In 1886, a Mormon named Charles Card was directed by the then President on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, John Taylor, to go north and find a suitable settlement site in Canada. In 1887 he chose an area which later became the town of Cardston, then began recruiting settlers from Utah. Apparently the Canadian government was thrilled that so many skilled agricultural workers were settling in an area where the mining industry was settling down.

According to the LDS Church website:

The favorable reception of the Canadian government to the member-settlers was a reflection on the times. At a moment when Ottawa’s national policy was to seek new settlers to populate the almost endless stretches of the Canadian West, immigration—particularly of skilled and seasoned farmers—was strongly encouraged. With both Church directives and government incentives as impetus, President Card returned to Alberta and in time organized the villages of Mountain View, Beazer, Leavitt, and Kimball.

And the Canadian Encyclopedia:

Irrigation played an important role in the evolution of Lethbridge as agriculture displaced coal as the key local resource and the main source of jobs. Between 1898 and 1900, Mormon migrants from Utah built a 185-kilometre long system of canals to divert the St Mary River, the first large-scale irrigation system in Western Canada.

With that background in mind, here is a rumour I often hear floating around about later settlements of Mormons that moved both east and west: Near all of these settlements was the new and growing town of Lethbridge (which now has a massive Mormon population). According to the rumour, when Mormons started arriving nearby, a law was passed that no Mormon was allowed to settle within 50km of Lethbridge.

This is used as an explanation as to why there are so many little, predominantly Mormon settlements surrounding Lethbridge. I've heard this rumour for years. I've even said it to people before. However, the only source I've ever been able to find that this may have been true is this quote from the LDS website (same link as above):

What animosities nearby neighbors and fellow settlers may once have harbored against the Mormons gradually gave way in the face of the Manifesto of 1890 and the growing reputation of the Latter-day Saints for industry, thrift, integrity, obedience to law, temperance, strong family ties, and an enthusiastic loyalty to Canadian institutions and traditions.

"The Manifesto" is a name that has been given to the LDS Church's direction to its members to stop practicing polygamy.

So my question is: Is this rumour about Lethbridge true?

  • 4
    First off, welcome to StackExchange: History. Second, good job on presenting a question with good context and a body of preliminary research.
    – BOB
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 13:40
  • I answered this question on the Christianity SE site. Here is the link.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 2:38

2 Answers 2


If the restriction was applicable only to Lethbridge and not the surrounding communities, then any official action would have been a community by-law or ordinance. But according to Wikipedia, Lethbridge was not incorporated as a town until November 29, 1890, and only became a city on May 9, 1906.

That leaves the possibility of corporate discrimination or informal pressures by other residents. From 1874 to 1886, the North-West Mounted Police were the authority in the region, based in Fort Whoop-Up. They would not have had authority over land purchases. Several companies, however, including the major employer North Western Coal and Navigation Company, its successor Alberta Railway and Coal Company and especially, the Canadian Pacific Railway, were involved with drawing settlers to the area.

Since the Americans (whatever their religion) arriving in the area probably did not go through the CPR application process, they simply were not eligible for 25 million acres (100,000 km2) of land reserved in western Canada by that company in the 1880 contract to build the trans-continental railway. Most of those parcels were along the railway, which went through Lethbridge.

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    Thanks @bgwiehle - that's really interesting! I never would have thought to look there. So there was no law passed and it may not have been about religion at all then? They could have gone there but chose not to, perhaps. I always assumed it was a polygamy issue.
    – Alamb
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 16:35
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    Considering some of the odd sects that came to Canada in large numbers to escape persecution in Europe, I didn't think that official policy would have discriminated against the Mormons. Unofficially and locally, it was possible. However, there was a more likely explanation in the application process. Someone else may have insight into whether there was a way to apply from within Canada, and who vetted those applications.
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 17:25
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    Very well reasoned and researched answer. Well done!
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 19:25

I think the answer to this question is no--there was no rule against Mormons settling in Lethbridge. I have been researching Mormon settlement in southern Alberta and there were other factors that determined the location of their major settlements. It should be remembered that the Mormons, in the time period of settlement in Alberta (1887-1910) were primarily an agriculturally-focused people who favored living in LDS communities where they could practice their religion together. The pattern established all over the inter-mountain west in the United States was to create Mormon agricultural villages and then farm the surrounding land.

In the case of Cardston, 1887, Mormon colonizer, Charles Ora Card chose land near Lee's Creek where a ranching lease had just expired. In the case of Magrath and Stirling, 1899, it was the First Presidency of the LDS Church that suggested locations 20-35 miles from Lethbridge (see Charles Ora Card's Diary, p. 423) during their negotiations with the Alberta Irrigation Company to build an irrigation canal and settle Mormons in southern Alberta. The decision of where to place these settlements, along with the settlement at Raymond (1901) had everything to do with being on large blocks of irrigable land which were available for sale from the Alberta Irrigation Company.

Taber and Barnwell attracted Mormon settlers because good homestead land was available at a time when many Mormons were looking for spots to settle.

Charles A. Magrath, Lethbridge's first Mayor, in 1891, actively recruited Mormons to southern Alberta, including several whom he convinced to move to Lethbridge to begin industries, such as for Ellingson's Flour Mill, etc. The first Mormons lived in Lethbridge about 1900 when Lethbridge was very young and Mormon settlement in the Magrath/Stirling/Raymond areas was just beginning. By 1921, there were 500 Mormons in Lethbridge, which had a population of 11,000. I believe Mormons continue to make up 5-10% of the population of Lethbridge, today.

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    A lot of detail, but no references to where follow up research could start. Do you have any online citations you could add as backup? Commented May 27, 2016 at 4:40
  • Hi @Becky, thanks for that answer and all that information! That's really helpful stuff to know! I would be really interested in references for it. The more I learn about this the more interested I get. Your answer has sparked a lot of interest but I don't really know where to read to learn more. Links to online resources would be ideal, but if that's not possible some direction to the offline resources would be great (ex. If Mr. Card's diary isn't online, then would it be in a Lethbridge library?). Again, however, thank you very much for the answer!
    – Alamb
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 15:32

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