Soper River


Location: Baffin, Unorganized, Nunavut
Region: Outside Ontario
Character: Heritage River
Activities:
Rating:
Length/Size: 100 km

Soper River
By The Canadian Heritage Rivers System

An Arctic Oasis

The Soper River winds through the tundra-covered hills of southern Baffin Island. Its valley, sheltered from harsh winds, supports a "forest" of willows up to 3.6 metres high, and a lush profusion of Arctic wildflowers. Game - caribou, ptarmigan and Arctic hare, and fish - Arctic char in the river and Greenland cod in Soper Lake - are plentiful. The Inuit have used the river as a vital source of food and travel for thousands of years.

Named Kuujuak, or Great River, in Inuktitut, it gets its English name from northern biologist Dewer Soper. Travel the Soper by land, water or snow. Visit the native community of Kimmirut and enjoy Inuit hospitality and artistry. An exhilarating Arctic adventure.

Like a long green ribbon on a coarse brown backdrop, the Soper River (locally known as the Kuujuaq) winds its way from the highlands of the Meta Incognita Peninsula to Soper Lake and the salt waters of Pleasant Inlet along the south coast of Baffin Island. For centuries, this relatively verdant valley served the needs of the coastal Inuit both as a source of game and berries and as a short and direct travel route to other parts of the island. Today the valley is no less important as it continues to be a focus of local activity.

Willow growth in the valley illustrates the richness generated by the micro climate. Many sites are heavily vegetated with the unique occurrence of trees reaching 3.6 m in height. A profusion of flowers adorns the valley bottom and longer slopes in the early summer, and arctic hare, wolf, fox and caribou are plentiful.

By arctic standards, the Soper River produces a major flow of water, being navigable for about 50 km inland. Helping maintain this level of flow, the Livingstone River and the Joy River drain significant areas to the north and west. All together the drainage basin covers an area of over 2,500 sq. km.

With its richness of natural and human heritage, the Soper River valley provides exceptional opportunities for visitors to understand and appreciate these Canadian Heritage River qualities. Like earlier generations of people, travelling by land, on the water and over the snow, today's visitors find the Soper valley a very accessible and enjoyable area to visit.

Geography
Located on the southernmost peninsula of Baffin Island, the Soper River drains a large area originating in the highest elevations of the plateau, 670 m above sea level. It flows over 100 km before emptying into Soper Lake and then directly into Pleasant Inlet, a long arm of Hudson Strait which separates Baffin Island from northern Quebec. The area designated to the Canadian Heritage River System contains virtually the entire 2500 sq. km. drainage basin of the Soper and its two major tributaries, the Livingstone and the Joy rivers.

Bordering the area's southern boundary is the Inuit community of Kimmirut (Lake Harbour) on adjacent Glasgow Inlet. It is the closest community to Iqaluit - the administrative centre of theTerritory. Iqaluit itself, is closely linked by daily air service to the major centres of Ottawa and Montreal.

Natural Heritage
Intensive metamorphism dating back 1,740 million years and extensive folding in the largely granite bedrock created a complex and very interesting geological picture in the Soper River drainage. Intrusions of crystalline limestones, schists and quartzite add to the scenic appeal and are especially interesting. Particularly noteworthy is a small deposit of Lapis lazuli (a blue gemstone) in the longer reaches of the valley - one of the few known occurrences in the world. Mica is also found in extensive deposits throughout the area.

Extensive glaciation on the highest levels of the peninsula pushed glacial till into longer elevations leaving largely exposed bedrock. The Soper River originates on this glacially-scoured plateau of low relief, where shallow basins, almost devoid of vegetation, drain away the summer meltwaters. Small lakes and creeks combine their flows to form the Soper River and begin to cut increasingly deeper into the level of the plateau. In the middle reaches of the river, steep valley walls loom over the gently flowing river below, sometimes narrowing but mostly marking a broad river valley that differs markedly in character from the uplands above. Major landmarks include Mt. Joy (610 m) and Mt. Moore (535 m).

Here in the valley, side creeks tumble over the high valley walls and a few major tributaries also contribute their waters, resulting in low, relatively lush wetlands and a broad meandering river wending its way through the rich valley. The river bed is punctuated occasionally with bands of intrusive bedrock that create rapids and pools along its course. Massive river terraces stand as high as 34 m above the present river level. In the lower reaches of the river, the elevation of the surrounding uplands diminishes significantly and the relief lessens as the valley broadens even further before emptying through the Soper River Falls into Soper Lake. Soper Lake is a very special hydrological feature. Due to the high tides (10.6 m) in Hudson Strait, reversing falls control the outlet of the lake making the lake a meromictic combination of fresh and salt water.

The warm microclimate created in the valley allows a comparative abundance of vegetation. In contrast to the relatively sterile uplands with their scattered lichens and mosses, low wetlands in the valley encourage the growth of many sedges, cotton grass, sphagnum moss and yellow mountain saxifrage. A heath plant community of willow, dwarf birch, arctic heather, Labrador tee and a multitude of berries commonly grow on much of the valley floor and longer slopes. Unique willow growth occupies a number of sites in the valley with trees reaching heights of 3.6 m.

A variety and unusual concentration of wildlife are attracted to the valley. Among the mammals, caribou, fox, wolf, and hare frequent the area. Lemmings provide an important food source for a range of predators, especially for rough-legged hawks. Peregrine and gyrfalcons nest here along with upland species such as snowbuntings, horned larks and plovers, and seabirds such as loons, guillemots, terns and murres.

Human Heritage
The Kimmirut region contains many sites of early habitation from as early as Pre-Dorset times, 4,000 years ego. These are typically coastal sites, as early cultures were strongly oriented to the resources of the sea for their subsistance. Investigations inland have not been conducted. However, evidence from archaeological work points to at least a partial dependence upon land-based resources such as caribou and fox and leads to speculation on the importance of the Soper valley to these early peoples.

