The Miracle of Archibald Gardner Crossing the Ice Flow

Or How the Nauvoo Road Came to be in Ontario

Archibald Gardner (September 2, 1814 – February 8, 1902) was a 19th century pioneer and businessman who helped establish communities in Alvinston, Ontario, Canada, West Jordan, Utah and Star Valley, Wyoming. He was also an early leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As a businessman, millwright and practical engineer, Archibald Gardner built 36 mills, mostly gristmills, 23 in Utah, six in Canada, five in Wyoming, and two in Idaho. He also built hundreds of miles of canals, and many bridges.

Archibald was born on September 2, 1814 in Kilsyth, Scotland. Archibald, brother Robert, and their mother emigrated to eastern Ontario, Canada (near to Port Dalhousie) in 1823, about one year after their father, sister Mary, and brother William. At 17, Archibald built his first mill by following the direction of his father. Six years later Archibald went on his own, moving to southwestern Ontario. In Alvinston, Ontario he built a gristmill in 1837 on the east end of the sixth concession of Brooke township. As was common to the technology of the period, Archibald Gardner’s gristmills were “built without nails. Wooden pins and mortises were used instead. All shafts, bearings, cog wheels, etc. were of wood…”[1] Gristmills often formed the economic center of a community, producing flour to bake bread. The gristmill area was on a hill that faces Alvinston. The area was called Gardner’s Mill for several years. Archibald also built a saw mill in this area to produce shingles.

Alvinston owes its beginning to Archibald Gardner who built a grist mill there in 1837. The hamlet that grew up around it on the east end of the sixth concession of Brooke township was called Gardner’s Mill. Gardner, a Scotsman, came to the locality in 1835 and found that the settlers coming in had no means of grinding their grain into flour except by pounding it by hand

Gardner was only twenty-three years old when he built his mill on the hill that faces Alvinston. He dammed the Sydenham River to provide power to run the two mill stones. It was the only grist-mill within a radius of fifty miles. Since horses were unavailable and oxen could not be readily guided through the bush, the settlers took their grain, or grist as they called it, to the mill in a bag strapped to their shoulders often carrying fifty or more pounds along a blazed trail through swamps and bush.

Later Gardner built a sawmill making available to them sawn lumber for their floors, doors and window frames instead of the split logs formerly used.

In 1845, while living in Brooke, Kent, Western District, Canada (near Sarnia, Ontario), later named Alvinston, Gardner followed the example of family members and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Archibald was forced by a ‘legal’ mob to flee to Detroit across a partly frozen river based on a false warrant (years later $10,000 was paid to Archibald for the business transaction that had caused the false warrant).   Later in the year 1846, Gardner’s family and other converts chopped a road through the bush to the London Road and abandoned their homes to go to Nauvoo. From there they followed Young to Salt Lake City. In 1946, one of the stones from Gardner’s mill was erected as a monument to them and Gardner beside the Nauvoo Road that they made, now called highway seventy-nine.The family and others, 100 wagons total, left Canada, meeting up with Archibald in Joliet, Illinois. The Canadian group tried to meet up with Brigham Young in Nauvoo, Illinois. The group stayed in Nauvoo two weeks, and then caught up with the Mormon Exodus at Winter Quarters, Nebraska. In 1859 Gardner became an LDS Bishop of a local ward of about 600 members, a position that he held for 32 years.

Journal of Archibald Gardner

My father had often talked of going to America –  he told my mother that he won’t [wanted to] go if he had to turn sailor and work his passage, before he would stay to be dragged from his home, and on spite and no redress. He would go where he could enjoy liberty.

So as I mentioned in the first of this, he left to find a new home like Lehi and his family of old, and although not led by revelation like them, the hand of the Lord was in it as we have seen since.

