Edward J. Wood: “Faith Personified”

As stake president and temple president in southern Alberta, he was a legendary example to Latter-day Saints for five decades.

Edward J. Wood:

As remarkable as has been the work of Latter-day Saints in western Canada, no work exceeds in prominence that which was performed by Edward J. Wood. Alberta Stake President for thirty-nine years (1903 to 1942), Cardston Temple president for twenty-five years (1923–1948), and twentieth-century founder of two LDS communities in southern Alberta, Edward Wood lived the kind of life of which legends are made.

“If Edward Wood was not worshiped or nearly so in his life,” said one Cardstonian, “then he was idolized; and if he was not idolized, then he was esteemed and respected to the full limit of those terms. Believe me, this man was something. But it was not just personality or charisma. He was a walking book on character-development. He was faith in God personified. He was duty and responsibility personified. He was courage and hope and optimism, all put together and all of it based on sound reason. But … his real power was that he had a tie with God, and everyone knew it.” (Olive Wood Nielson and Jay M. Todd, A Treasury of Edward J. Wood, Salt Lake City: Publisher’s Press, 1983, p. xix. All references are to this private publication copyrighted by Olive Wood Nielson, Cody, Wyoming.)

Edward Wood’s five decades of leadership made him one of the great constants in many persons’ lives. Typical was an event in 1919 when President Wood and a company of stake officers were on his annual tour among the northern wards and branches of the stake. It was mid-July, 117 miles north of Cardston. The car they were in hit an irrigation culvert, and all the passengers were “thrown very violently to the top of the car. Sister Workman struck the bow of the top which broke her nose and forced one corner of her glasses into her nose close to her eye. She bled terribly and felt her nose flattened on her face … she begged of me to reach forth [my] hand and say her nose was alright, and it would be—so with a very peculiar feeling in which there was no fear but a firm confidence, I put my hand on her nose and said with a prayer in my heart, I told her her nose would be alright. We noticed while bathing her face that her face, eyes, and nose were very much discolored. We wrapped her face and started again for Calgary, fearing to undo her face, but imagine our surprise when she went into her room in the hotel and untied the cloths from her face, we noted that the nose was in perfect shape and the dark color had been removed. We were delighted with her face. She simply said she knew her nose would be healed when I touched it.” (Pp. 451–52.)

Edward Wood did not begin his lifetime of impressive experiences in Canada, however. Born in Salt Lake City in 1866, he was thirty-five years old, married, the father of three, and already very experienced in the priesthood of God before he stepped across the Canadian border in 1901.

He was also much tested in the principle of sacrifice. When engaged to be married at twenty-one, he went to his stake president for a temple recommend but instead learned of his mission call to the Samoan Islands. A little over a month later, in September 1888, he was en route to three and a half years in Samoa, one of three missionaries to join a missionary couple sent six months earlier to open the Samoan Mission. He returned in 1892 and married his high-school sweetheart, Mary Ann Solomon. They had two children, and then, in 1896, four years after his return from Samoa and at age twenty-nine, he was called again to Samoa, this time as mission president. The call separated him from his wife and family for two years.

Edward recorded his feelings as he departed for Samoa on 6 December 1896: “Today was the greatest trial of my life. Never before did I realize what leaving home was. Poor Mary Ann fainted away and little Glen almost broke his heart, and I felt as I never felt before. For no other reason on earth could I ever be induced to leave my dear little family than the Gospel.” (P. 180.)

His sacrifices merited the blessings of heaven, and when Edward returned he had experiences with which he laced talks throughout his fifty-five years of Canadian leadership. In Samoa he had learned what it meant to go always onward—onward with sore legs, cuts, bruises, and injured feet from walking through brush and over rocks. He strained his back and blistered his hands from rowing from island to island through searing heat and chilling rainstorms. He endured hurricanes, tribal wars, antagonism, famine, and exhaustion from all-night sailing. He learned the Samoan language by faith and nighttime study, and lived by faith and fasting for food when his money was depleted.

As a result of such commitment, Edward learned one of the most profound truths of his life: that devotion to duty brings the blessings of heaven. By the time he entered Canada, he already knew what it meant to fast and pray, then walk for miles, lay his hands on a Samoan’s head, and see him healed. He knew what it meant to be bitten by a centipede, watch natives surround him expecting him to die, and then through inspiration be prompted to administer to himself and be healed. He knew what it meant to have to go to another island for critical meetings but to find a great storm blocking the way; yet, after prayer, to rebuke the winds and waves and sail out into “a smooth lane … 100 feet wide while on either side the waves were mountainous and the wind very strong.” (P. 595.) He knew what it meant to administer to a drowned missionary companion and call him back to life.

