The Plat: A Mixed-use Town Plan

Head and shoulders portrait of colonizer and regional Mormon leader, Charles Ora Card, likely taken in the 1880s.  Photo courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives,  19851055000 .

Head and shoulders portrait of colonizer and regional Mormon leader, Charles Ora Card, likely taken in the 1880s.

Photo courtesy the Galt Museum & Archives, 19851055000.

In 1898, the leaders of the Mormon Church entered into a contract with Sir Elliot Galt and Charles Magrath to construct an irrigation system in southern Alberta. The contract required the Church to provide skilled labourers to build fifty miles of irrigation canals from Kimball to Stirling. They were also required to populate two settlements along the planned irrigation line with at least 250 settlers each. These two communities would become the towns of Stirling and Magrath. Voluntary immigration of Mormon colonists was slow despite propaganda put out by the Church. Mormon leaders called men on missions to build the irrigation canal or to settle their families in southern Alberta to meet the Church’s contractual obligations.

When Stirling was first settled in May 1898, it was one square mile in size. Colonizer Charles Ora Card divided the land into blocks of ten acres, each divided into 8 lots of 2.5 acres each. The size of the residential lots was intended to accommodate colonists building a house, barn, animal shelters and to grow a large garden or orchard.

The Plat of Zion used to establish the layout of Mormon colonies in the United States, Mexico and Canada was intended for exactly such mixed usage in the hopes of promoting self-sufficiency and even eliminating crime. Sam Greenspan of 99% Invisible wrote of the Plat’s design, “This imagined city… would offer the best parts of a city—infrastructure, education, and community—but without vice and crime. Joseph Smith thought this could be achieved by giving residents lots of space; it would essentially be a rural city.”

The layout also featured a central point in each community. In the original Plat, the central area was to be reserved for religious structures. In Raymond, the address system continues to measure distances from that centre point. For example, Raymond High School's address is 65W-100N (65 blocks west and 100 blocks north) from the central intersection of town.

You can learn more about the Plat of Zion and how it was used to establish Mormon communities in southern Alberta at the Galt Museum on September 4 from 2–3 pm when Graham Ruttan will host a lecture entitled The Centre Place.