My father [Robert Gardner] and brother, William, and sister, Mary, emigrated to America in the spring of 1822. My mother [Margret Calinder Gardner], sister, Janet, with myself and Robert waited one year, expecting to follow the ensuing spring. But not hearing any account, only those that would discourage. She, my mother [Margret Calinder Gardner] sold out and started and got as far as Glasgow, leaving her sister, Lishman, and Ann, who [would] follow her next day, with a letter from my father [Robert Gardner] which had been wrote [written] after he had got safe across the ocean. Only my sister, Mary, had nearly died of Small pox in the ship and there was no account of which way he steered. So we all started aboard the Buckinhorn for Quebec, [a] passage of five weeks and 3 days. And heard nothing of father [Robert Gardner] and the rest, until we arrived at Prescott above Montreal, where he, hearing of the wives of 25 men that had left the same way as my father did, to go and see the country and if it suited to raise crops for their families. He started on foot, it being 72 miles from where he took up land, and met us there at said Prescot. I [Archibald Gardner] mention this the more particular as that was a time long to be remembered.

“At the time I joined the church I owned two good grist mills, one saw mill and two hundred acres of land. Persecution against the new religion was relentless. I was so badly treated that I sold out for what I could get, and decided to join the body of Saints.

We having joined the Mormons, sold out or give away all our property consisting of 2 good Grist Mills, one Saw Mill and 500 acres of land, only getting for our first Grist and Saw mill 1600 dollars, it being valued 6000.

Just before I joined the Church, I sold the other for 2200 dollars, worth 5000, leaving all outstanding debts. Also a contract of stoves that had cost me over 1000 dollars, besides my winters work. Having joined with two other partners, because they could not carry on the work, they being bound under a penalty of 1200 dollars to have them in the river by a certain day. By me going in they were to give us time but on hearing that I was going to leave, they swore out a capis for me. So I left 6000 stoves all culled on the bank of the river at the price of 50 dollars per 1000. Having born about half the expense and concluded to loose it all. As I knew they expected to take all my means I had to move with. And so the Devil inspired them to destroy me if they could, but I put my trust in the Lord.

. . . “I went to my mother-in-law’s, borrowed a horse, rode past my old place to father’s home where my wife lay sick. She and the children were being cared for by my folks. I remained there two hours. Then I bade my loved ones farewell before leaving the home of my youth where I had shed many drops of honest sweat and had spent numerous happy days (as far as Gentile happiness goes.) Trusting in the Lord to preserve us all until we should meet again, I started for Port Sarnia on the St. Clair River after dark. I traveled thirty miles and arrived at daybreak next morning. It was about the first of March [1846]. Down to the river I went expecting to cross on the ice. It had give way, to my awful disappointment, and was crowding out of Lake Huron. Cakes of it were rising on edge, sometimes ten feet high. A little piece of bay remained unbroken and I started out on this. My mind was filled with thoughts of home and loved ones whom I was leaving as an exile. Aroused from my reverie by a cry of alarm, I looked up to see that the ice on which I was standing was all a tremble. Across the river, people from Black River village were shouting and waving hats and handkerchiefs for me to go back. I could see down the St. Clair for about ten miles. It was all in motion. The sight fascinated me. When the crowding of the running ice raised the solid ice under my feet, I was obliged to retreat to shore. I climbed up the bank at a point twenty feet above the river and again gazed over the rolling mass which was traveling at a rate of seven miles per hour—at least that is the river’s velocity at this point.

“Up the street I went for John Anderson who had accompanied me. I gave him ten dollars of the fifty I had brought along. I requested him to return to my folks and report my safe passage across the angry stream.

“I went down to the river bank and this is the prayer I uttered: “O Lord, God of ancient Israel, Thou knowest the desires of Thy servant’s heart and that I have not done wrong but seek to keep Thy commandments. And as I am fleeing from mine enemies that I may gather with Thy saints, wilt Thou have mercy on Thy servant and stop this ice that I may not fall into the hands of mine enemies? Amen.”

“And then—all fear vanished. I felt the power of faith as I had never felt it before. I started. The sun by this time had lighted up the tall pines behind the village across the river to the west. Now the crowd which was watching my movements from the high ground again began to shout. I stepped to the edge of the unbroken ice. The noise of grinding masses of ice in the river, which up to this time had sounded like a great waterfall, ceased. Nothing could be heard save the shouting of the inhabitants of Black River.

