Temple dedicated in 'hub of the north'

EDMONTON, Alberta — The Edmonton Alberta Temple, dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley Dec. 11-12, has unified Church members living in and around this "hub of the north."

"We have become something we never thought we would become — a temple city," said temple Pres. Donald D. Salmon.

And as such, Edmonton is now a place where couples who traditionally would retire to southern Alberta are staying, where members living on the northern outskirts of the province are now renewing and forging friendships, and where Latter-day Saints are now reaching across branch, ward and stake boundaries as part of a larger temple district.

"The temple gives us the association with all members," explained Pres. Salmon. "We are coming together to work and serve."

The Church's 67th temple stands as a dominant part of Alberta's capital city. Located on 53rd Avenue, the temple can be seen from the Whitemud freeway. Impressions of Alberta's wild rose and wheat shaft, commonly farmed in the province's rich soil, grace the front of the edifice, constructed of granite quarried in Quebec.

The temple district serves some 14,800 members in five stakes, stretching hundreds of miles across the northern end of Alberta.

An estimated 6,879 Church members attended one of seven dedicatory sessions for the new temple, the fifth operating in Canada. President Hinckley, accompanied by his wife, Marjorie, presided over the dedication. Also in attendance were Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Colleen; Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy and president of the North America Central Area, and his wife, Anne; and Elder Blair S. Bennett, Area Authority Seventy, and his wife, Jane.

Vinyl tents and enclosed walkways to the new temple protected members from outside temperatures, which traditionally drop each December to minus 30 or 40 degrees Celsius. However, milder temperatures, hovering around zero degree Celsius, prompted numerous local Latter-day Saints to declare that this winter they were experiencing "temple weather."

A tent also enclosed a small area for the cornerstone ceremony, attended by members of a choir directed by Viola Wallbank of the Edmonton Alberta Riverbend Stake and six children, dressed in their Sunday best. Others viewed the ceremony via video transmitted live into the temple and adjoining stake center.

President Hinckley placed mortar on the top edge of the cornerstone before inviting others in his traveling party, members of the temple presidency and the children to participate.

The Church has a rich history in Edmonton — a city known for the world's biggest mall and Wayne Gretzki, the world's greatest hockey player.

Although LDS university students and government leaders lived in Edmonton as early as 1920, the first recorded Church meeting was not held in this city until 1933. Then in 1935, N. Eldon Tanner (later a counselor in the First Presidency) moved to northern Alberta, where he served during the next 16 years in Church leadership positions. In 1951 the first Church building in the city was dedicated on Whyte Avenue and the first stake was organized Nov. 15, 1960.

LeRoy Rollins, called as president of that stake, could not be happier to see the dreams of Edmonton's pioneer generation fulfilled with the dedication of the temple.

"I imagined it. I worked toward it. I knew we would have a temple in Edmonton, it had to be," said Brother Rollins, now director of the family history center in the Alberta Bonnie Doon Stake. "It marks a status we have not had before. It will cause even greater growth in this city."

Pres. Salmon, who moved to Edmonton in 1951, also expects the temple to escalate Church growth in Edmonton. It will unite the current Church members in northern Alberta, as well, he said.

"Over the years we have seen the Church grow and divide [as new wards and stakes are created]. This is a time for coming back together. The temple will eliminate phrases such as 'I live in this stake or that stake.' We will be in the temple with people from all stakes."

Like many others, Pres. Salmon and his wife, Joyce, had after retirement planned to leave the harsh Edmonton winters and move to southern Alberta, nearer the Cardston Alberta Temple. Then came the Aug. 11, 1998, announcement of the Edmonton temple that changed their lives. "We are staying and many others are staying, too," he said.

Some are even returning.

After the temple announcement, Calvin G. and Verona Harker Merkley sold their home in Lethbridge, Alberta, — where they had planned to spend their retirement years closer to a temple — and returned to their home ward in Edmonton.

"We are coming home to family and the temple; we can't beat that," said Sister Merkley.

Now members of the River Valley Ward, Edmonton Alberta Riverbend Stake, the Merkleys contemplate the miracle of the temple. "The influence of the temple will be felt," Brother Merkley said.

Gordon L. Strate, and his wife, Myrna, have already witnessed the influence of the temple, even though they live eight hours from Edmonton in Fort St. John. While attending the temple dedication, the couple renewed old friendships and forged new ones. "It is the best place in the world we can go for peace, tranquility and happiness," explained Brother Strate, the son of early Church pioneers in Edmonton.

Elder Bennett explained that Church members, divided by hundreds of miles, now feel united by the temple.

The Edmonton Bonnie Doon Stake is comprised of 15 units, with the furthest unit located 300 miles north, he said. In the Grande Prairie Alberta Stake there are members who will drive between five to eight hours to get to their stake center. Church members in Yellow Knife, he added, live near the Arctic Circle, an estimated 15 hours north of Edmonton.

"To have a temple located here is going to bless lives in ways we really don't even understand yet," he said. "This has literally been a fulfillment of the hopes and dreams and aspirations of a generation that has lived and served in Edmonton."

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