Elder Gong presides at gratitude-filled Winnipeg temple cornerstone ceremony prior to Sunday’s historic dedication

WINNIPEG, Canada — When Elder Gerrit W. Gong emerged Saturday afternoon from the soon-to-be dedicated Winnipeg Manitoba Temple, he was greeted by an enthusiastic cornerstone choir and a stiff Canadian wind.

But no one complained about the chill.

For starters, Winnipeggers will tell you, the weather here in late October can go several directions. Skies are often bright and clear, as they were Saturday. But an early-season blizzard is always a possibility.

More importantly, Saturday’s cornerstone ceremony outside of what will be Canada’s ninth temple signals a key moment for Latter-day Saints in Manitoba and far beyond. Following a lengthy halt in temple dedications prompted by the ongoing pandemic, new temples will soon open — and generations will be blessed.

On Sunday, Elder Gong will dedicate the Winnipeg Manitoba Temple. He will be joined by fellow visiting Brethren Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong and Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela, both General Authority Seventies, along with their wives, Sister Susan Gong, Sister Carol Wong and Sister Silvia Valenzuela.

Church leaders and local members of the Latter-day Saints community attend and take part in the cornerstone ceremony for the Winnipeg Manitoba Temple in Winnipeg, Canada, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.
Church leaders and local members of the Latter-day Saints community attend and take part in the cornerstone ceremony for the Winnipeg Manitoba Temple in Winnipeg, Canada, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Credit: Daniel Crump, for the Deseret News

The Gongs, Wongs and Valenzuelas all took their turns handling the ceremonial trowel during Saturday’s cornerstone ceremony, slapping a bit of sealing mortar on the temple capstone. They were joined by the new temple presidency and several other Latter-day Saints from the Winnipeg temple district, including several children.

Read more: Church dedicates a temple — the Winnipeg Manitoba Temple — for the first time in 20 months

Gratitude, said Elder Gong during the cornerstone ceremony, helps define the day.

“As President Russell M. Nelson has recently taught, everything we believe and every promise God has made to His covenant people come together in the temple,” he said.

Construction of the Winnipeg Manitoba Temple, he added, began symbolically at the Dec. 3, 2016, groundbreaking ceremony. “And symbolically, construction is completed [on the Winnipeg temple] with the cornerstone ceremony when we add the mortar to the cornerstone, which is what we’re doing today.” 

A Church leader holds a monogrammed trowel with mortar on it during the cornerstone ceremony for the Winnipeg Manitoba Temple in Winnipeg, Canada, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.
A Church leader holds a monogrammed trowel with mortar on it during the cornerstone ceremony for the Winnipeg Manitoba Temple in Winnipeg, Canada, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Credit: Daniel Crump, for the Deseret News

Saturday’s event was not attended, in person, by hundreds. The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic remain evident in the relatively small number of people attending. All were masked. Even members of the cornerstone choir wore plastic protective shields across their mouths as they sang.

But behind the masks were many broad smiles. And no covering could conceal the grateful tears filling many eyes.

Winnipeg resident Ashley Smith was humbled to conduct the small cornerstone ceremony choir. 

“Today was a testimony building experience,” she told the Church News. “To hear the choir singing and to know that the temple is complete was just amazing. My heart is filled with happiness.”

Choir members sing during the cornerstone ceremony for the new Winnipeg Manitoba Temple on a sunny Saturday morning in Winnipeg, Canada, Oct. 30, 2021.
Choir members sing during the cornerstone ceremony for the new Winnipeg Manitoba Temple on a sunny Saturday morning in Winnipeg, Canada, Oct. 30, 2021. Credit: Daniel Crump, for the Deseret News

Like Latter-day Saints worldwide, the challenges of the ongoing pandemic have sharpened Smith’s appreciation for the temple. “Now, everytime I visit this new temple, it will be that much more special because I’ll remember what we had to go through waiting for it to open.”

Barry Heieie, a member of the London Ward, Winnipeg Manitoba Stake, helped shuttle the visiting leaders and their wives during their Winnipeg visit. The Manitoba native and Church convert did not anticipate a temple operating in his hometown during his lifetime. He is humbled to have a temple so accessible to his home.

“This temple is a game changer — it’s wonderful,” said Heieie. “I took friends of mine through the temple during the open house. Two have already told me they want to sit down and talk more. I’m hoping for even greater things to come.”