Cardston—Harvesting a Pioneer Heritage


Members of the pioneer party led by Charles Ora Card had talked throughout the day—3 June 1887—of “home”: “We’ll be home tonight.”

But now, four-year-old Wilford Woolf was dismayed by his new surroundings on the banks of Lee’s Creek in southern Alberta—rain-matted prairie grass with only a solitary wagon box in sight for shelter. Jane Eliza Woolf Bates (thirteen at the time, but soon to be the first schoolteacher in her new community) would recall that her younger brother plaintively reminded their mother:

“‘Ma, you said we’d be home tonight.’

“‘Yes, dear,’ she said, ‘this is home from now on.’

“With quivering lips and brimming eyes, he asked, ‘If this is home, where’s all the houses?’” (Jane E. Woolf Bates and Zina A. Woolf Hickman, Founding of Cardston and Vicinity—Pioneer Problems, n.p., 1960, p. 17.)

C. O. Card, president of the Cache Stake headquartered in faraway Logan, Utah, had gathered a group of pioneer settlers from among his flock. They had been straggling across the international border in small parties for a month. President Card was fulfilling a charge from Church President John Taylor to find a haven north of the border for these Saints.

Undoubtedly the words of Sunday School superintendent Johnathan Layne in a meeting on 19 June 1887 brought reassurance to the members of the small, isolated new branch of the Cache Stake. He recorded in his journal: “The spirit of prophecy came upon me and under its influence I predicted that this country would produce for us all that our Cache Valley homes had produced and that temples would be built in this country. I could see it as plain as if it were already here.” (Founding of Cardston and Vicinity—Pioneer Problems, p. 25.)

Today, travelers entering Alberta via the border crossing at Carway come upon the fulfillment of most of that prophecy less than half an hour north on Highway 2. Just past a few outlying businesses and a brick LDS chapel, the highway dips down into the south end of the town named for C. O. Card. Much of Cardston sits in a low spot on the prairie, along the banks of the creek. But the Alberta Temple, dedicated in 1923, stands on the heights a few blocks west of downtown, surrounded by residential areas.

The Alberta Temple

The Alberta Temple, dedicated in 1923, stands on the heights west of downtown Cardston.

At the north edge of Cardston sprouts a row of grain elevators like those marking the site of almost every other Alberta prairie town. Wheat fields ripple off to the north, across the Blood Indian Reserve bordering Cardston, and to the east and southeast. Southwest of Cardston, the fields roll away gently toward the craggy, sharp peaks of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, on the U.S.-Canadian border. Distinctive, square-topped Chief Mountain heads a parade of mountains that stretches westward.

The sense of open space is almost overpowering.

Maybe that’s why Vivian and Verena Crawford’s grandson, visiting their farm east of Cardston, was so enthusiastic. Their house sits on one square mile of land. In front, wheatfields rise to meet the southern horizon, unbroken by neighboring farmhouses. That meant, the boy said, that “I can yell as loud as I want!”

“It was a large farm when you did it with horses,” Vivian Crawford recalls. He only worked half of the section then, expanding the farm later when he was able to acquire gasoline- and diesel-powered equipment. Expansion meant going “from his wild horses to his wild tractors,” Verena Crawford recalls, laughing. The farm provided a living for the family, as well as valuable tutoring in responsibility for the children.

It was never an easy life. They got electricity in 1950. They had a well near their old farmhouse, but for this newer house, they have to haul water in a truck from Cardston to fill their cistern. They’ve never bothered with the government crop insurance many farmers purchase. “The Lord is our insurance. You pay your tithing,” Sister Crawford says, and trust in him.

The farm is small by today’s standards—a part-time labor of love for the Crawfords’ son and son-in-law and their families. Brother Crawford sold all his farm equipment in 1973 when he and his wife went on a mission to Australia. Now his farm work is part-time. “I just fill in,” he says. “I do what they need.”

Active in Church and community leadership, the Crawfords, like many of their generation, are thoroughly at home in the modern world—and yet a bit uncomfortable with the influences it has brought to their corner of Alberta.

Corporal Al Rudd of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is another member of the Church in Cardston. A big man with a friendly, outgoing manner, he draws smiles of recognition wherever he goes. In some ways, he represents both the faith and commitment of present-day members and the impact of the outside world on the Cardston Saints.

The modern, computerized RCMP is Canada’s federal police force. Under contract, it also provides local law enforcement for many small towns like Cardston. So Brother Rudd faces the challenge shared by many LDS policemen—trying to maintain a charitable outlook toward lawbreakers he must deal with and sometimes manhandle.

