Mormon Immigration to Alberta
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormon Church, was founded in 1830 in Fayette, New York. Mormons believe that the church is led by living prophets and that polygamy, or the marrying of more than one woman, is allowed and supported by the Bible. The Mormons in New York were eventually forced to flee to the Salt Lake City region in Utah to escape persecution. Once there, under the leadership of Brigham Young, they developed irrigation systems so that they could farm the dry land.
In 1882, the Edmunds Act forbidding polygamy was passed in the United States. Charles Ora Card was arrested for having four wives, but he managed to escape being imprisoned. He went north to Canada and picked a location in southern Alberta. It was a place with plentiful water for irrigation, coal reserves, and timber to build a future settlement. Other Mormons fleeing the polygamy law followed Card to Alberta. By 1891, there were 400 Mormons living in their thriving settlement of Cardston.
Albertans were worried about the Mormon immigration. They had heard about the clashes between the American government and the Mormons over the issue of polygamy and did not want to have such conflicts in Alberta.
In 1890, the Mormon Church banned polygamy. This coincided with an influx of Mormon immigrants to Alberta. With the issue of polygamy resolved, the Canadian government eagerly welcomed these Mormons, whose time in the dry lands of Utah had helped them to develop a good system of irrigation farming.
In the 1890s, Card founded the Cardston Company Ltd., a joint-stock company which financed a flour mill, a cheese factory, a saw mill, and a steam threshing machine. More settlements, such as Raymond, Magrath, and Stirling, were started to accommodate the influx of Mormons.
By 1911, there were 18 Mormon settlements in southwest Alberta and 10,000 LDS church members. The Mormons were the largest group of immigrants from the United States to come to Alberta before the start of World War I. In 1912, the Mormon officials commissioned a new temple for Cardston. The temple, the first Mormon temple built outside of the United States, cost $750,000 and was designed by architects from Salt Lake City. It symbolized the success of the LDS communities in Alberta and encouraged the continued immigration of Mormons to the area.
Alberta has consistently had the largest Mormon population of any province in Canada. In 1999, the Edmonton Temple was built to service Mormons living in northern Alberta.
Mardon, Ernest G. and Austin A. Mardon. Alberta Mormon Politicians. Edmonton: Fisher House Publishers, 1992.