Beloved Nunavut minister tells his story in “Called to the Arctic”

Rev. Mike Gardener arrived in Kimmirut in 1955

Rev. Mike Gardener stands with his bride Margaret Porter in Iqaluit (then known as Frobisher Bay) on Sept. 10, 1956, with Davidee, who had brought Gardener to Frobisher Bay from Kimmirut, and Davidee’s wife Mary and their children. (Photo from the collection of Rev. Mike Gardener)

By Jane George

It would be challenging to find someone more respected throughout Nunavut than the Rev. Mike Gardener, now retired, who served the Anglican Church for more than 50 years and recently set down his story for everyone to read.

“I could hear his voice when reading the book, so open and honest, and funny, too,” said his daughter Susan Gardener, who lives in Iqaluit.

Gardener’s measured voice remains familiar to many, including those who are not Anglicans: over the years, he has officiated at countless public events in Iqaluit, delivering opening prayers in Inuktitut and English.

After arriving in the Arctic in 1955, Gardener lived in Kimmirut, Kinngait, Pangnirtung and Iqaluit. But he now lives in Ottawa at the Embassy West residence with his wife, Margaret.

A recipient of the Order of Nunavut and the Order of Canada, Gardener turns 90 next month.

And his new memoir, “Called to the Arctic: the Memoirs of the Rev. Mike Gardener,” offers many insights into his life, his family and the many people he met over those 90 years.

“Called to the Arctic,” his granddaughter Sharon Angnakak told Nunatsiaq News, tells “a great life story, full of humour and a good message,” and features many of his colour photos.

Of Gardener’s first, largely unsuccessful, seal hunts, he said: “I wander around to keep warm but I’m always feeling a bit scared whether I am going to fall into the water. Because we would go where it was fairly newly-formed ice and it would bend a bit under you. It wouldn’t give way because it was very rubbery, not like fresh water ice. So I was fairly safe, but I didn’t feel that safe.”

While some memoirs can be dull or poorly written, this one, prefaced by his editor and proofreader, former Iqaluit resident and parishioner Carol Rigby, is a page-turner, as the young missionary describes how he learned to walk over ice, shoot a seal, build an igloo and run a dog team.

Gardener also mastered Inuktitut while ministering to people in the camps.

“I was not apprehensive at all. I was thankful that we had finally arrived to live in the Arctic,” he said in the book.

As a 12-year-old, Gardener had been inspired by the story of the Scottish missionary David Livingstone’s life in Africa, but he wanted to be in a cold place.

When he arrived in Kimmirut, the young missionary, fitted with warm clothes, was anxious to learn the Inuit language and culture.

“My whole experience with language and culture learning was like being thrown into the deep end. But I know now, although I didn’t realize then, how the Lord was truly guiding and protecting me the whole time,” Gardener said. “I believe that was the reason we were sent there to join with others in helping people in these new circumstances.”

Here the newlyweds Mike and Margaret Gardener pull ice from a lake to melt for drinking water. (Photo from the collection of Rev. Mike Gardener)

Gardener developed an appreciation for seal meat early on.

“When you are cold, there is nothing better than to chew a bit of raw seal meat, dripping with warm blood, to get yourself warmer … wonderful food,” he said.

Slowly, Inuit accepted Gardener, allowing him to come to their country food feasts because they saw he enjoyed their foods.

“We all laughed at how they used to try and stop me going to feasts and now they were asking me to go,” he said.

But Gardener said it took him “a long time to get to know the ways to know the right things in the North.”

Life got more complicated for Gardener after his marriage, the arrival of children, and increased responsibility for clerical training in Pangnirtung. Later, Gardener would move to Iqaluit where, among many other activities, he led services at St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral.

“I felt at times rather swamped by all the various things that had to be done and the time to have my own preparation, my own prayers, my time with Margaret and family,” he said.

“The whole idea is not for the minister to do everything. He’s supposed to be helping others to do the things that need to be done. We don’t have a dog to guard our house and then do the barking ourselves.”

The Gardener family at the Embassy West residence in Ottawa: (from left to right) daughters Ann and Pat, Mike, daughter Susan, adopted son Kym and Margaret (at the front). (Photo courtesy of the Gardener family)

Long after his retirement in 1996, Gardener was still called upon to fill in at church services, counsel people or even rid homes of bad spirits.

While Gardener no longer lives in Nunavut, he still has family around the territory: his daughters, Susan, Pat and Ann, numerous grandchildren, including P.J. Akeeagok, the president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, and great-grandchildren.