He is one of the few Mounties in the local detachment who is LDS, and, he says, “I find myself defending the Church a lot.” Some of his colleagues feel the life-style of this small LDS town is restrictive. They resent not being able to use a community ballfield on Sunday—the facilities are closed—or buy alcoholic drinks. (As allowed by law, citizens voted long ago to keep their town “dry.”)

But to most of the people in town, Corporal Rudd is Brother Rudd—a convert of eleven years, counselor in his elders quorum presidency, willing volunteer in service projects, coach of the Cardston Minor Hockey Cobras. For him, the transfer to Cardston was a blessing. It has brought strength to his family through association with Latter-day Saints he admires for their “steadfastness.”

“I’m jealous of the teachers here,” Brother Rudd says. “They’ve got a great job.” (After farming, the local schools and their administration are probably Cardston’s major “industry.”) In less than five years, Al Rudd will be eligible for retirement from the RCMP. He is considering taking up teaching then, and is working part-time on finishing a university degree.

High school physics teacher Joe Paulson, a high councilor in the Cardston West Stake, would probably fit Al Rudd’s definition of “steadfast.” Young people, Brother Paulson observes from the vantage point of his profession, often need direction in their lives. He and his wife, Shirley, try to provide that direction in their own family, largely through example. Family prayer, family home evening, scripture reading, and genealogy work are regular practices in their home.

Do young people raised in Cardston’s protective LDS environment have the strength to face temptation when they go into the outside world? They do, Brother Paulson believes, if they have been taught correctly at home. But that is a must, he says, and for LDS parents, even in Cardston, it’s challenging to be a good role model.

Forest and Eda Wood have been role models for almost all of their eight-plus decades in Cardston. But, then, they had good role models before them.

Forest is a son of Edward J. Wood, the successor to C. O. Card as spiritual leader of Cardston. Brother Wood served as stake president for thirty-nine years and as temple president, concurrently, for twenty-five. Visiting Church leaders like Joseph F. Smith, John A. Widtsoe, and David O. McKay slept in the brass bed that still sits in a bedroom of the Wood home where Forest and Eda now live. Those same leaders signed their names in the autograph book young Forest’s mother kept. Later, Forest served as a missionary in England under Elder James E. Talmage of the Council of the Twelve. He was ward clerk under Bishop N. Eldon Tanner, who would go on to serve in the Council of the Twelve and the First Presidency.

E. J. Wood was known as a man of great spiritual gifts, and manifestations of those gifts were not infrequent during his era in Cardston. “I was in a meeting once when we were praying for rain,” Forest Wood recalls. Outside, it began to hail. A brother was called out of the congregation to rebuke the elements. He did so, and the hail changed to rain.

Sister Wood, a talented musician, has served in many Church callings, mostly music-related. But she also served as a temple officiator for more than twenty-five years. “I’ve been busy in the Church since I was eight years old,” she says. That was when she was called as Primary pianist for the first time. She was past age eighty when she was called again as Primary organist. The enthusiasm in her voice is unmistakable: “I just love it.”

Brother Wood has served in a wide variety of Church leadership positions. He was temple recorder for fifteen years and has served as an officiator for nearly forty years. The consistency of his Church service is perhaps best seen in his home teaching. Except for ten years when he served as bishop and thus was not a home teacher, he has a 100 percent record dating back to 1933.

The Woods live across the street from the Blood Indian Reserve. Brother Wood says that they have had good friendships with their Indian neighbors through the years. But not everyone in Cardston has had that experience. The physical and legal boundaries of the reserve, government policies governing the Indians, prejudice, and suspicion form real barriers. It takes a two-way effort by non-Indians and Indians to tear them down.

Margaret Weasel Bear, called out of the congregation to bear her testimony at a conference of the Cardston Alberta Stake, pleads with Anglos to go out of their way to share the gospel, particularly the Book of Mormon, with “my people. They don’t know how much love we have to give them.”

John and Margaret Weasel Bear are members of the Blood Reserve Branch. He is first counselor in the branch presidency, and she is Relief Society president. The branch was recently reorganized after being closed in the early 1970s.

The Church is better accepted on the reserve now than it used to be, Brother Weasel Bear says. But for it to make real progress there, some attitudes must change. Lamanite members must be more willing to serve in leadership positions. Some are reluctant to do so because they feel they lack education or experience, but the necessary knowledge and skills can be taught to the willing by the Spirit of God, he says. Lamanite and Anglo members alike must set good examples, he emphasizes, because “right now, my people are watching us.”

