Called to dogsledding, a mutual love

 In Sports

I caught sight of the seven-dog sled team coming across the field on a beautiful sunny afternoon. It was an unusual sight, and I was not the only driver to hastily pull over to the shoulder of the road to gawk at the scene, as if from another time and place. People were abandoning their cars to take photos and rolling down their windows to lob compliments.

Ian Duffy says that is one of the reasons he usually sticks to the path less travelled. He knows his dogsled team can be a bit of a distraction. But on this day he ended up doing a 60-kilometre run to Singhampton and back home to the New Lowell area.

He has been running a team locally for 11 years but now has a promising team of seven puppies, all from one unplanned litter with his pure-bread Husky, that are now two years old and are in their first year of competition. Duffy took the team to a race in Kearney a couple of weeks ago, and is off to Tweed this weekend for another, along with his little brother Rowan, who is gaining interest in dogsledding and will race in the junior division.

Duffy said although he likes the races and being part of the dogsledding community, he doesn’t really think of it as a sport.

“I love it because of how much the dogs love it, and it’s an excuse to do something with the dogs that they want to do naturally,” he said.

It’s in their nature to want to run and pull, something that most people want to train out of their dogs. He said working with the team strengthens the relationship with the dogs, which is what it’s all about.

Duffy said he has had dogs since he was six years old. At one point he was looking for fun ways to exercise his dog, and began by getting pulled on skis. He laughs at the memory and said he later became aware it is an actual sport called skijoring. Realizing skiing wasn’t his thing and feeling the need to go a little faster, he started to become curious about dogsledding, even though he didn’t have any inroads. Later, one of the top “mushers” in Ontario would gift him two Huskies to get him started. With two goodlead dogs, Duffy was able to train a team, which came fairly naturally to the animals because they love to do it, ideally on crisp days of -20 ̊C.

As a canoe guide, Duffy liked the idea that a dogsled could take him to some of the same places he would paddle to in the warmer months. Indeed, Duffy did travel within Temagami by dogsled, a journey that took almost a month and was mostly solo.

He said it is the expedition component of dogsledding that he finds most appealing. Duffy said he read Call of the Wild by Jack London when he was about 12 or 13 and found it to be very inspiring.

Doglsedding has a rich history as a traditional form of transportation, thousands of years old. It was developed by northern Indigenous peoples and adapted by early European explorers and trappers during the fur trade and gold rush. When French Canadian drivers called “Marche!” to advance their teams, it was misinterpreted by English explorers as “mush,” which is why drivers are now called “mushers.”

The musher stands on the sled’s runners and prompts the team with a series of commands: ready, hike to start and whoa to stop, which Duffy says is more of a suggestion and the reason the sleigh is equipped with a foot break. A harness system keeps all the dogs in their place along the gang line. Duffy said driving becomes quite intuitive and the musher uses their body to steer.

Follow Duffy’s journey on Instagram @a.wild.duff. Message him to inquire about dogsled tours.

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment