Professor Josef Svoboda

In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Josef Svoboda

Prof. Emeritus Gary Sprules

We are saddened to announce the passing of Professor Emeritus Josef Svoboda on the evening of November 21, 2022. Obituary

Josef arrived in 1974 at then Erindale College to teach and establish a research program in Biology. However his journey there was an unusual one. He was born in Czechoslovakia but had the misfortune of being caught up in the resistance to the communist occupation following the end of WWII and, at age 20, began nine years of incarceration in various communist prisons, including a uranium mine. For 10 years following his release he worked variously as a zookeeper and botanical technician and finally managed to escape the communist regime during the Prague Spring of 1968 and emigrated to Canada.  Over the next six years he learned English, albeit with the delightful Josef accent, finished his BSc degree, earned his PhD working on arctic tundra productivity, and at age 44, got the job at Erindale!

Josef taught various ecological courses in Biology, including a senior one in Arctic Ecology and established a long-running and highly influential research program in Canada’s Arctic. He supervised many graduate students in this program and some of them are today’s leaders in Arctic Ecology. He and his wife Lewina brought up two wonderful boys in their Burlington home – one a classical music composer who died tragically in his prime, and the other a senior federal scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Josef was a wonderfully warm person of strong convictions and deep insights into the world around him, his life defined by perseverance, optimism and triumph over adversity. He received numerous academic and societal awards for his work. The Northern Science Award and Centenary Medal in 1993 recognized his understanding of plant communities and their succession after glacial retreat and in polar oases; The Josef Svoboda Czech Arctic Research Station was named in his honor in 2016; in 2017 he was awarded a papal knighthood and admitted to the Order of Pope St Sylvester for his dedication and active service to the Catholic Church; and in 2019 he was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada for his pioneering research on tundra ecosystems and for his lifelong mentorship of scientists studying the Arctic.

In the Spring of 2020, our department interviewed Prof. Svoboda at his home and you can watch it here:

In January 2021, we celebrated Professor Svoboda via zoom and here he is speaking about his life:

If desired, in lieu of flowers, contributions in memory of Josef Svoboda to the University of Toronto Mississauga would be sincerely appreciated by the family: In Memory of Biology Professor Emeritus Josef Svoboda


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