Winter 2012/13

Photo Finish

Photo Finish


Dewey Soper's Northern Legacy

You probably already know J. Dewey Soper, ’60 LLD (Honorary). Walking through the bio science building, you’ve passed by his original field kit on display in a glass case — the life story of a pioneering naturalist laid out for those who stop to look.

You’ll see a few traps, some needles and thread, and a collection of good, sharp knives. There is also an odd assortment of unlabelled jars that the curator has deemed it wise to leave sealed.

Born in 1893, Soper became a naturalist who in the 1920s made three groundbreaking expeditions to the Arctic to collect zoological and botanical specimens. He was one of the first scientists to study Arctic wildlife and — journeying by dogsled in the winter and freighter canoe in summer — Soper became the first explorer to successfully cross Baffin Island and return. He writes of enduring temperatures of 70 degrees below freezing.

Over his lifetime, Soper put his field kit to good use collecting more than 10,000 specimens; he donated 3,000 to the U of A. The breadth of his collection gives modern biologists the basis for comparative studies and, even 30 years after his 1982 death, researchers are finding new uses for the samples, including DNA testing.

Based on "Joseph Dewey Soper," Arctic, March 1983, by Roland Soper and Tom Beck; and an interview with Wayne Roberts on Photo by Richard Siemens.