Hudson Bay Quest sled dog race cancelled for 2nd year in a row

Hudson Bay Quest has cancelled this year's edition of their annual race, say organizers, because Churchill's current lack of a rail line means logistics proved too challenging.

Lack of rail line means many mushers couldn't afford to compete, say organizers

The Hudson Bay Quest takes the best mushers 35 to 40 hours to complete, (Justin Allen/Faceboook)

The repercussions of a blizzard that cancelled an elite dog sled race to Churchill in 2017 has also halted the 2018 event.

Hudson Bay Quest has cancelled this year's edition of their annual race, say organizers, because Churchill's current lack of a rail line means logistics proved too challenging.

"Normally what would happen was we would have our sponsors bring the mushers' dog teams either to Churchilll or from Churchill, depending on which direction the race was going," said Bill Dingwall, Hudson Bay Quest committee chair. 

"But this year, without the train, we couldn't guarantee that the teams would either be able to get to the start or the finish, or home from the finish."

This meant the teams would have had to do the race, then turn around and head back to Gillam on their own time, and their own dime.

"That was quite a daunting task for a lot of the mushers and it would have cost them a lot more money," said Dingwell.

"Once we put out that you'd be on your own to get to the start and home after the finish, I think it was an easy decision for a lot of the guys."

The race also had to cancel in 2017 due to a severe area storm that made the trip too dangerous, said Dingwell. 

"We were very disappointed last year because it was such a last minute decision to cancel," he said. "This year we knew going in not having a rail line was going to be extremely hard to do with logisitics of moving mushers, moving handlers, moving even our race marshal, our vets and everybody … It wasn't safe to do it, honestly."

It's so hard that if you finish the race, you get your registration money back ... just because it's that much of an accomplishment, we feel.- Bill Dingwall

Hudson Bay Quest is considered one of North America's top dog sled races. Mushers from around the world come to compete, said Dingwell, calling it a "bucket list" event for many.

The attraction in the race lies in the terrain and the fact mushers are pretty much on their own after they begin, said Dingwell.

"It's not as long [as others] but it's a hard race … It's so hard that if you finish the race, you get your registration money back. Doesn't matter when you finish, we have a timeline, but if you finish we give your registration money back just because it's that much of an accomplishment, we feel."

This year's race only attracted four mushers, three of whom have opted to keep their registration funds "in the kitty," said Dingwell, for next year's race. The race usually attracts 12-16 racers, and organizers this year decided they would not go ahead without at least six racers. 

Whether next year's race goes ahead will likely be known in a few months.

"It is solely the response, due to the lack of a rail line, we had to cancel this race," said Dingwall. "We'll know probably in the next few months whether or not the 2019 race is viable, because with no rail line, it's almost a foregone conclusion that we can't do this race."

Despite the setbacks, Dingwell remained optimistic.

"For us, I think it's a hiccup only. I think that the want is still there for those mushers to do it," he said. "We had a lot of momentum going."

About the Author

Elisha Dacey

Journalist

Elisha Dacey is a journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is the former managing editor of Metro Winnipeg and her work has been seen in newspapers from coast to coast. Reach her at elisha.dacey@cbc.ca.