Like a long green ribbon the Soper River 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. Meta Incognita – The Unknown Place – was the forbidding name given to this land by Queen Elizabeth I in 1576, after explorer Martin Frobisher described it to her. By 1931, when Canadian biologist and Arctic explorer, J. Dewey Soper, travelled up the river, it was still largely unknown to the outside world.
The Inuit who live here call the Soper River Kuujuaq, “the Big River”. Although it is navigable for only 50 kilometres by canoe, the Soper is a major river by Baffin Island standards. It is designated a Canadian Heritage River, one of a select group of Canada’s most outstanding rivers. The land the river flows through is protected as Katannilik Territorial Park meaning “Place of Waterfalls”, for the water that tumbles down the steep valley walls.
The Story of the Soper
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 J. Dewey Soper. Travel the Soper by land, water or snow. Visit the native community of Kimmirut and enjoy Inuit hospitality and artistry. It is exhilarating Arctic adventure.
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.
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 of the Soper
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. 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 a watershed of over 2,500 sq. km – virtually the entire watershed. 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 capital of the Territory. Iqaluit itself is closely linked by daily air service to the major centres of Ottawa and Montreal.
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.
Vegetation and Wildlife
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 tea 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.
Evidence of Habitation
The Kimmirut region contains many sites of early habitation from as early as Pre-Dorset times, 4,000 years ago. These are typically coastal sites, as early cultures were strongly oriented to the resources of the sea for their subsistence. 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 subsistence 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. J. 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.
Tourism and Recreation
The Soper River valley offers a variety of recreational activities suitable for a wide range of visitors. Canoeing, kayaking and rafting are all possible along the river’s course south of Mount Joy. However, 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 travelers. 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 provides excellent opportunities for guided tours by motorized canoe travel. Traveling up river can be organized in Kimmirut and done 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. 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. However, most activity occurs during the spring when the days are long and the temperatures warmer.
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.
No roads lead to Nunavut; our Territory is accessible only by air and sea.
First Air and Canadian North both fly regular daily schedules to Iqaluit from four main southern airline ‘hubs’: Ottawa, Montreal, and Edmonton (via Yellowknife and Rankin Inlet). Flights from Winnipeg (via Churchill and Rankin Inlet) are also available.
There are several ways to get to Katannilik Park from Iqaluit. The simplest is to take a scheduled flight with First Air or Kenn Borek Air to Kimmirut, which both fly regular schedules during the week throughout the year. It is always best to confirm these flight schedules before arrival. Those travelling in larger groups may want to consider chartering a plane to Kimmirut.
The park is only minutes from Kimmirut, although it is a good three hours hike into the Soper Valley around Soper Lake. Boats can also be hired in Kimmirut to cross Soper Lake to Soper Falls at the south end of the valley. Contact the Katannilik Park Visitor Centre in Kimmirut to co-ordinate these services.
The most popular method of getting into Katannilik and the Soper River is by air charter to one of two designated landing strips in the Soper Valley. Hikers should charter to the strip at Mount Joy. Water based charters can land at Mount Joy, or the strip at the Livingstone River, which is on the west side of the river. The cost varies from year to year but should be around $1,000. Contact the Katannilik Park Visitor Centre in Kimmirut or the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre in Iqaluit to find out about charters to these strips.
Where To Stay
There is one hotel in Kimmirut, and the Kimmirut Hunters and Trappers Association can help you arrange accommodations at a local ‘home-stay’. A new campsite at the edge of the community comes equipped with picnic tables, firepit and washrooms.
Kimik Hotel – Inns North
Mayukalik Hunters and Trappers Association
Discovery Lodge Hotel
Email Discovery Lodge
Email Navigator Inn
Rannva’s Bed and Breakfast
Crazy Caribou Bed and Breakfast
Beaches Bed and Breakfast
Accommodations by the Sea Bed and Breakfast
Alt Tel: 867-979-6074
Outfitted trips from Iqaluit offer package tours of Katannilik Park that fly visitors into the park, by boat across Frobisher Bay from Iqaluit to the Itijjagiaq trailhead for hiking southwest to the Soper River Valley and eventually Kimmirut. Local outfitters will also transport visitors to Kimmirut by dogsled in winter and spring. Outfitted trips should be booked well in advance – it’s often not possible to book outfitters by the day. Contact the Katannilik Park Visitor Centre in Kimmirut or the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre in Iqaluit to find out what might be available.
