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Northern Light

Trips to the Arctic inspired scholarship for aboriginal students

Edward Dawson, a geophysicist who often travelled to the Far North while working for the federal government, named U of T a beneficiary of his life insurance in order to establish a university-wide scholarship for aboriginal students. Dawson passed away earlier this year.

Between 1953 and 1981, Dawson went on several expeditions to the Canadian Arctic for the department of Energy, Mines and Resources to measure changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. He often lived and worked in Inuit communities, and his niece, Phyllis Johnson, says he gained a great deal of respect for the local people. He assembled a large collection of Inuit art, which he and his wife, Dorothy, proudly displayed in their Ottawa home. “He became enamoured with the Inuit people,” says Johnson. “He may have seen the scholarship as an opportunity to give to the children up there.”

Born in Scotland in 1920, Dawson came to Canada as a youth to live with his aunt and uncle in Hamilton, Ontario. He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and was awarded the Italy Star, a volunteer service medal. After returning to Canada, he earned a bachelor’s degree from McMaster University and, in 1952, a master’s of science from U of T, where he studied under renowned geophysicist J. Tuzo Wilson. It was while working with Wilson that he met Dorothy Perryman; she was Wilson’s secretary.

“Edward had a very strong affection for the University of Toronto,” says Johnson. “He came from humble beginnings but through education made something of himself.”

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