A year after his return from Samoa, family members who had moved to Alberta asked him to join them. When Charles O. Card, aging founder of the LDS Alberta communities, invited him to take over the management of the Cardston Mercantile, Edward accepted.

When Edward arrived in Cardston in September 1901, he found “3 quite good sized stores of general [merchandise] and other small shops, etc., two large country town hotels, 2 banks and other improvements commensurate with a town of eleven hundred population.” (P. 278.) Early in 1902, he was asked to do missionary work among inactive members and was well received. By June he was called to be Sunday School president and to be chairman of the town’s July Dominion Day celebration. By fall, less than one year after he had arrived, Edward was called to be second counselor in the Cardston Stake presidency. Eleven months later, when the stake was divided in 1903, Edward James Wood was called to preside over the Alberta Stake—and his life was never the same again.

The new stake president, eager to learn his calling, set out with selected stake leaders to meet his people, particularly those in the north where settlers continued to homestead. In the fall and winter, he traveled to wards and branches in the southern part of his stake. When summer arrived and the roads were good, he began his first annual two-week trek to the far reaches of the stake—over seven hundred miles in 1904. It was a practice he followed—with varying mileage totals—for the next thirty-eight years.

All year he wrote letters and collected information, and when tour time came he went to scheduled meetings and gatherings. Year after year he left in his wake a small Sunday School unit formed here, a branch formed there. Then he nurtured them until they were formed into full-fledged wards.

These tours were conference and holiday time, occasions of blessing and rejoicing for members scattered in the north. On an early tour he wrote: “As soon as supper was over … we all went in town [Gleichen] and met in the Town Hall, and of Saints and non-members had over 100 present. To any others but our people it would have been a strange meeting but as anyone would come in, we would introduce ourselves, and ask if they belonged to the Church, and … to our surprise we had 14 families.” (P. 342.)

One who attended those annual forays with President Wood wrote: “There was always someone needing a blessing. [He] would lay his hands on them and give them a blessing. Many times he would go without his food because he wanted to fast for them.” (P. 457.)

Typical was the 1906 visit near High River. “We called the evening priesthood meeting … and while also the sisters were having a meeting at [a] house, … Sister Hennegar was taken sick and three of us went over and administered to her, and she was instantly [well] and we went back and had a four-hour meeting and many covenants were made.” (P. 308.)

Even when he couldn’t administer in person to those in need, his influence was felt: “Last night I dreamed that Sister Sadie Hinman was better. … In the morning [I wondered] why I had dreamed about her. When we returned home she … said I seemed to go to her and administer to her and she was healed from her mental condition. I was surprised to hear her tell that which was the night I had the dream.” (P. 323.)

As years passed, the experiences multiplied. On one occasion President Wood promised those present in a meeting “who would pledge to serve the Lord first in their lives, that the Lord would answer their heart’s desire and pour out a blessing to them.” One person who could not see well enough to see the presiding officers was given sight and began naming those on the stand. A sister whose right hand was so cramped with arthritis she could not get thumb and forefinger together noticed in the meeting that she was able to use her hand again. (Pp. 637–38.) There was the man who, unknown to President Wood, stammered badly. As President Wood walked by him, Edward said that when the man would next bear his testimony, he “would speak with freedom” and that thereafter similar results would occur. And so it was. (Pp. 650–51.)

To note such events in Edward Wood’s life, however, is to study only the harvest without the effort he made to obtain the fruit. For example, he was not one to use the harsh Canadian winters as an excuse for putting aside the Lord’s work for a more convenient time. The following typical excerpts from his daily journal suggest why heaven so comfortably linked arms with Edward Wood in his prayers and labors:

—Sunday, May 16, 1909: “Talk about bad weather and deep snow and a blizzard in the air—it was a terribly stormy morning—my first thought was why go out and drive 40 miles in a blizzard mostly through deep snow drifts and mud holes and it was surely a temptation to stay at home. Then I thought of the people in Caldwell and of my duty, and I soon decided to go at all hazards. … It took us four hours, and some others five hours … but we had a very good time, and the weather had no ill effect with us.” (P. 354.)

