Larry Soderman, raised in Minaki, Ontario, served with the Royal Canadian Navy as a stoker on Atlantic Convoy duty during World War II. He graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1952, and then worked on the St. Lawrence Power Project.
In 1955, as an Athlone Fellow, he carried out postgraduate work in soil mechanics at Imperial College in London, England. He returned to Canada two years later. While working as an engineer with Ontario Hydro, he set up the consulting company, Trow-Soderman, with Bill Trow. Larry sold his interest in that company in 1959, and was then appointed Chief Geotechnical Engineer for the Ontario Department of Highways, where he was responsible for pre-engineering studies and foundation design on major highway and expressway development.
Larry knew both Dr. Hugh Golder and Victor Milligan. At a dinner party at the Sodermans in early 1960, Larry put the case for a new company to Dr. Golder. “I’ve thought this through and you two fellows should start a company,” adding, “If it does well, and I hope it does, I’ll join it.” The company was incorporated on July 12, 1960.
Vic Milligan recalled Larry as “a delightful man – a very good shot, good athlete, good skater, good snowshoer, good man, warm, generous, thoughtful.”
In 1961, Larry was appointed Associate Professor in Engineering Sciences at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. In 1962, he joined Golder Associates as a Principal and was instrumental in establishing a Golder office in London. He brought local contacts and a well-deserved reputation for integrity. He acted as a Chief Engineer with technical excellence and served as a moral model. He authored some 13 papers, mainly on the properties of clays in Eastern Canada, but also on the design of pavements in Kuwait and on geophysics. Some papers were co-authored with Vic Milligan, and one with Dr. Golder.
Vic Milligan recalls Larry’s attitude towards the responsibility of being a Principal this way: “Once, after we had been in business for three or four years, we had a bit of a party for everybody in my basement in Oakville. We got everybody in the company there. After everyone had gone, Larry got me in the corner and said, ‘Do you realize that it is our job to keep all these men, women and children fed?’ He was likable to a fault – very warm. My family adored him. We spent a lot of time with each other. We were all very close. We had to be. We didn’t have much money.”
Larry was an original Associate Editor of the Canadian Geotechnical Journal from 1965–1969, during the period that Vic Milligan was the original Editor.
Although he was the driving force behind the founding of the company, he never was a full-time employee. Larry had a congenital heart disorder and consequently, he never slept more than four hours per night. He died at the age of 42 in 1969.
To this day, the L.G. Soderman Award, established in memory of the late Professor L.G. Soderman, distinguished Canadian geotechnical engineer, is still awarded annually to an engineer to assist with pursuing graduate studies in civil engineering at The University of Western Ontario.