Modest as ever, Mike Gardener “surprised” by Order of Nunavut honour
“I’ve never been a one-man show”
Retired Iqaluit Anglican minister Mike Gardener says he’s “surprised and amazed” to be named one of the first three recipients of the Order of Nunavut.
“I wouldn’t think of it in a million years,” he said.
Gardener, who has called the Eastern Arctic his home for more than 50 years, is well-known throughout Nunavut and northern Canada for his work as a minister, counsellor and community activist.
A 2007 recipient of the Order of Canada in 2007, Gardener says he “hasn’t a clue” who nominated him for Nunavut’s highest honour, but he wants to thank whoever did.
Ed Picco doesn’t know either, but he is certain that Gardener “exemplifies the kind of person who continues to give.”
A long time parishioner of St. Jude’s, the two men first met in the 1980s, when Gardener was a marriage counsellor to Picco and his then-fiancée.
Through his counselling, Gardener has reached out to Nunavummiut across the North – regardless of their beliefs, Picco said.
“He has always risen about the call of duty,” Picco said. “He’s been retired for 15 years, but he’s still putting in a full day. And his help has been non-denominational — that makes him unique.”
But Picco says Gardener would not be able to do all the work he’s done without the help of a strong partner.
Gardener agrees; as far as he is concerned, his award will have to be split in two, with the other half going to his wife, Margaret Gardener.
Mike and Margaret, known locally as “M. and M.”, first came to the Arctic as missionaries from their home outside of London, England in 1955.
Because they were an engaged couple — and not yet married — they weren’t permitted to go to the same community together.
So Mike went to Kimmirut and Margaret to Pangnirtung.
Some time later the couple travelled to Iqaluit — Mike arriving three days late by Peterhead boat — where they were married aboard the C.D. Howe.
The newly-weds returned to Kimmirut together, then known as Lake Harbour, where they spent five years.
“We were initiated into the North very early and we really grew to like it,” Gardener said.
In the late 1950s, Kimmirut was home to a scattering of buildings; the Anglican mission, a police and nursing station and the Hudson Bay trading post, which drew Inuit throughout the year.
The Gardeners hosted many of those visiting Inuit, while Gardener did long dog-sled trips out on the land to visit camps.
The Inuit encouraged Gardener to learn Inuktitut.
“I was asked to preach in Inuktitut the first weekend I arrived,” he said. “I did it by copying Bible verses out, not really knowing what I was saying.”
But parishioners were impressed.
In 1961, Mike and Margaret moved to Cape Dorset — then as a family of four, with two young daughters.
There, Gardener trained church catechists and he and his wife taught day school.
The couple also played a role helping northern service officers establish government services in the growing community.
By 1970, the Gardeners counted three daughters and a foster child when they were relocated to Pangnirtung, where Mike ran a clergy training school.
The family, particularly Margaret, grew attached to the community.
But the 1970s saw the construction of the iconic Anglican cathedral in Iqaluit, and with it, a congregation that swelled into the hundreds.
On the request of many of those parishioners, the Gardeners relocated in 1981 to Iqaluit, which they’ve called home ever since.
“There was a good spirit about the place,” Gardener said of Iqaluit. “We always made quite sure that any new people to the community were comfortable. We followed up on them and did home visits.”
Gardener gave a mass on Sundays in Inuktitut, which drew about 300 people, while his English-language mass drew another 100 or so.
The Gardeners helped to run the church’s Sunday school, a youth program and did a lot of community counselling, an invaluable service that could be the couple’s biggest legacy.
Over the years, Mike and Margaret Gardener have welcomed hundreds of Nunavummiut into their home – some to share their joy, but many to share their pain.
The couple were never strangers to local police and hospital staff, who call the house when there has been an accident or a death.
The Gardeners have helped many Nunavummiut struggling with suicidal tendencies, and others who struggle with substance abuse.
Gardener remembers one distraught man showing up at the house with a loaded gun.
The couple welcomed him in, Margaret made them all a cup of tea and managed to soothe the man’s worries.
But Gardener calls all the work he’s accomplished in the Eastern Arctic “a combined effort.”
“I’ve never been a one-man show,” he said. “That’s what helped us so much.”
“Now that we’re retired, we still want to help, but at a slower pace,” he added. “We’re thankful for the people who do help now.”
Gardener will be invested into the Order of Nunavut at a fall 2011 ceremony, alongside the families of his fellow Order of Nunavut recipients Mark Kalluak and Jose Kusugak, both who passed away earlier this year.