—February 8, 1911: “We got a rig and started at 4 p.m., we were told it was foolish to start out for a 45 mile ride in the winter, not knowing when a bad storm might come but we started and soon found the roads bad, and we walked much of the time and much of the way. It was surely a long way and we got awfully cold before we reached Macleod at 3:00 a.m.” (P. 368.)

In 1904, less than a year after his call to be stake president, Edward was asked by Church leaders to oversee the construction of a tabernacle in Cardston. It was to be a building large enough to hold those in the stake and the many yet to come. For the next eight years, until the tabernacle was dedicated in 1912, President Wood participated in the work and oversaw the building’s construction. Then, as if work on that impressive structure had been only a preparation, in the latter part of 1912 the First Presidency announced the decision to build a temple in Canada. From then until 1923 when the temple was dedicated, President Wood served as committee chairman overseeing the building of what is still regarded as one of the finest architectural achievements in the Church—the first of the modern temples.

President Wood’s devotion to quality craftsmanship fulfilled the First Presidency’s and the architect’s hopes in the construction of this first temple outside the United States. Then, although he had recommended that a more mature individual be called, at age fifty-seven Edward J. Wood was called to preside over the temple he had so devotedly helped build. He had been stake president for twenty years—and would be so for another nineteen, until released at age seventy-six.

The Alberta Temple in 1919

The Alberta Temple in 1919. Edward Wood was building chairman throughout its construction, then temple president for twenty-five years.

Yet as impressive as all of this is to Latter-day Saints, to some Canadian non-Latter-day Saints, it is the colonization of 67,000 acres northwest of Cardston that stands as Edward Wood’s preeminent contribution. In 1905 the First Presidency acquired the large Cochrane Ranch, roughly eight miles wide and twenty-eight miles long. Two years later, Edward Wood left his work at the Cardston Mercantile to manage the Church’s ranch on the Cochrane. He was asked to oversee a survey and identify townsites, dedicate those townsites, and serve as the Church’s agent in selling land to interested Saints. The towns of Glenwood and Hill Spring are the result.

Between the First Presidency’s 1905 decision and the successful establishment of the towns, however, are countless experiences of President Wood helping people struggle through hard winters, dry and wet seasons, early frosts, several major depressions, political upheavals, potential bankruptcy, and all the toils incident to shaping raw land into remunerative and comfortable ranches and farms. Some say it took a man with the will and faith of Edward Wood to see the project through, a man to whom the Lord could reveal the future:

“Long before irrigation [of the Cochrane] was thought of, I had a dream. … In my dream, I saw water running down the streets of Glenwood, and looking away to the west I saw the smoke of a rail road locomotive crossing the river the other side of Hill Spring.” (P. 515.) It took years of work, but after many trials, those things were brought to pass.

It is this nurturing of homes and properties under his stewardship for which Edward Wood is still remembered in southern Alberta. Many farmers looked to him for prophetic insight regarding their economic affairs.

On Sunday, 16 June 1918, he wrote: “When addressing the Saints [at Glenwood], I felt impressed that we would not get the moisture and I told them so, and many were disappointed at what I said.” (P. 446.) But those who took steps that year to acquire feed for their cattle to offset a potential dry year knew the fruits of heeding his counsel.

People came to trust Edward Wood in every walk of life. During the dark Depression years, an unknown brother recorded that in priesthood meeting in June 1936 there was a sad discussion about the drought then in effect. Then President Wood rose and said, “You will get your crops; your wheat will be No. 1 and the yield will surprise you.” In the following days, the drought continued; clouds came and faded away, but there were no signs of rain. Warm winds merged into warmer winds, and “people grew more and more discouraged as they said, ‘The President has missed it this time.’” When harvest time came, “People didn’t expect much of anything. A great surprise greeted them. The heads were full and around twenty bushels to the acres dropped into the hopper of the combine.” (Pp. 612–13.)

A key to seeking the blessing of the Lord on their farms and properties was a practice President Wood followed during his entire thirty-nine years as stake president—grouping leaders, and often the members, in special fasting and prayer. But his firm conviction of the power of united prayer went beyond economic interest.

On Sunday, 2 January 1916, he wrote of those who joined him in prayer and fasting: “A good spirit prevailed as usual. We do appreciate our prayer. … We meet all thinking of the one thing—prayer. We pray for all people and all things.” (P. 412.)

