The architects of Cardston

April_2006_cardstonThe Cardston temple stands strong and resolute. Its design betrays the time in which it was built; the turn of the century gave us few such structures. It is an edifice to how things were while yet remaining a gateway to contemporary communion. The records left by the early saints in Cardston build a similar monument to our past. The way things used to be.

L. John Nuttall was the secretary to both Presidents Taylor and Woodruff and was later involved with the Sunday School. With Karl Maeser in 1899, he visited Cardston in that capacity. On August 6th Nuttall spoke to the Relief Society “for an hour & quarter with good freedom.” The following day he noted in his journal:

Sister Woolf & councilors Hamman & June E Bates sisters Rhoda Hamman and Several other Sisters called & we conversed on Relief Society matters. I explained many things to them & they were Much pleased Afterwhich Sister Elizabeth Hamman said she felt the Same spirit which was upon her at the meeting last night when she wanted to bless me — She arose & placed her hands on Bro Masers head & blessed him. Then on my head & and blessed me then on Sister Woolf & blessed her also blessed 3 other of the sisters & sister Zina Card this was done in Tongues — Sister Zina Y Card arose And laying her hands on our heads interpreted these bless[ings] a good feeling was present (1)

Elizabeth was married to Josiah Hammer, bishop at the time and had been, herself, a councilor in the Relief Society. Such charisma was not rare among the pioneer sisters of the North. Learning from their parents, this second generation of Mormons wielded their gifts and authority. Several years earlier, Elizabeth held a prayer circle meeting at her home to administer to one sick among them:

Our Sister who we had come to bless lead in prayer her humble petition called down from heaven the Holy influence that ran from heart to heart, and She was followed by Zina Y. Card, [and others]. Singing Come, come Ye Saints, after which the ordinance of washing and anointing [for healing] was done by Sisters Sarah B. Daines and Rhoda Hinman sen. the Sisters 27 in number gathered around placing their hands upon Sister Steed. sister Zina Young Card sealed the anointing promising her life and health and strength and that She would be an example for her Sisters and that her children should rise up and call her blessed. the Spirit of God rested upon us insomuch that every one present rose and bore their testimony and all felt that She would recover. (2)

The Cardston temple is a testament to the pioneers who laid its foundation. Its look is peculiar. Perhaps the difference between it and its modern counterparts will remind us of the peculiarity of those who built it.


  1. L. John Nuttle Journal. 7/9 August 1899. Typescript, BYU Special Collections Archive. Some of the names are not correctly recorded. Notably, Elizabeth Hammer and Rhoda Hinman are given the last names of Hamman.
  2. Cardston Ward Relief Society Historical Record Book A, 1890-1898. 14 February 1895. LDS Church Archives.


  1. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks J. Cardston is a big part of my mormon identity, growing up in southern Alberta. It’s a wonderful temple, and the story of the Saints in that part of the world has yet to be told, to my satisfaction — possibly one of the greatest pieces of mormon studies yet to come.

  2. Thanks for this vignette of the early saints in Alberta. Indeed the Cardston Temple is “peculiar” although it is similar in massing to the Hawaii Temple and the Mesa, Arizona Temple – all built about the same time and all strongly influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. If only our modern temples would emulate the work of other contemporary masters.

  3. Elisabeth says:

    Thanks for sharing this, J.

    Afterwhich Sister Elizabeth Hamman said she felt the Same spirit which was upon her at the meeting last night when she wanted to bless me – She arose & placed her hands on Bro Masers head & blessed him.

    I love this quote. That when we the spirit moves us, we bless those we love with prayer and gratitude.

  4. D. Fletcher says:

    The Cardston temple is so beautiful! I wish I could go through it.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    It’s the temple where I received my endowment, and it was a fantastic experience. At the time, at least, you still physically went through several rooms as part of the ceremony; I still have strong associations in my mind between my worship and that wonderful place.

  6. I think you are correct, Steve, the story has yet to be told of these saints. I suspect that there are similar stories in Arizona and Hawaii waiting for a voice. Alberta was fortunate to have strong kinship to Church hierarchy…and of course, it was the home to the daughter of Zina.

    Elisabeth, you touch on something that I think we tend to lack: the ability to capitalize on spiritual promptings to the manifestations of our gifts. I think that we tend to constrain our gifts to the structures, policies and programs, at least I do. This is a great example of the Spirit’s democracy.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    J., there are some books and journals that give a general history of the Saints in Canada. But to my knowledge there’s nothing really in-depth, the Ken Burns documentary I want.

  8. Ah yes…Mr. Burns!

  9. S.P. Bailey says:

    Interesting! Southern Alberta is important in my wife’s family. Their ancestors, builders, solid pioneer/captain-of-industry types, were apparently sent there by Brigham Young. I would be surprised if her family didn’t contribute in some way to the construction of the Cardston temple. I will ask people who might know when I see them over easter.

    Anyway, they have all migrated back to Utah (it happened a generation ago). But I reap the benefits of their continuing ties there–particularly their friends with cabins in Waterton!

  10. I believe that Cardston was settled in 1887. My vague memories of stories of the town’s founding makes me think that it was the first settlement by Mormons in Alberta. If so, then it’s unlikely that Brigham Young sent them up there.

    My wife’s ancestors, like S.P. Bailey’s, were among the early settlers, and thousands of them still populate the Alberta prairies, from Mountain View to Cardston to Kimball to Leavitt. And a bunch of other small towns that I can’t think of.

  11. S.P. Bailey says:

    I see I was wise to qualify my comment with “apparently” … A good history would be interesting.