Larry Fisk is producer of the historical pageant that will mark the centennial of Cardston this year. It deals with the problems pioneers had to overcome, including building a relationship with the Indian tribes in the area. History records that C. O. Card reached an understanding with the Indians, but not all of them were pleased by the proximity of the white settlers.

Brother Fisk is the administrator of a government probation office in Cardston. Noting that Indians account for a high percentage of the area’s arrests, he points out that the wrongdoers are, nevertheless, a small percentage of the population. He stresses that many on the reserve are helping to strengthen their people and that a number of Indian students achieve outstanding academic records in Cardston schools.

The schools benefit not only the town’s young people, but the whole community, Brother Fisk explains. While Cardston residents are quite active in community sports programs, they are also very supportive of adult education and cultural programs. In a town of approximately 3,000, the community’s Further Education Program offers nearly 125 courses attended by eight or more people. Every spring the community stages a music and speech festival, sponsored by a local service club, that never fails to impress the out-of-town judges.

“It’s a marvel how many people give up their time” to see that cultural, athletic, and scholastic programs succeed, Brother Fisk comments. A member of the town council, he believes that the LDS majority works well with non-LDS residents of Cardston. But, he acknowledges, some nonmembers feel shut out.

Howard Snyder is one of a handful of non-LDS businessmen in Cardston. He and his wife have lived here for sixteen years. He founded and for fourteen years operated a company that manufactures camping and outdoor recreation gear. The area’s proximity to Glacier National Park in Montana was a major attraction of Cardston for the Snyders, but the beneficial influence of the Church on the local life-style was also a consideration.

The Snyders have never felt any discrimination in the community, possibly because their personal and moral standards are so similar to those of their LDS neighbors. The majority of the Snyders’ friends are LDS. For the most part, the relationship between member and nonmember in Cardston has been excellent, Mr. Snyder says. But in the past three or four years he has noticed an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among a small number of the non-LDS residents. “A lot of people have a kind of chip on their shoulder and are willing to see discriminatory intent” in almost any activity that involves Latter-day Saints, even though it may be a normal part of community interaction, he explains.

Are there weaknesses that Church members in the area could correct in order to be better examples as disciples of Christ?

Yes, answers Bishop Mark Smith of the Hill Spring Ward, Cardston Alberta Stake. Both Lamanite and non-Lamanite members could take steps to improve the relationship between the two groups. In addition, sabbath observance could be better, and members in general could give more attention to temple work.

But Bishop Smith’s outlook on local members is far more positive than negative. Whole families, he says, have responded to urgings to study the scriptures by getting up earlier in the morning to do it, individually and collectively. His ward is also quite missionary-minded. Baptisms last year exceeded the ward goal by more than 100 percent.

Hill Spring is one of several small, predominantly LDS farming communities that dot the map around Cardston, and the members of the Church in these rural areas have a tradition of watching out for one another. When one member was incapacitated by cancer, others volunteered to harvest his crop. “I think we had something like ten combines out there,” the bishop says. When another farmer’s son died suddenly, members showed up spontaneously after the funeral to help bring in the father’s crop.

One segment of the local population is known for its faithfulness in temple attendance—the many older citizens who spend retirement years working in the temple.

Elaine Nelson serves as an ordinance worker there one evening and two days per week. She also devotes a major portion of her time to work in the genealogical library in Cardston. “I’ve been working in the genealogy field for sixty years now,” she says. “I love helping people with their research problems.”

Aside from genealogy work, her recreation is golf, which Sister Nelson, a widow, took up after age seventy. “I do a lot of hitting,” she says, laughing. “It does me good.”

“I’ve golfed every month of the year out here,” she adds, nodding in the direction of Cardston’s nine-hole course. In the winter, she goes by herself so no one else has to freeze with her; when it’s snowy, she uses an orange ball.

At times, the course may be comparatively free of snow because of the area’s Chinook winds, which help make Cardston winters survivable for farmers and cattle. In late January of 1888, those first settlers on Lee’s Creek were working on their meetinghouse when a Chinook wind came up. The temperature went from fourteen degrees below zero Fahrenheit to forty-five above in twelve hours. Within two days eight inches of snow had disappeared.

Sister Nelson was a schoolteacher in the Cardston area for many years before retiring in 1963. The town doesn’t grow much, she explains, “because one of our best exports is our young people.”

Jeff Nielson acknowledged this fact after his return from a mission to Sweden in August of 1986. He plans to become an optometrist, and Cardston does not seem to promise success in the business because of its size. He will probably have to go elsewhere.

