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By Chris Marchand
An upcoming dog-sledding event in Vermilion Bay will pay homage to the rich history and traditional role this animal-powered form of winter travel has played in the history of the region this February.
The event will take place as part of Vermilion Bay’s Kin Karnival in February’s Family Day long weekend, Feb. 16 at 10:30 a.m. at Machin’s government dock.
The event will fill a bit of a void that would have otherwise emerged with the absence of the annual Eton-Rugby Winterfest dogsled races — put on hold this year as organizer Clayton Schneider has opted to compete in some higher level dog mushing events in Manitoba on the same weekend.
Musher and organizer of the Vermilion Bay event, Burton Penner, says he’s long wanted to play host to an event that recognized mushing’s larger role in the trapping tradition. He says the Kin Karnival event will reflect that in a variety of fun and interesting ways.
“I’d been thinking about it for a lot of years, and at different times I’ve given (dogsled) rides at the Karnival, but it’s always been a matter of being really busy — my February is usually completely booked. One of the main reasons it’s happening this year is that we have friends that moved in down the road who are dog mushers (Ed and Jennifer Chwastyk), so all of a sudden I have a couple more people to help. That makes all the difference.”
Penner is hoping to see a dozen teams turn up for the 32-kilometre, six-dog team ‘Trapline Challenge’. The race will feature a spectator-friendly mass start — but not before the racers themselves haul themselves out of sleeping bags and pack up their gear before setting off with their dogs.
He says the purse won’t be as sizeable as more established races which draw lots of out-of-town mushers. Every musher will also be asked to bring an item of equipment to form a sort of prize potluck.
Penner says competitors should expect a more rustic course than one might find at Eton-Rugby, comprised mostly of lake crossings and portages on his own trapline.
“We’re trying to bring back a little bit of the history of dog mushing in this area,” said Penner. “It was the way trappers travelled 50 years ago.”
The event will also feature opportunities for the public to take a ride on a dog sled.
The event is seeking volunteer help. For more information, call Burton Penner at 227-2203 or Jennifer Chwastyk at 227-3491.