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Joseph Dewey Soper

Joseph Dewey Soper, born in 1893, grew up in awe of nature. He disregarded his mother's request to enter the ministry and his father's wish that he stay on their Ontario farm. Instead, Soper dreamed of the life of an outdoorsman and pursued that passion after his family moved to Edmonton in 1911. For twelve years following, he took courses at Alberta College and the University of Alberta in zoology, while also working as a carpenter and trapper and pursing personal investigations in ornithology and mammalogy. In 1920, Soper met Dr. R.M. Anderson of the National Museums of Canada who sent him on his first expedition in 1923 to the Arctic as a naturalist. The expedition visited Labrador, Greenland, and Baffin, Devon, Beechey, Bylot, and Ellesmere islands.

Over the course of Soper's life he went on three expeditions, which were relatively short compared to his lengthy career but which shaped Soper's identity and greatest achievements. His three expeditions were conducted in 1923, 1924-26 and 1928-31. The latter two were to Baffin Island and were comprised of eleven separate journeys. Although previous expeditions were made to Baffin Island, knowledge of the area was inaccurate and incomplete. Soper explored and track-surveyed unknown coasts, rivers, lakes, and the interior, while collecting samples and specimens along the way.

In 1929, newspapers published accounts of Soper's successful search for the nesting grounds of the blue goose. Even Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not featured the "Wild Goose Chase," creating Soper's nick name, "Blue Goose Soper." The location of the nesting grounds had been a mystery and from Soper's first expedition in 1923, Soper had hoped to solve it. In 1926, Soper met an Inuk hunter on the Tikkuut Islands who claimed he knew where the Blue Goose nested. This location, Bowman Bay, was confirmed by another Inuk at Cape Dorset. In the spring of 1929 Soper was there waiting when thousands of Blue Geese arrived.

In 1927, between expeditions, Soper went to visit his sister in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. There he met and married a young nurse, Carolyn Freeman, and brought her back to Baffin Island in 1930. Their marriage lasted for 55 years during which they had two children.

Soper later returned south, completing a two-year wildlife study of Wood Buffalo Park from 1932-1934, an appointment as Chief Federal Wildlife Officer for Prairie Provinces, Canadian Wildlife Service in Winnipeg, from 1934-1948, and an appointment as Chief Federal Wildlife Officer for Alberta, Yukon, and Northwest Territories from 1948-1952. Soper disliked offices and the piles of paperwork keeping him from the outdoors so instead he opted for early retirement at the age of 59 so that he could continue field work.

Over Soper's lifetime he published over 130 research papers, monographs, and general-interest articles in a variety of publications. He also collected over 10,000 specimens deposited in the National Museums of Canada, the Manitoba Provincial Museum, and the University of Alberta. In recognition of his work, the Government of Canada established the Dewey Soper Bird Sanctuary on Baffin Island in 1957. His contribution to the exploration to Baffin Island was also recognized by the Canadian Committee on Geographic Names by the naming of Soper River, Soper Lake, and Soper Highlands. He was also a fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America, a charter member of the American Society of Mammalogists, and a Fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union. Dr. Joseph Dewey Soper died in Edmonton on November 2, 1982.

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