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CANADIAN VILLAGE BECOMING HISTORIC VISITOR ATTRACTION

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This village, designated a National Historic site because it typifies a Latter-day Saint settlement in Canada, is on the way to becoming a historic visitors attraction.

Stirling Agricultural Village is the third community in Canada which has been designated as a National Historic site, the other two being the old town of Quebec City, Quebec, and the town of Lunenberg, Nova Scotia.The mayor of Stirling, federal and provincial officials and Historic Sites committee members met in late October to plan a preliminary cost estimate for interpreting the village, which was named a Canadian National Historic Site this past summer. Commitments would be in the neighborhood of $500,000.

The cost will be shared equally by the federal government, the provincial government and the village of Stirling. Current residents, who number about 900, will be able to provide some of the village's commitment with their labor.

Stirling was chosen by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada because it most clearly typifies Joseph Smith's Plat of Zion layout in Canada. The settlement of Stirling was started May 5, 1899, when pioneers began to arrive on the narrow-guage railway. The Historic Sites designation occurred on July 20, which has been set aside as Stirling Settlers Days for many years.

Trudy Cowan, Alberta member and vice chairwoman of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, was the master of ceremonies. A plaque was unveiled by Joyce Fairbairn, senator from this area, and Stirling Mayor Don Nilsson. Government dignitaries included Ron Hierath, member of the Alberta Legislature for the Stirling area, and Ray Speaker, member of Parliament for the District of Lethbridge.

Elder Lynn A. Rosenvall, a Church area authority for the North America Central Area, represented the Church. He called Stirling one of the youngest LDS settlements.

"By the time Stirling was founded in 1899 there were over 500 settlements similar to this that have been located through seven western states," he said. Stirling was one of two towns of 250 people the Church agreed to build in Canada when it signed an irrigation agreement with the Sir Alexander Galt interests that founded Lethbridge, 20 miles to the north.

The village was set up in 2 1/2-acre lots, following the directive of the First Presidency, for the people to settle in villages so they could have Church and social amenities.

The Alberta Company of the International Daughters of Utah Pioneers placed its first plaque in Canada on the highway passing Stirling in May 1995. It was to commemorate the pioneers who came to Southern Alberta over the narrow-guage railway from May 5, 1899, until Jan. 1, 1912. Settlers got off the train at Stirling and from there traveled to various parts of Southern Alberta to begin at least 17 towns and other agricultural settlements.

The village of Stirling bought the Michelsen house and outbuildings a couple of years ago as the best representative family layout of the pioneer period. The house was started in the early 1900s and completed in 1912.

The house and surroundings will become a featured part of the interpretation of the village. Also in the plans are marked trails with interpretive brochures, oral histories being prepared by local resident John Duncan and an interpretive center to be built at the town entrance. All are still in the planning stages.

Mayor Nilsson hopes the Church will also become involved in the interpretation of the village since the majority of residents are still members of the Church and descendents of those early pioneers.

Ron Bore, president of the Stirling Historic Society, said the plan is to develop the interpretation over five years. Stirling residents are trying to get the governments to agree to three years since 1999 would be the 100th anniversary of the settlement.

A special choir was organized for the designation day and sang the national anthem, "O Canada," and a medley of religious and historical selections prior to the ceremony. A mural was unveiled during the dedicatory ceremony, drawn and painted on the side of the village office building as a volunteer effort by Betty Trudeau, a resident of Stirling.

A brochure published by the Canadian Parks Service notes: "Stirling is the best preserved of Alberta's Mormon agricultural villages. Other communities have lost their original character through development (Raymond, Magrath and Cardston) or suffered major alteration or demolition (Aetna, Mountainview, Hillspring and Glenwood). Stirling is a particularly well-preserved example of a village that closely conforms to the typical organization model of Mormon villages known as the `Plat of Zion.'

"This model was intended to reinforce agricultural production, encourage cooperation and make life easier for residents. As well, it is a distinctive element of the Mormon tradition and an important aspect of prairie settlement in Canadian history."