In 1927 he wrote about his stake’s success in working with the Aaronic Priesthood-age boys and girls. He notes holding special meetings with them, where prayer is central, and “if there are any sick or afflicted” among their ward members, “we make special mention of this in the prayer,” and then “if any of the boys or girls present feel the need of a special blessing, we administer to them. … We have a few testimonies by the young people. … We ask the boys and girls … to pledge themselves to more faithful observance of the requirements of the gospel.” (Pp. 555–56.)

President Wood directed numerous efforts to reactivate both youth and adults. Among his many experiences is this account. Often, prior to a monthly Saturday stake priesthood meeting, he would call about thirty men on a “special mission” among wards and branches other than their own to share the gospel with nonmembers and the less active. One time, he felt inspired to call a man who “was defiant, gloried in using liquor, profaning and violating the Sabbath Day, smoked cigarettes by the thousand, laughed at other people’s devotion, especially his wife’s, his family and neighbors.” President Wood went to the brother’s home and “after hours of persuasion the man promised to go on this special mission, although he changed his mind twice shortly after the pledge.” But President Wood saw him through until he finally went.

Among those who were called to report at the next Saturday priesthood meeting was this man. “He arose from the bench on which he sat, walked slowly to the rostrum, stood there speechless, all blood left his face, his hands trembled, his teeth chattered, large tears coursed down his rough face. The atmosphere was so tense and the sympathy so pronounced that most of the eyes before him were weeping. It seemed as if he stood for from 6 to 8 minutes before he could speak. Then he said in broken tones, ‘Oh, God; be merciful to me a sinner.’ All were weeping now. He could say no more. For another five minutes he stood with quivering lips then slowly walked to the seat from which he arose. It was the greatest sermon preached that day.” (P. 612.)

In spite of the rich spiritual blessings Edward Wood enjoyed, the Lord did not leave him and his family without tests and sorrows. His third child died at an early age. Early into adulthood, his son—a bishop over the Glenwood Ward—died, as had a son-in-law shortly before. In 1923, he and his wife Mary Ann faced two serious challenges—her increasing deafness and his loss of voice. Surely fasting and prayer would resolve this, too, he thought. But his journal entry of November 12 notes the answer: a special fast was held “for my voice and [they] administered to me. Mary Ann was told in a dream that she could get hearing but my voice would not get better, but if she was willing to be deaf my voice would return to me. She said she would remain deaf and my voice was better than ever.” (P. 468.) The great love between him and Mary Ann deepened even more.

No story surrounding Edward J. Wood exceeds in power the classic story of his trip to Samoa in 1916—his third assignment to the islands—for a three-month mission. He had been vigorously leading the Alberta Stake for thirteen years. But in Samoa there was a lethargy. A new mission president had been called, and the First Presidency had invited Edward Wood to tour Samoa to energize the members to greater activity. Edward was also to evaluate Church-owned properties and schools and give advice regarding them and to select by inspiration from among the Samoan missionaries one to preside over the Tongan mission, set him apart, and send him forth. It was a remarkable assignment for a non-General Authority, but it reflected the confidence of the Brethren in him.

The core of the story is tied to Doctrine and Covenants 1:5 [D&C 1:5]:

“And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them.”

In this period, with World War I at a high pitch, Edward Wood was unable to obtain his passport in time because of governmental delays in Ottawa.

“When I left Cardston [for Salt Lake City], I had all the time a prayer in my heart that the promise of the Doctrine and Covenants would be fulfilled in my behalf, … as I had done all I could do to procure my passport.” At the Canadian border, the immigration officer came aboard: “I wondered what excuse I could make for not having mine, but the Spirit of the Lord intervened, and the officer never even asked for mine, but instead said—‘How do you do Mr. Wood, you are going to Salt Lake’—I said—as I have known him Before—‘Yes sir.’ He answered—‘Very Well, good luck to you.’”

Edward had been assured by his attorney in Cardston that the passport would be awaiting him in Salt Lake City. It was not. “At the appointed time, I was set apart by Pres. [Joseph F.] Smith with others who were going along with me, many of [whom] said they had quite a time getting their passports because of the war. I never told them I didn’t have mine. Yet I was the Senior one of the group, and wondered how it would look if I were turned back in San Francisco, but again the promise—‘They shall go forth and none shall stay them’—was in my mind.”

The party arrived in San Francisco, where again Edward was told by his attorney and those in Ottawa that his passport would be awaiting him. It was not. At the appointed time, the passengers lined up to present passports. Edward had gone the previous day to meet the immigration officers and talk of conditions at sea.

