11/03/2014 09:00 EST | Updated 01/03/2015 05:59 EST

Alberta town features Mormon Temple, carriage collection, tribute to Hollywood actress

CARDSTON, Alta. - The Cardston Temple not only serves as a beacon to followers of the Mormon religious faith, but it is also one of the key tourist attractions in this small southwestern Alberta town.

Cardston was founded in 1887 by Mormon settlers seeking refuge from prosecution in the United States due to the practice of plural marriage. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abolished polygamy in 1890.

The town, just 40 minutes from Waterton Lakes National Park and the Rocky Mountains, has a population of 3,500, and was the first of what would become several Mormon settlements in southern Alberta.

Construction of the temple began in 1913 and over the next 10 years granite was quarried from a site in Nelson, B.C., and transported more than 500 kilometres to Cardston.

It was the first Mormon temple built outside the United States. Covered by a layer of white granite one metre thick, the design is based on the centralized Greek cross and inspired by the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

It was named a national historic site in 1992.

"The temple does attract numerous amounts of members of the church, but it also does attract people that just want to see the building because it is kind of a pretty huge, odd building for just a small Prairie rural town. It's a massive granite building," said Jarom Scott, manager of the Tourist Information Centre in Cardston.

The Remington Carriage Museum, which opened in 1993, is the largest of its kind in the world and displays more than 270 carriages. The museum provides visitors with an appreciation of an authentic experience with 19th- and early 20th-century horse-drawn transportation. It was rated "Best Indoor Attraction in Canada" four times by Attractions Canada.

"The collection keeps growing. It's just really impressive," said Scott.

It also made an appearance in pop culture. In a 2006 episode of "The Simpsons," sisters Patty and Selma show vacation slides of their visit to the Remington museum, including an image of them standing next to a bronze statue of the museum's founder, Don Remington.

The museum features coaches used in past and present Hollywood productions, including stagecoaches used by Jackie Chan in Disney's "Shanghai Noon" and by Tom Selleck in "Crossfire Trail."

There's also a touch of early Hollywood.

Hollywood actress Fay Wray, who rose to fame as one of the original Scream Queens as the damsel in distress in the 1933 movie "King Kong" was born near Cardston.

A small park near Main Street was named in her honour. There is a fountain at the edge of the park along with a sign that bears a silhouette of King Kong holding Wray in a nod to her role in the film "King Kong."

Wray, whose career spanned 57 years, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 2005 received a star posthumously on Canada's Walk of Fame.

Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter.


If You Go ...

Remington Carriage Museum,

Cardston Alberta Temple, 348 3rd St. W. The visitors centre is open in the summer.

One of Alberta's best kept secrets, Waterton Lakes National Park, is only a 40-minute drive away.