Thomas Walter Edwin Sowter

Amateur Palaeontologist

t is relatively well-known among members of the Ottawa Valley's archaeological community that T.W. Edwin Sowter was a keen amateur archaeologist inasmuch as he had no formal training in this area.  His six publications figure quite prominently in the region's archaeological literature.  However, few, if any, are aware of his palaeontological interests.  Indeed, were it not for a passing mention of this in two of his obituaries, his contributions to the study of ancient animal life forms would probably have remained an obscur point of information contained in an aging card file at the Geological Survey of Canada. 

In fact, as was pointed out by the anonymous author(s) of the obituaries, Sowter not only discovered fossils previously undocumented in the Ottawa region, but he also had the honour of having a genus of Ordovician aged fossil bi-valve named after him.  The current National Type Collection of Invertebrate and Vertebrate Fossils held by the Geological Survey of Canada contains three examples of Sowteria canadensis (Raymond).  These particular specimens were described and published by Alice E. Wilson in 1956 (click here to read her scientific description).  However, the original naming of this small mollusc by J.F. Whiteaves (click here to read that short report) occurred much earlier in 1908 (actually a refinement of a still earlier description by P.E. Raymond in 1905), and was based on specimens apparently found in Aylmer, Québec, quite possibly near T.W.E. Sowter's home on Broad Street and perhaps brought to the attention of scientists by Fossils donated to the Geological Survey of Canada by T.W.E. Sowter in 1908Sowter himself.  Coincidentally, there are several fossil specimens in the collections of the Geological Survey of Canada which were donated to that institution in 1908 by Sowter.  Could this have been the result of meetings and exchanges between Sowter and Whiteaves?  How involved was Sowter with scientists of the Geological Survey of Canada?  While we will probably never know what fed Sowter's interest in the past, beit human or animal, his association with Henri-Marc Ami, a famous palaeoonlogist and archaeologist, was almost certainly a primary factor in nurturing this passion. 

Henri-Marc Ami - Friend and Mentor

here are two artifact labels, currently in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which document some human remains reported to have been found on Aylmer Island in 1899.  One of these states specifically that the collection was gathered on June 24, 1899, the same day that the Ottawa Field Naturalists Club had its excursion in Aylmer and where T.W.E. Sowter was one of the leaders of the archaeological component of this visit, along with H.B. Small and J. Ballantyne. 

photo of Henri Marc Ami by William Topley, 1897, LAC e002505157 Similarly, there are two labels which acompany fossils donated to the Geological Survey of Canada by T.W.E. Sowter in 1908 .  Examination of these two labels strongly suggests that it was the same person who wrote them both out.  We must recall that at the time both of these collections were accessioned, these two groups of objects would have been kept by the same institution, the Geological Survey of Canada, as there was no separate museum of human history.  A common element to both of these would be Sowter and quite likely Henri-Marc Ami, who was an eminent scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada. 

To help make the case that Ami was involved with the accesssioning of both of these collections, the two archaeological labels are presented below on the right and the geological labels on the left.  Note the similarities in the way the word "Aylmer" is written on all four specimens. 

A critical and revealing comparison can then be made with Henri-Marc Ami's 1926 signature and the word "Island" (in a 1929 letter), as found on documents written by Ami and kept in the Archives of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and shown in the centre below.  Clearly the resemblance is very good and demonstrates that these labels were written out by Ami. 

Labels accompanying fossils in the collections of the Geological Survey of Canada

Above are two examples of Henri-Marc Ami's handwriting for comparison with the object labels

Labels accompanying artifacts in the collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization

T.W.E. Sowter
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Civil Servant Amateur Palaeontologist
Ottawa Field Naturalists Club Further Readings
Publications of T.W.E. Sowter