LANGLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA
On a cold rainy morning in December 2005, President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson, then first counselor in the First Presidency, visited Vancouver, British Columbia, to select a site for what would become the Church's 131st temple.
Elder Paul D.M. Christensen, then a stake president, picked the Church leaders up at the airport and began driving them to potential temple sites. Between two locations, Elder Christensen drove up a hill and around a block to view one property from a different angle.
"As we crested the hill there was a very tall hedge of trees on our right side obstructing the view of the property behind it," Elder Christensen wrote in his journal. "As we drove by, President Hinckley declared, 'That would be a good site for a temple.' We all looked around unable to see the property, and by the time I was able to stop the van, we were well past the property. I asked President Hinckley if he would like me to back up, and he said, 'No, just carry on.'"
Today the hedges are gone on the site President Hinckley noticed as the car drove past. In their place stands the Vancouver British Columbia Temple. President Monson dedicated the edifice, the Church's seventh temple in Canada, May 2.
The 28,165-square-foot temple is located on 11 acres in the highest part of Langley. The temple will serve 22,000 Latter-day Saints in 91 units throughout British Columbia and northern Washington state.
"We are ecstatic," said Elder Christensen, now an Area Seventy. "It was always a dream but never an expectation."
Elder Christensen, who was born in Vancouver, has witnessed slow but steady Church growth in the area during his lifetime.
Before the temple was completed, Latter-day Saints from British Columbia traveled to the Seattle Washington Temple.
But, Elder Christensen said, there were a significant number of Latter-day Saints who could not cross the border for various reasons, including, for retired Canadians, health insurance issues. That meant there was "a significant number of Church members who couldn't go to the temple," he said.
Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the Church's Temple Department, grew up in Alberta, Canada, and moved to Vancouver just after he was married.
The Church growth in the area since he lived here has been substantial, he said. "It is a wonderful time for Canadian Latter-day Saints," he said.
He said the post 9/11 era has made travel across the Canadian border more time consuming and difficult for Church members. In addition, he said, in recent decades the Church has grown in numbers and strength in British Columbia and could support a temple.
Vancouver, he said, is one of the most striking cities in the world.
The world turned its view to Vancouver for the XXI Olympic Winter Games. "During the Olympics," he said, "we saw these images of the beauty of this area."
Lyn Sloan of Surrey, British Columbia, said Latter-day Saints in the area were excited for the Olympics, but the temple dedication "was always foremost in our minds."
"We have talked about this day for years and dreamed about it. Really, it is a dream come true."
President J. Ron Bernham, first counselor in the Vancouver temple presidency and temple recorder, said the Pacific Northwest has been a vibrant growing area for a long time.
A generation ago, he said, many Church leaders in British Columbia grew up in Alberta. Today, however, the Church is seeing second generation leaders raised in British Columbia.
President Bernham himself grew up in Alberta. But his son, born in British Columbia, is a stake president in the province. "This is his home," he said.
Now, he said, "the presence of this temple here will be an accelerating influence, a catalyst for growth."
When Elder Christensen thinks of the temple, often his mind wanders to the 2005 visit by President Hinckley and President Monson.
During that visit, President Hinckley asked Elder Christensen a simple question: "Why do we need a temple in Vancouver?"
"I didn't blurt out what I thought was the obvious answer but rather thought the question through for a second," he wrote in his journal. "I then replied that the growth of the Church has been rather slow in the Vancouver area and that I felt that the spiritual light that a temple would bring would greatly help in spreading the gospel in the area. I then went on to convey the problems caused by the border in restricting access to many of our members. President Hinckley just listened and did not express any approval or discontent with any response. For a few minutes we drove in silence."
Looking back, Elder Christensen will not forget the day President Hinckley and President Monson "saw something we could not see" and "felt something we could not feel" as they selected the site for the House of the Lord in Vancouver.
"The temple will transform this community," Elder Christensen said.