Today, I feel like recounting a few historical tidbits; tidbits of dogsledding and how life was before. It’s all about remembering where we come from. In this time of COVID-19 crisis, I take the time to reflect on our beginnings. I often remember that this is what great people do: observe our past hardships to better adapt in the present, and to prepare for the future.
Dogsledding of Yesterday
Dogsledding has been an essential means of transportation for the survival of First Nations people in North America. In the summer, they used canoes to travel up and down rivers. In winter, as in some Native American languages there were no specific words for dog sledding, they used the “snow canoe” for their travels. The link between the river canoe and the dogsled is strong. It is not for nothing that several members of my seasonal team divide their time between dog sledding at Kinadapt in the winter and river canoeing at Canot Volant in the summer. This is a great partnership that benefits both companies.
Ok, now back to my story.
To explore the territory, the snow canoe was even more efficient than the river canoe. Not only could the First Nations cross rivers, but they could now also explore and hunt in new territories through the forests, travelling longer distances than what was possible with snowshoes.
Before the arrival of the European settlers and the first horses, the “coureurs des bois” learned this novel means of transportation from the First Nations, allowing them to explore the territory and continue the fur trade. The dogsled was also used to deliver mail, food and medicine. In fact, some people surely remember the Walt Disney classic that tells the story of Balto, or more recently, the film Togo, that introduced us to these dogs that marked history. These two sled dogs were part of the dogsled team that saved the children of the village of Nome, Alaska, during a diphtheria epidemic in 1925. A statue was even erected in New York City to salute the courage of these dogs.
This story is the origin of the most impressive Nordic race: The Iditarod. This international event pays tribute to the dedication and efficiency of Nordic dogs in accomplishing an extremely long and perilous 1,000-miles (around 1600 km) race.
Today, we are no longer dealing with an epidemic, but rather a pandemic. The dogs are still here. And they’re helping us again, just a little differently this time.
They’re here to make me go outside. They comfort the members of the team. They share their vision of the present moment and hold us to a routine, which is essential in these uncertain times. They are also there to motivate us to rack our brains to survive past this crisis, which I believe is going to be quite a challenge.
Since they’re there for us, we therefore need to be, too. That’s the beauty of the dog team and its musher: they’re interdependent. As are we.