Afternoon Tea at the Goose Creek Turn-Off
I caught up with Charlie Lundie at his dog shack, an old RCAF portable generator building, plunked down beside his dogs. You can still see the motor mounts on the floor and wheel wells buried beneath bags of dogfood. It’s pretty cozy for a tough old building.
Checking his training calendar, you can see the training runs and distances scribbled in, some days 13 miles, some ten, twenty, even up to thirty six miles. Looking at the blank spots in January, its a pretty good record of the severe winter we have had. Not much point training in minus fifty plus.
This year, his third Hudson Bay Quest, Charlie is running ten dogs, almost the same as last year’s race with a couple upgrades. Copper and Girly are his leaders They are two gee-haw (right-left in musher talk) command leaders, Copper coming over from Christopher Lake, SK and Girly in a trade with another musher from La Ronge, SK. He prefers smaller dogs, easier to handle and less food but still strong.
He started out dog sledding six years ago, first contracting with Dave Daley’s Wapusk Adventures and then going out on his own a couple years later. He explains, “I moved away in the late 70s, first to BC and then working for Highways in Thompson. When I came back to Churchill (in 1999), getting back into dogs was the first thing on my mind.”
Now, he runs Charlie’s Dog Sled Tour on his own, slowly building up equipment, dogs and clients.
“Dogs and my family go back a long way. Me and George had dogs and George used to trap with my uncle.” he says. “It’s like it’s in the blood, I guess you would say.”
“My uncles were Fred Oman and George Oman, they were trappers across river. My Dad, Dave Lundie, trapped from North River to Arviat in the 30s. He traveled all around up north, other guys like old Eddie Batstone, Cliff Cochrane, Reg Ayotte, there were lots of guys. Mostly trapping arctic fox, staying out there and living off the land.
“That was the biggest reason why I went into the Hudson Bay Quest. I wanted to see how those guys made it out there, how they survived. In those days, there was no GPS, no satellite phones, no fancy equipment, who knows what they had, nothing I guess.”
Sled dogs used to be a mainstay of Churchill life. “Back in the 50s and 60s, there used to be teams parked in front of the Churchill and Hudson Hotels, in front of the Bay (Hudson’s Bay Company Store). Guys would come in off the trap line to pick up food, get supplies, go for beers. Everybody traveled by dogs in those years.”
He smiles, saying,”Its important to remember that dogs were here first, so they have the right of way over the snowmobile.
“There used to be shacks across river. Joe Bighead, Omans, Lundies and old Borge was over there too. There were lots of people at North River then too, the Dene stayed there, when they weren’t following the caribou inland, around Caribou Lake or Duck Lake.
“At one time, the Flats was a small community, so was Jockville, and Akudlik. There were a lot of people up there but everyone moved into town once the kids got older.
“Remember DPW and the Port were big things back then. The Port was booming, workers would come in from Alberta and Saskatchewan, a lot of people came up here to work at the elevator.
“There were lots of dog races back then, everyone travelled into town to race in the Winter Carnival, the Dene, Cree, trappers would all come in. Big names back then were Frank Spence, Bill MacDonald (Robert’s dad), Frank Martin to name a few. It used to be a big race at one time.
“Hockey was a big thing here too, the Navy had two teams, Navy Whites and Navy Blues, Camp had teams, in town there were two, I think the Seals and the Red Caps.
“The army would station guys here who were good hockey players just so they could win, that’s how competitive it was back in those days. Even the HBC would send up employees who were good players, they’d play for the town. There was a league here, they’d play three times a week, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. I think there were eight hockey teams at one time. Lots of fastball teams, everybody in Churchill played hockey or some kind of sport, now it seems no one is interested. I blame TV for that, its harder to get people outside now.
“The Quest is a really good thing for this town. There’s lots of interest this year too. Its going to be a good race. Still, I think we should race more up here. There’s lots of guys with dogs now, we could have a race almost every weekend.
“I don’t think it will be too cold this quest, should be good weather. I think it will be a northerner this year who takes it all. Still, it all comes down to whoever has a couple days of good running with his team. If your team is in the right mood on the right days, you’ll be in the top five.”