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Winter in Canada can be special for you and your draft dog. Our native people developed vehicles for the winter long before Europeans came to this continent. These vehicles have survived to this day both in their original form and in evolutionary forms.

When one thinks of a fundamental winter vehicle, a sled often comes to mind but this device which is a platform raised on runners is only practical for relatively hard surfaces like permafrost (which covers 40-50% of the land area in Canada), packed snow trails and ice surfaces. In sub-arctic areas where powder snow abounds, something else was needed.

Our aboriginal peoples were most ingenious. In the warmer months they invented the travois which consists of two trailing poles which could effectively traverse rough ground with heavy loads. For the winter they were just as resourceful. To transport over deep powder snow they devised the toboggan in a form that still exists today, thousands of years later. The Micmac word “tobakun” is thought to be the original term and the French Canadians then called it “tabaganne”.

Wooden slats, usually birch were joined by cross bars and the curved front was formed by bending the slats while they were still green and lashing them in place until dry. One tribe even steamed the wood to soften it for bending. Typically the width of the toboggan was about a foot wide. This allowed the vehicle to fit in the track formed by a person walking ahead with snowshoes. The toboggan was pulled either by a person or a dog (the only animal domesticated by the first peoples).

One way to study history is to memorize a lot of dates of events but that is boring at best. My preferred way is to “live” our history. So if you hook up your dog to a wooden toboggan and find some fresh powder snow and walk ahead with snowshoes, you’ll be living the history of our founding peoples and their technology.

Thanks to the toboggan invention of Canada’s aboriginals, we not only have recreational sliding for kids but three unique vehicles used in Olympic sports that have evolved from the original sliding machine, the bobsled, the luge and the skeleton.

Of course the basic dog powered toboggan is now available in a more sophisticated mode. One example is this design from Arctic Toboggan:

Artic toboggan

Here is a photo of the recommended single file harness set up for the sophisticated toboggan musher:

Single file harness set up

Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979.  In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada.  When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.

Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.

Newf News

January/February 2013