  12. Here is a brief history of the area. President Taylor sent C. O. Card (who was married to Brigham’s daughter Zina) to find a place.

  13. An add-on comment to #5:

    I attended the Cardston temple last spring with my wife (she’s a Calgary native), and we still moved from room to room, even though the film was used. In my opinion, it really enhanced the ceremony, besides allowing us to view several of the temple’s beautiful rooms in one visit.

    I believe they do the same thing in the L.A. temple now.

  14. It is actually pretty common, even in some of the newer Temples.

  15. J., you’re right and wrong. Some limited movement is common, but older temples have it to a greater extent.

  16. Amri Brown says:

    What rule-breakers and outlaws we were back then! And now you would find a more rule-following bunch than us.
    My Brown side of the family comes from Cardston up to m y grandpa who was born in Lethbridge. I’ve read a bunch of the histories and pretty much blame all my impulses to break rules on them and their genes. But they did make a lovely temple.
    That one prolific sci-fi Mormon writer, Card, is a direct one of C.O. Card, too.

  17. Rule breakers?

  18. Amri Brown says:

    Running from the law because they’re polygamists? To Canada? A little bit rule-breaker, right?

  19. My extended family on both sides hails from that urban mecca of S. Alberta- Cardston (love that temple), Lethbridge, Raymond, and the bustling metropolis of McGrath.

  20. Ben, there’s no running away from the Spackman name in so. Alberta. But I still say a person hasn’t lived until they’ve eaten some Taber corn!

  21. Running from the law because they’re polygamists? To Canada? A little bit rule-breaker, right?

    Not to mention that they continued to break the law once they got here.

    Mmmmmmmmm…. Taber corn…..only 4 1/2 months to go!

  22. My what cynical thoughts about why Latter-day Saints travelled the long and difficult journey from the already challenging life in Utah to the even more challenging life in Alberta! Among those who made the journey was Alvin Carter Robbins, my grandfather,(one of the sons of Isasc Rogers Robbins who was one of 200 passengers on the ship Brooklyn), along with my grandmother Minnie Robbins and my mother, Mary Arminta Robbins) plus two other daughters and four sons, only one of whom is still living. They were first pioneers in southern Utah and then Provo and Midvale where my mother was born.

    They have all told me so many times about why they moved to Alberta and it wasn’t because of polygamy. It was because life was so hard for them and the Church was just beginning in Alberta and they felt they had a chance for greater freedom and more choices in making a living. They moved from a sod-roofed home in Utah to a two room home in Frankberg, now a ghost town southeast of Caglary, with an actual roof on a farm. Life was still tough, but the Church remained important to them as was keeping the family together. My grandfather was a sheep shearer and also a card shark, but every nickle he made went to the family, even to providing my mother and her sisters with violin lessons in Calgary.

    As for me, I am proud to be among the offspring of such valiant pioneers, including my polygamous great grandfather Issac Rogers Robbins, who added two more wives to his family once he moved to Utah from California. He was a great man throughout his life and I admire and remember his devotion to the Lord until he died.

  23. Brent Orr says:

    My great grandfather, Richard Charles Orr, settled in Southern Alberta in 1901, founded the townsite of Orton, where he is buried, but there was no polygamy on the Orr line at all. He left the hard scrabble Bear Lake country for the promise of a better life in Canada. I attended a family reunion on the Oldman River in 1973 (my grandfather, Joseph Orr, raised his family in St. Anthony, Idaho). There were over three hundred direct descendents of Richard Charles and Caroline Derricott Orr in attendance. It is a great country that breeds strong and faithful people.

  24. My mother is named Zina, after Brigham’s daughter. She’s a Bennett, youngest of 12 born to Victor Eli and Lois Garner. She was born in McGrath. My Grandparents are buried in Raymond and McGrath. My father was born in Cardston (Jensen) and his father still lives there in the “home”. He’s 97 years old. He lived his whole life on the farm his father was “given” when they first arrived, in Aetna, just outside Cardston. He was a baby when his parents left Denmark to come to Salt Lake, and wound up in Cardston. Both my parents now still live in Lethbridge. I was born in Calgary and was raised in Edmonton. My family on both sides has strong ties to the area to this day, with many friends and a great number of family who still live there. We grew up hearing the stories of the area and still go back to visit – I am one of very few who have “come back” to the Salt Lake area again. There are MANY untold stories of faith and service there.

    Interesting comments – thanks.

  25. I grew up taking quarterly youth baptism trips to this temple. Special place. I think it still has just one fine traffic light (can someone correct me?).

    You know how the celestial room is covered in beautiful dark wood? My uncle helped with minor renovations in the sixties. Some on the committee wanted to lighten the place up and make it more heavenly or something (i.e., apply white paint over the natural wood). I’m glad they remembered that God made the trees and it’s okay that they are not white.

    I remember seeing a great exhibit on the architecture of church meetinghouses and temples at BYU’s art museum (maybe 6 years ago??). I can’t remember much, but apparently there used to be competitions for the design of certain temples. That’s certainly gone, eh?

  26. The Cardston temple was the first temple I ever attended.

    I can attest that to this day the bulk of the sessions involve moving from room to room. They have introduced a session, however, in which participants remain in a single room. Many of the older saints find it difficult climbing all those stairs.

    And for the record it is Magrath, not Mcgrath. Incidentally, the town was named after the first mayor of Lethbridge.

    Joanne, It has two traffic lights from what I recall. One in the centre of town, where they place the Christmas tree, and one up the hill by the Ford dealership.

    My tie to southern Alberta is that my mother-in-law was born here. Well, all of our children were born here as well.


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