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Mormon Settlement:
To the "Land of Desolation"

Not all of the groups of settlers that came to Alberta based their communities around a shared ethnic heritage. The Mormon settlers who came to Canada's west not only desired new space for settlement, but the freedom to observe their faith without fear of persecution. Discriminated against chiefly because they practiced polygamy, the establishment of the first colonies in the United States were attempts to find areas where Mormon brethren could express their religious beliefs.

Charles Ora Card of Cardston, Alberta, ca. 1890-1906. The Mormons had found relief from persecution in Utah, where they had established the Salt Lake City settlement in 1847. When leader Brigham Young died in 1877, however, the new President James Taylor intensified colonization efforts beyond the boundaries of the state. Between 1876 and 1879, over one hundred new settlements were established in other areas of the country and in Canada. In 1886, three years after the first expedition to western Canada, Charles Ora Card, president of colony in Logan, Utah, was sent north with two of his brethren. His instructions, from President Taylor, were to find "asylum and justice" for those to follow.

Pioneers of Cardston, Alberta, 1887.

It was with joy that these first explorers greeted their new land. On September 29, 1886, after taking the train to Spokane Falls and crossing the Colombia River by ferry, Card arrived at the border between the United States and British Columbia. "As we passed the stone monument that designates the line," he wrote of this moment, "I took off my hat, swung it around and shouted, 'In Columbia we are free.'"

Encouraged by mountaineer Mr. McDonald, the party then traveled east to Alberta, and arrived in Calgary on October 14, 1886. They continued to search for an appropriate settlement location in the south of the province, journeying beyond Ft. Macleod near where the Kootenay and Belly rivers crossed. As the story goes, the final settlement site was chosen while camped at the junction of Lee's Creek and St. Mary's River. President Card's wife later wrote of their thankfulness on this occasion:

With their heads bowed in reverent inspiration they knelt before the Lord and asked his blessing to rest upon them for a decision that would meet all the requirements that were asked. His Spirit was with them in great abundance . . . and he, Charles O. Card, turned to them and said, "Brethren, this is the place."

It was not until the following year, however, that Card and three other Mormon men again set out to western Canada in order to act as vanguard settlers. They had worked hard to convince the forty-one people who had agreed to follow Card as colonizers in Alberta. The new colony was not expected to last permanently, however. It was perhaps this assumption that led Card to name the list of willing settlers "Names of Missionaries for the Land of Desolation."

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  • Cardston - Learn about the history of some of the first Mormon settlers in Alberta who settled in what is now Cardston.
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  • Cobblestone Manor - Henry Haut spent 16 years restoring a log house in Cardston, Alberta, with the cobblestones that surrounded his home.
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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.