Certainly in more recent times, the case for extensive use of the valley by native people is clear. Not only were caribou hunting and other subsistance activities important but the valley served as a major inland travel corridor to a rendezvous point at Amadjuaq Lake and other parts of central Baffin Island. These same patterns of activity are common today among the Inuit people. Hunting caribou, ptarmigan, fox and hare, collecting berries and travelling back and forth to Iqaluit, all depend on the Soper River valley.

Contact with the European whalers, traders and explorers brought about a new relationship with the Soper valley. The interest of the newcomers in food, furs and minerals accentuated its importance, especially during the early decades of the l900's when fur trading and a number of mining efforts replaced the failing whaling industry of Hudson Strait. Dewey Soper, a biologist with the Federal Department of the Interior, represented yet another dimension of southern interests in the area when, in 1931, he undertook exploratory surveys in the vicinity of Kimmirut

Recreation
The Soper drainage area offers a variety of recreational activities for a wide range of visitors. Canoeing, kayaking and rafting are all possible along the river's course south of Mount Joy, although the navigable length of river depends on the water levels and the skill level of the recreationists. The sandy river terraces provide an abundance of convenient camping spots for river travellers. Wildlife is commonly sighted from the river, particularly caribou and raptors. Fishing for arctic char in the river and for Greenland cod in Soper Lake is popular.

The river corridor also provides excellent opportunities for guided tours by motorized canoe travel, organized in Kimmirut, and travelling up river on a day use or overnight basis. Short excursions off the river to points of interest are an appealing component of any trip. Similarly, Soper Lake offers excellent potential for boat tours.

Hiking through the valley and onto the upland area is always a rewarding experience, offering diversity and contrast in hiking terrain. The unusually lush vegetation, abundant wildlife and attractive waterfalls combine with scenic vistas and wildflowers to make the valley a wonderful place to pursue photography and nature study.

In winter the land takes on a whole new character. Although possible throughout the winter, most activity occurs during the spring when the days are long and the temperatures warmer. Cross-country skiing up the valley offers spectacular scenery with only a low level of difficulty. Both dog team travel and snowmobiling over the cold, clear arctic landscape can be exhilarating activities.

Although the Soper watershed is essentially a linear corridor, many areas hold considerable interest and potential for extended recreational activity. Three significant locations, attractive for their special features and range of activities are: the area around Soper Lake; Livingstone River Falls and vicinity; and, the entire area surrounding Mt. Joy to Cascade Creek.

Visitor Information
Access: Iqaluit, connected to the southern centres of Ottawa and Montreal by daily jet service, is the departure point for trips into the Soper River valley. Three options are posssible. The first begins with a short (half hour) scheduled flight (3 days a week) to Kimmirut. Once in the community, the Soper is immediately accessible on foot or by boat. Guides are available in the community for boat or snowmobile trips. A second option is to charter an aircraft in Iqaluit to land in the Soper valley. Two designated landing sites have been identified in the middle reaches of the river, convenient for boat travel downstream to Kimmirut. A third option is to travel overland along the Itijjajiaq Trail, which leads you to the Soper River and all the way to Kimmirut. This option requires hiring a guide in Iqaluit to provide transportation across Frobisher Bay by boat to the trailhead.

Accommodation and Services: Iqaluit is a full service regional centre of over 3,000 people, the hub of all travel in the eastern Arctic. Hotels, restaurants, a variety of retail outlets and specialty shops for local arts, crafts and foods are all available to the visitor. In addition, boat and air charters are provided by local companies, and guides and outfitters.

Kimmirut is a small community of less than 400 people. Internationally renowned soapstone carvings produced by community people are available for sale at the Kimik Co-op or from the carvers directly. The community has a hotel and cafe as well as two retail outlets for basic food, equipment and supplies. Guides and outfitters are available to take people into the Soper valley or to destinations along the coast. Coastal trips provide new opportunities to view marine mammals such as seals, whales, and polar bears, and to visit heritage sites.

Topographic Maps: The Soper River is covered by the National Topographic Series 1:250,000 scale maps: 25 M ( Markham Bay); 25 N ( Armshow River); and 25 K ( Lake Harbour); and by 1:50,000 scale maps: 25 K/13; 25 N/4; 25 N/5; 25 N/12; 25 M/8; and 25 M/9

The maps may be obtained from: Canada Map Office, 615 Booth St., Ottawa, ON K1A OE9 (613-952-7000) (http://maps.NRCan.gc.ca).; or Tgit Geomatics Ltd., 101-5016 Franklin Ave., Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, X1A 2N2 (867-873-8448)

Further Information
Services, Permits and Regulations :
Dept. of Environment,
Brown Building
P.O. Box 1340
Iqaluit, Nunavut X0A 0H0
Phone : (867) 975-5922
Fax : (867) 975-5980
Web site http://www.gov.nu.ca/sd.htm

Tourist Information - Accommodation, Air Charters, Guides and Outfitters: Nunavut Tourism, 1-800-491-7910 ( www.nunavuttourism.com);

Canadian Heritage Rivers System: Member for Nunavut, Canadian Heritage Rivers Board, c/o Nunavut Headquarters, Box 1870, Iqaluit Nunavut X0A 0H0 or National Manager, Canadian Heritage Rivers System, c/o Parks Canada, Ottawa, Canada K1A 0M5. Tel. 819-994-2913, Fax 819-997-0835. E-mail address: donald.gibson@pc.gc.ca

Check out www.nunavutparks.com/on_the_land/katannilik_park.cfm for more information.