For the second time in its 47-year history, the Mormon History Association is taking its annual conference to Canada — but in Calgary this time, in the western province of Alberta, where the first Mormon settlers to the country founded the town of Cardston 125 years ago.
"We met in Kingston, Ontario, in 1995," association president Richard L. Jensen noted, "and just crossing that border and getting some Canadian perspective on things, a little bit different from what you get from the Americans, was a really refreshing experience. We hope to take advantage of that again this time with some new views of things in connection with our conference theme."
That theme is "Mormonism in Its Expanding Global Context: Invitations to New Interpretation and Understanding." More than 130 scholars and students have been invited to address that theme in papers to be presented in some 50 sessions.
The University of Calgary is the venue, where the conference will transpire at the MacEwen Conference and Event Center Thursday through Sunday.
Many conference-goers will take in some of the famous scenery of the Canadian Rockies in tours before and after the conference, exploring the nearby national parks of Waterton Lakes and Banff.
Some will get a flavor of Mormon history in Canada, visiting not just the pioneer temple town of Cardston, but the outlying communities of Stirling, Raymond and Magrath.
As for the conference itself, highlights include a lecture by David B. Marshall, associate professor of history at the university, who will discuss Mormonism in the context of the secularization in 20th century Canadian religion. Marshall characterizes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a "doughnut in Post-Christian Canada," alluding to the relative inattention to Mormon history within the historiography of the West.
"There will be a chance for people to get a feel for the latest developments in what the LDS Church History Department is doing in terms of the global history of the church and the decentralization of historical operations," said Jensen, who is a longtime member of the Church History Department staff. Richard E. Turley Jr. assistant LDS Church Historian, will give that presentation along with Reid L. Neilson, managing director, and Wayne Crosby, a director in the department.
Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy will speak at the Sunday devotional, perhaps the last public address he will deliver as the LDS Church's historian and recorder before his pending release in October, when he will be granted emeritus status as an LDS general authority.
An official from the Community of Christ, Steven L Shields, and the president of the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Frederick N. Larsen, will speak at the luncheon on Saturday, each addressing the proselytizing efforts of their respective churches, which trace their origins to Joseph Smith, as does the LDS Church.
"Many people will be interested in the various presentations on polygamy," Jensen acknowledge.
In fact it was that practice, abandoned by the church in 1890, that drove the energized the Mormon settlement of western Canada, as Charles Ora Card led a group of church members northward seeking refuge from federal prosecution, just as other Mormons went south for the same reason and established colonies in Mexico. They founded Cardston where one of the church's oldest temples is now located.
As for other western Canadian history, "the Latter-day Saints participated significantly in the development of irrigation in the area," Jensen said. "Cardston was established before this really came about on a large scale, but Stirling and Magrath were important in terms of development of a major canal. That made it possible to begin the sugar beet industry, something we had had some experience with in Utah."
And a Latter-day Saint was influential in what is arguably Calagary's greatest claim to fame. Raymond Knight, son of Utah industrialist Jesse Knight, sponsored rodeos in his namesake town and coined the term "stampede" for them. That led to the later development of such events in Calgary, and the annual Calgary Stampede was developed. This year it will be July 6-15, about a week after the conference concludes.
See www.mormonhistoryassociation.org for additional information about the conference.