed for more renovation and restoration. Numerous upgrades were made to the temple's electrical and mechanical systems, but after the work necessitated uncovering the temple's original murals, the project's primary focus shifted to restoring the temple to its 1923 splendor. Many of the elements previously covered or removed were restored or re-created. A single-story addition of reinforced concrete was built at the entrance of the temple to accommodate visitors and wedding parties. The glass and steel reception structure was removed and replaced with a reception area that complemented the original design. A new garden area was built that was sympathetic to the original garden designed by Burton and Pope, though it did not replicate it.
The Cardston Alberta Temple was named a National Historic Site by Parks Canada in 1992 for being a “monumental modern temple in [the] historic Mormon centre.”A plaque was placed at the site in 1995 noting the designation. The temple is also on the Church Historic Landmark list.
Despite the temple’s location in a small community in southern Alberta, the growth of the Church and subsequent increase in temple attendance necessitated the building of additional temples in areas previously served by the Cardston Temple. Temples have recently been built in Edmonton, Alberta, and Vancouver, British Columbia, and an additional temple has been announced for Calgary, Alberta.