A son of President Brent Nielson of the Cardston Alberta West Stake and his wife, Barbara, Jeff learned as a youth that all the same temptations faced by young people elsewhere are available in Cardston. Whether those temptations become a problem is up to the individual, he says, crediting the example of his parents and strong friends with helping him meet challenges. But he notes that young people must choose their friends carefully, even in Cardston.

Businessman Mark Sommerfeldt points out that young people exported from the Cardston area have made significant contributions to the Church in other parts of the world, at all levels of leadership. Names of Church leaders who have had Canadian roots are familiar to many members; current leaders, for example, are Elder Victor L. Brown of the First Quorum of the Seventy and Ardeth Greene Kapp, Young Women general president.

It is possible, however, to find both the opportunity to serve others and the opportunity for business success in Cardston. Mark Sommerfeldt is manager and his brother Glen is president of the automobile dealership and garage their father, Bruno, founded in 1955. Several other family members are part of the business as well.

“We’ve done a lot of missionary work through the garage,” says Glen, former mission leader in the Cardston West Stake. It has been natural many times to take tourists up to the visitors’ center at the temple, where they could enjoy the exhibits and presentations while their car was being repaired at the garage.

Glen Sommerfeldt took one family of tourists into his home after he heard their early morning distress call via radio. That kind of charity is something he learned from his father. Glen and Mark recall a stranded family who stayed at their home for several days some years ago while waiting for a new automobile motor to arrive.

Many young parents consider themselves fortunate to be able to rear their families in the Cardston area. “I couldn’t choose any other life-style I’d rather have,” despite the financial stresses of ranch life, says Terri Nelson of Mountain View, a small community west of Cardston. Before they are old enough to be in school, the children are learning to ride horses with her husband, Dan. The ranch provides opportunities to assign children chores, and it gives them plenty of room to play. Her children consider even Cardston too urban for comfort, she says.

Their ward provides good role models, in both adult leaders and the high percentage of eligible young people who go on missions. “These kids have a high standard to live up to,” Sister Nelson points out.

Debra Beazer is an import, originally from Sanford, Florida. She met her husband Rod at Ricks College. The winters are confining, she comments, but she would not want to rear her children elsewhere. Though there was a period of adjustment, Sister Beazer has found a home in Cardston. “The people here are wonderful,” she says.

How do Latter-day Saints of the Cardston area maintain high percentages of meeting attendance, acceptance of mission calls, and other measures of activity? Cardston Alberta Stake President Keith Olson replies that “programs aren’t the secret. It’s spirituality.” Members will not reach high levels of performance in Church work unless they have had spiritual experiences that build strong faith in Jesus Christ.

It helps, he adds, that the area has been “blessed with strong leaders” in its pioneer founders and those who followed them.

And it hasn’t hurt to be a bit out of the world’s mainstream. “It’s nice to be off in a corner, where outside influences haven’t had as big an effect on us as they have in other areas.”

Still, neither heritage nor lack of temptation is necessarily a motivator. How do local leaders help keep members so active in Church service? President Olson’s reply echoes Sister Beazer’s comment: “Well, it isn’t that difficult when you’ve got good people.”

[photos] Photography by Don L. Searle

[photo] Looking southwest across the wheat fields from Cardston to the Rockies. The square-topped mountain is Chief Mountain.

[photo] Elaine Nelson, an avid golfer, is a temple worker and one of Cardston’s long-time genealogists.

[photo] Looking northwest across Cardston. The temple is at left center, the grain elevators are at right center, and the Blood Indian Reserve is beyond the city.

[photo] Don and Ann Gregson, owners of a local grocery store, enjoy a family home evening picnic with their children at a reservoir near Cardston.

[photo] John and Margaret Weasel Bear are members of the Blood Reserve Branch, where he serves as counselor in the branch presidency and she as Relief Society president.

[photo] Outside of work, Corporal Al Rudd of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police serves as a counselor in his elders quorum presidency and as coach of the Cardston Minor Hockey Cobras.

[photo] Forest Wood shows his mother’s autograph book, filled with the signatures of Church leaders who visited their home while his father was stake and temple president.

[photo] Bruno Sommerfeldt (center) with sons Glen (left) and Mark at their family business.

[photo] Mark Smith, bishop of the Hill Spring Ward, says members in his rural area stick together and watch out for one another.

[photo] Larry Fisk, a member of the town council as well as administrator in a governmental probation office, trains Lucille Scout to be a probation officer.