“There was an opening of ten feet between the ice at the bank and the accumulation in the river. I took a running jump and landed knee deep in slush and broken ice, ground up by the waves of Lake Huron three miles above. I wound my way around openings where the water boiled and swirled; then onward for a mile and eight rods as that is the distance across at this point. When I came near the bank someone reached me a rail. I sprang to the middle of it and then onto the shore with praise and thanksgiving in my heart to God my deliverer. The people were filled with amazement. Some said that I must be a Mormon while others, “The devil is in the man.” Bewildered, someone inquired, “What does this mean? Who ever saw the ice stop like this before?” But I knew. My heart was overflowing with gratitude. An acquaintance of mine, Mrs. Davenport, stepped up: “Oh, Archie, what a fright you have given me!” But I shook my head for her to say nothing and passed thru the crowd and on my way.”

Some saying, what does this mean? Who ever saw the ice stop in this way? As I had not rested for 60 miles through bad roads, in the breaking up of spring, and had eaten very little. I called at a tavern and took a glass of spirits which I had not tasted for some years. Then went about 2 miles when I came to myself being sleepy and tired. The long lonesome journey before me of seven hundred miles on foot and alone to Nauvoo, and leaving my family sick, and then yet in the hands of enemies, all rushed to my mind. So I prayed, “O Lord, though did hear my prayer for which I thank thee in stopping the ice. If it is not too much, send a team that I may get a ride, as I am not yet out of the hands of my enemies, but what they may trace as the people saw me cross the river.” When I had prayed a few words, I looked and saw two teams close to me. I said I will know if they are sent of the Lord if they will call me to ride. So they drove up and called out “friend, do you wish a ride.” I answered yes, and said in my heart, God bless you. So the teamster never asked my name nor where I was from, but I praised the horses and he drove through mud and ice for about 45 miles and the farther he went the better they got. I do not know of seeing even a wet hair on the horses. He left me at a village, some 20 miles from Detroit. Some 60 miles from Pt. Rure [different writing] hundred and ten miles from where I had started without sleep or any refreshment. As soon as I stepped out of the wagon he drove off without even asking me for pay or giving me time to thank him. He sent a man next morning for 50 cents, I sent him a dollar.

I then went [p.18] a [on] foot to Detroit and took the rail cars. Got to Kalimizo in 10 hours from Detroit, distance 140 miles from Detroit and 250 from home. I then felt safe and went on my way rejoicing, changing my name almost every day so that I could not be traced.

Archibald Gardner and the Ice Flow
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Janet Gardner, daughter of Mark Barclay Gardner, son of Brigham Evenson Gardner, son of Neil Gardner, son of Archibald Gardner

(Robert Sweeten went back to Canada in 1866, twenty years after the Gardners had left. He stayed with his cousin, Phoebe McAlroy McKellar, wife of Duncan McKellar. Her hotel was in Port Huron, Michigan, about twenty yards from where Archie Gardner landed when he crossed the river that memorable morning in March, 1846. One day while there, a large crowd was gathered on the docks and the subject of Mormons came up. One man drew the attention of the crowd to an incident he had witnessed with his own eyes—hear say none. He related the story as grandfather had told it many times, how he saw a man—a Mormon—did not know his name—start to cross the river at this place on the running ice. The sight caused so much excitement that a great multitude gathered in no time at this spot. At first people shouted for him to go back but as he came on they stood breathless. The ice jammed in front of him and as he landed, they shouted wildly, waving hats and handkerchiefs. But the man was gone before the people realized it. Then he, Robert Sweeten, spoke up and told them he knew who it was. It was his uncle. The story was verified, by several of Archibald Gardner’s old neighbors in Canada, each relating in his own home when visited by Robert Sweeten, how they had heard it from the man Anderson who had been sent back by his uncle to take the news to his relatives.)

Source: Delila Gardner Hughes. The Life of Archibald Gardner. West Jordan, Utah: The Archibald Gardner Family Genealogical Association, 1939, pp. 28-30.


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