by Linda Aksomitis

Sled dogs at Quebec Carnival

Sled dogs at Quebec Carnival

Quebec Carnival has a tradition of more than a century, while dogsledding has been around for much, much longer. What better combination then, than to put the two together, and have dogsled races be one of the premier opening events for Carnival? Indeed, dog sled races have been an integral part of Carnival festivities since its inception.

The really unique thing, I discovered, about Carnival’s sled dog racing event is that it runs through the downtown of Old Quebec!

Quebec City celebrates its four-hundredth birthday in 2008, with the core section, called Old Quebec, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 as a colonial urban landscape. It is the only city north of Mexico to still have its original fortification walls in place.

Sled Dogs racing through Old Quebec at Carnival

Sled Dogs racing through Old Quebec at Carnival

The dogsled race is called “La Grande Viree” and runs along one of the central streets of Old Quebec. Buildings that have stood for centuries tower over the race, while cheering spectators crowd together on the snow covered sidewalks to cheer the dogs.

Me, I crouched under the nylon rope barrier, camera in hand, for a groundhog’s eye view of the race.

With over thirty of the best dog teams from around North America to run, there’s a lot of excitement at the start line. Each musher brings his team to the line, while the dogs lunge ahead, anxious to prove themselves. The mushers try to calm their dogs, but it’s easy to tell they’re anxious to be off as well.

Sled dogs at the starting line for La Grand Viree

Sled dogs at the starting line for “La Grand Viree”

La Grand Viree is a timed event, rather than head-to-head racing, so the dogs are released at intervals of around a minute apart. This allows each musher time to make sure his team is ready before he’s given the flag start. Each team has four dogs pulling the sleigh.

If weather conditions have been warm, snow must be hauled onto the streets. The total length of the course is six kilometers, although half of that is the return route. Once the race has been running for awhile, the two-way traffic consists of sleddog teams still being released, and the first teams returning to the finish line.

Many of the dog teams and their mushers are local, so there’s lots of cheering from the crowd. While I sat, squatted in the snow, I listened to the family of one team anxiously waiting for the release, then the running of their team.

Start of a dogsled race with dogsled team and musher at Quebec Carnival

Start of a dogsled race with dogsled team and musher at Quebec Carnival

The musher pushes off as his dog team is released, to help speed the start before jumping onto his sleigh. Dogs reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour during the race, since it is a short sprint race.  During my walk through the staging area, prior to the race, I discovered many different styles of sleighs, depending on the preference of each musher. The dogs, as well, are of various breeds, including huskies and malamutes.

It’s easy to see from the dogs that they love their sport–and whether dogsled racing is a local tradition, as it is in Quebec, or something new, as it was for me, the cheering crowd love it too.

If you go:

Visit the Carnaval de Quebec web site at:  http://www.carnaval.qc.ca/

Copyright 2007, Linda Aksomitis (Pub date – Jan 16/07).  All Rights Reserved.

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