Once again, he recalled, “the promise ran through my mind” as the passengers lined up. “All at once to my surprise the officer called out, ‘Is Mr. Wood close by!’ I said—‘Yes, sir.’ He said—‘Come here, please.’ My gracious, I wondered what he would do with me without my passport, when to my great surprise, he said, ‘Mr. Wood, you have been twice before to the Islands,’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Alright’ he said, ‘We have a very large passenger list here and to save time, please come up here and receive the passports to help us out.’ He never asked for mine. … After all were on board the steamer, the Officer thanked me for helping, and said the Captain would like to have a talk with me in the morning about the Missionary work we were doing in the Islands.

“The next morning passengers were lined up on the deck and the Doctor and Purser examined every one for health and to see that all had the necessary credentials—passports etc. Again I wondered just how to get by, when all at once the Captain sent for me to go [to] the office and talk with him about the Mission … All the time the promise—‘that none shall stay them,’ passed through my mind.”

Five days later the ship arrived in Honolulu. Passengers were allowed to go ashore, but passports needed to be shown. Edward lined up with the others, wondering again “how I would get along, as no one knew I didn’t have my passport, but again the promise ran through my mind and to the surprise of many—a native standing on the wharf, called to me.” The officer examining the passports turned to President Wood and asked, “Are you acquainted with this native—he seems to want to see you.” “I answered, ‘yes—I would like to go ashore and have a little visit with him.’—He said ‘Alright, go ahead.’” Once more the hand of Providence was present.

But what would happen in five days when they arrived in Samoa, when only a few would be getting off? “We finally arrived at Pago Pago, … and there to greet me were a lot of former Samoan friends and a group of our missionaries. … As usual I purposely put myself the last one and did I ask the Lord again to come to my rescue! The natives and Elders were calling to me, greeting me and saying how pleased they were to see me, when all at once the Officer who was examining passports called and said, ‘Mr. Wood, … as these people on the shore are anxious to have you go ashore, we will allow you to go at once and wish you every success in your visit. ’ … I shook hands with them and went down the gangplank to greet the Elders and natives that I had baptized years before.

“The promise in Section I of the Doc. and Cov. [D&C 1] was literally fulfilled—‘They shall go forth and none shall stay them.’” (Pp. 433–36.)

In 1948, at eighty-two, President Wood was released as Cardston Temple president and called to be patriarch in the Alberta Stake. He died in 1956, six months short of his ninetieth birthday. Two years after his death, an unknown member in his stake attempted to analyze what it had meant to have Edward J. Wood among them. The words he wrote concerning the Depression symbolize President Wood’s life: “When defeat and apparent disaster were evident in every direction he could peer prophetically behind the clouds into the future and utter consoling promises that would literally lift and exalt the hopeless. All through the depression and the drouth that paralleled it for the first seven years, he traveled from ward to ward on Sundays, and in those unforgettable Saturday Priesthood Meetings he illuminated their minds and spirits and gave them promise of relief in a manner that hadn’t been anticipated.

“Those tired, dejected and discouraged faces took on a new light and they went home determined not to complain but to be thankful to the Lord and to make a success of a difficult period that was testing their faith and their powers of endurance.

“He was a beacon light that never dimmed nor cast a shadow above or below the desired path of his people.” (Pp. 604–5; italics in original.)

At his death, President David O. McKay said to Elder Hugh B. Brown, who was asked to represent him at the funeral: “We have never had a greater President of a Stake than Edward J. Wood.” (P. 725.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Larry Winborg

[photo] Edward J. Wood near the time he moved to Cardston in 1901.

[photos] Below, center: The twenty-two foot sailboat Faaliga (Revelation), purchased by the Samoan Mission in December 1888, during Edward Wood’s first mission. Below left: A scene from that mission, probably at headquarters in Fagali‘i. Below, right: Edward Wood during the time he served as president of the Samoan Mission (December 1896 to April 1899).

[photos] Above: Alberta Saints gather at Waterton Lakes near Cardston 30 August 1923, the day after the final dedication of the Alberta Temple. President Wood is directly behind the center kneeling man; to his left are Mary Ann and President Heber J. Grant and his wife. Right, bottom: The Wood family in 1914, just before a son’s mission departure. (Front, from left) Olive, Forest, Vi. (Middle) Mary Ann, Dale, Edward. (Back) Fern, Myrtle, Glen.