Susan recently ordered some hard copies of her father’s memoirs for Arctic Ventures in Iqaluit. You can order your own hard copy or download an e-book to read on a Kindle device.

“Called to the Arctic: the Memoirs of the Rev. Mike Gardener”

  • Paperback: 219 pages
  • ISBN-13: 979-8648059122
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 1.32 x 22.86 cm
  • Publisher: Independently published (May 23 2020)
  • Item Weight: 395 g
  • ASIN: B08928JDLX
  • Language: English
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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by To Mike and margaret on

    Thank you for the tears you two. My eyes have been so dry after I had knee replacement of last month. I always knew P J was your grandson. There are many of us who will be thankful of your kindness to many things you have done to help us to better of our life. I have missed old way of life and you two are in it too. God bless and your family. Love MSZ and family

  2. Posted by Nipisha Bracken on

    Mike baptized me at about a year old in Kimmirut. When my sons were born between 1980/83, I asked him to baptize them as well. But unfortunately was too late. He had retired. I understood, because I was always happy to be at church when he was our ajurirsui then anyways. I am happy since then and now having known him. I love their paniks, and proud to. Nalligivatsi illunnatsiasi. ❤❤❤❤❤

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      I hope libraries find spac e and the fund to share this treasure.

  3. Posted by Jay Arnakak on

    this should be required reading at the high school level for all of Nunavut. Other than Harper’s excellent body of work and smatterings of personal histories and reflections of our current luminaries from the Nunavut Arctic College Media shop there is very little that celebrate the true Nunavut out there – most publications being government and land claims org.s reports that no one but policy wonks like me read.

    qujannamiik, Mike, Margret and family.

  4. Posted by Dianne McVey on

    Mike you never cease to amaze me. My mother, Eleanor Theriault, adored you and Margaret. Y ou both were respected thriughout the North. And Iknow you made being a part of your Anglican community more fun and certainy more interesting. Always tolerant of the wee ones running about and crying out that they had to pee. You always said said that children make us closer to God. You are truly a man of God, compassion. understanding and strength. Thank you for what you taught me.


  5. Posted by Jane Tagak on

    Mike is sorely missed in Iqaluit. he gave wonderful Sunday sermons, he married two of my children, baptized one daughter, baptized twin grandchildren and buried my husband. Wish he was still here.

    His book was wonderful reading. People who come to the Arctic nowadays come to a very different place than before. reading about the early days hopefully will help people understand what makes this a special place.

  6. Posted by Geraldine Travers on

    I am looking forward to reading this book. My mother was a Gardener and was a third cousin on Mike’s. Susan and I discovered each other geanealogically some years ago. I am so proud of the contribution my long lost relatives have made to Nunavut and Canada.

  7. Posted by Mosha Lyta Noah on

    Wow, I’d love to buy n read the book. I used to n still love when I hear Mike running to places. I use to go services with my late grandparents on sundays n on funeral services n I would like/love seeing n shaking hands with Mike n other parishioners there at church. Thanks for all the memories n that u n Margaret will always b in our hearts and memories up north! God bless to u n Margaret n ur kids n grandkids n great grandkid! Nakummi

  8. Posted by Dilemma on

    I wonder if people have some sort of internal conflict when celebrating the life of people like Minister Garderner? It seems like the Garderner’s had a positive impact on many of those around them. Yet, being a minister he was an active agent of Inuit assimilation and colonization. How do people work through this conundrum?

    • Posted by Bob’s Your Uncle on

      Mike Gardner was a true person who respected and treated Inuit properly, honored their culture and language and lived his life to his calling to serve people, not himself or some deep state colonialism.

      • Posted by Dilemma on

        There is no argument that Mike is not a good man. He may have served Inuit respectfully to the best of his ability. Yet, to argue that him, and others like him were not agents of assimilation and colonialism is erroneous. His mere presence and teachings actively encouraged assimilation and promoted colonialism.

  9. Posted by Mike Gardener on

    Thank you for your kind and amazing comments! I miss so many of you and continue to keep in touch as much as I can. You are always in my thoughts and prayers.

  10. Posted by Uvanga on

    Thank you for continuing to bless you from afar. Although not church goer he loved us all equally, no matter. last comment; he gave what he had, including my grandmother who needed food and Mike gave her a bag of his groceries. Qujanamii.

  11. Posted by Tundra Lee on

    I wonder if Mike knew my father, Dr. Ehlers, who served in Rankin Inlet around 1958-61

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