Mayukalik Hunters and Trappers Association (Kimmirut)
NorthWinds Arctic Adventure (Iqaluit)
Email NorthWinds Arctic
Association des francophones du Nunavut (Iqaluit)
Email Association des francophones du Nunavut
Inuksuk Adventures Ltd. (Iqaluit)
Email Inuksuk Adventures
Inuksuk Adventures Ltd.
Outfitters offering Soper River Trips
Black Feather Wilderness Adventure
Email Black Feather
Toll Free: 1-888-849-7688
Nahanni River Adventures
Email Nahanni River Adventures
Toll Free: 1-888-297-6972
Sunrise Expeditions International
Email Sunrise Expeditions
Toll Free: 1-800-RIVER-30
Tel: (860) 651-7052
Toll Free: 1-888-781-0411
Arts & Crafts
Visit the Soper House Gallery in Kimmirut to see vibrant arts and crafts from the community, or watch local carving and printmaking at the gallery or throughout the hamlet.
Soper House Gallery
The Katannilik Park Visitor’s Centre is located in the restored Dewey Soper House and provides interpretation for Katannilik Territorial Park, the Soper Heritage River, and the history of whaling in and around Kimmirut. Staff at the centre will also register you in and out of the park (mandatory), and set up home-stays.
Katannilik Park Visitors Centre
Email Katannilik Park Staff
Nunavut Parks publishes a wide range of documents and reports on the work it does for each park – ranging from master plans, management plans, maps, brochures and other reports and publications. Many of these resources are available here.
Soper Heritage River Documents
Soper Heritage River Nomination Document – [.pdf – 2.6MB]
Soper Heritage River Management Plan – [.pdf – 2 MB]
Soper Heritage River Management Plan: 10 Year Review – [.pdf – 4.5MB]
Soper Heritage River Editorial – [.pdf – 926KB] This four page editorial offers information on Soper Heritage River.
The Registration Package is available for download for you to review in advance of your trip. You will be required to complete the registration process in person with Nunavut Parks Staff upon your arrival.
Trip Planner – Soper Heritage River/Katannilik Territorial Park – [.pdf – 1MB]
Safe and Sustainable Travel – [.pdf – 800KB]
Katannilik Territorial Park Registration Package – [.pdf – 3MB] The Registration Package is available for download for you to review in advance of your trip. You will be required to complete the registration process in person with Nunavut Parks Staff upon your arrival.
Nunavut Territorial Park Firearms Permit Application – [.pdf – 1MB]
Polar Bear Safety in Nunavut Territorial Parks – [.pdf – 900KB]
Visitor information is available from the Visitor Information section of the website, and at relevant visitor and information centres throughout Nunavut. Contact Nunavut Parks for any additional information you may be looking for.
In addition, Nunavut Parks & Special Places has published a Soper River Guidebook, and an Itiijagiaq Trail Hiking Guidebook, available for sale at the Unikaarvik Visitor Centre (Iqaluit) and Katannilik Park Visitor Centre (Kimmirut).
Blackadar, R.G. 1967. Geological Reconnaissance, Southern Baffin Island, District of Franklin, Paper no. 66-47. Geological Survey of Canada, Ottawa.
Kemp, William B. 1984. “Baffinland Eskimo.” In Damas, David (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians. Smithsonian Institute, Washington. pp. 463-475.
Maxwell, Moreau S. 1985. Prehistory of the Eastern Arctic. Academic Press Inc., New York.
Porsild, A.E. 1964. Illustrated Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. National Museum of Canada Bulletin No. 146. Queen’s Printer, Ottawa. pp. 218.
Soper, J. Dewey. 1933. “Solitudes of the Arctic.” Canadian Geographical Journal, Vol 7, No 3, pp. 102-115.
Soper, J. Dewey. 1936. “The Lake Harbour Region, Baffin Island.” Geographical Review, Vol 26.
Header photo © Curtis Jones, 2015