The Fan Hitch Volume 7, Number 2, March 2005

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: Sirius Patrol, Canadian Style
F.I.D.O.: Allen Gordon
Nunavik Dog Slaughters, Part I
Pregnancy, Whelping and Pup Development in the ISD, Part II
Fan Mail
Tip for the Trail: Building a Dog Ramp
In the News
Behavior Notebook
Janice Howls: Transition to Primitive
 IMHO: Change

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Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
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This site is dedicated to the Inuit Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. It is also home to The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog.
Featured Inuit Dog Owner:

Allen Gordon with some of his dogs                  Photo: Gordon

Allen Gordon

Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, CANADA

TFH: Could you start by giving us a short history of the ISD in Nunavik?
AG: According to the stories that I have heard from the elders in my community and the rest of Nunavik, the ISD was a big part of the nomadic Inuit people in terms of traveling, hunting, fishing, gatherings, trading and seasonal relocations of families.  This way of life all started to change in the late 1950s and 1960s when the Federal government established permanent settlements around the coast of Northern Quebec.

TFH When you were growing up, did your family use a dog team to hunt, fish and travel?
AG: When I was a child, I faintly remember my uncle Norman Gordon's sled dogs tied up behind their house.  My two older brothers, Mark and Alec, used to follow Uncle Norman's dog team in gathering trees for firewood. According to my mother (who, by-the-way, raised us three brothers as a single parent), in the past dog teams were a big part of her family. The dogs were the only way to travel, especially to winter trapping areas, since fox pelts were the only source of income to buy basic supplies from the Hudson's Bay Company store in Fort Chimo. Also, she mentions that Alex Gordon, my late grandfather, used to deliver the mail by dog sled for the Hudson's Bay Company to Fort McKenzie. This old post was about 100 miles south of Kuujjuaq. From that post an Innu (Montagnais Indian) would then take the mail by foot to Seven Islands, a community on the lower north shore of the St. Lawrence River.  The trading post in Fort Chimo was the main center of trade and gatherings for the Inuit of lower Ungava Bay. In 1941, during World War II, the American Army built an air base four miles upstream. All of the Inuit abandoned the post and started to move to the former military base, where services began springing up in the late 1950s and 1960s. The growing community of Kuujjuaq officially became a municipality back in 1979.

                                                 Maps: Courtesy of Makivik Corporation

By the time I was six or seven years old most dog teams in my community were already gone and replaced by snowmobiles.  However, I recall clearly when I was about five years old our neighbor, Joanasie Papak, still had Inuit Sled Dogs, and why I clearly remember him and his dog team occurred on Christmas Day. Joanasie's only passenger was Santa Claus. Joanasie's dogs suddenly took off running and Santa in full costume flipped and fell off the qamutik and he was in the snow with his feet high in the air!

TFH: Did you drive dogs when you were young?
AG: When I was young, I had only one dog, Brownie. He was my buddy for many years.  I got Brownie from the village to the east, Kangisualujjuaq (George River), when he was just a tiny puppy. He was just few weeks old when I brought him home, the only survivor from a litter that was born under a house. The rest of puppies had all frozen. When Brownie grew, I put him in harness with my small qamutik that had the traditional frozen mud runners. For many years, almost every weekend, I ran to my relatives' old home village, which we today call Old Fort Chimo. To me Brownie was a true Inuk dog. He was very strong and a natural puller. He would not bark, mostly howl and had a habit of digging all the time. He would bury bones and food with his nose. He also loved to fight any dog that was in his reach.  Brownie lived to be over ten years old. He later came down with an illness and had to be put down.  I would say Brownie planted the dog sledding seed for me.

A  young Allen with Brownie   Photo: Gordon

After graduating from Kuujjuaq high school, I decided that I wanted to start a dog team.  There were a few guys in town starting to run dog teams again. That is when the blue-eyed dogs started to appear in Nunavik.  Since there were no more native Inuit Dogs in town, a number of Siberian Huskies and Malamutes were brought in from the south and I started my new team from those bloodlines.  The most number of dogs I had was ten and I enjoyed recreational mushing with them for a few years, although I did not undertake a major long distance trip with them.  My job as a full time wildlife technician meant being away in the field for weeks at a time during the summer months. It became very difficult to take good care of my dogs, as I would rely on others for their feeding and care. When I returned to town my dogs would be in bad shape and I felt this was not fair to them, so I reluctantly gave them up in 1987.

TFH: As an adult, why have you decided to own and drive dogs?
AG: When I gave up my first team, I promised myself that one day I would own a dog team again.  Over the years I told a few friends that a dog team would be more of a retirement hobby project.  Well, I was wrong. I'm not near retirement, but the urge to run dogs again just struck me while ptarmigan hunting on a beautiful afternoon in March 2003. On a snowmobile, heading home, I was imagining going out with dogs with my kids and enjoying the fresh air without the sound of an snowmobile engine. I remembered the days when I would listen to the dogs ivakkak (trot) and the qamutik runners swishing across the frozen land and lakes.  When I got home, I mentioned to my wife, Susie, what had got into my mind earlier. I expected her to just laugh at me, but to my surprise she was very supportive of the idea of getting dogs to build a team.  You see, she had seen the last few dog teams in her home village of Tasiujaq. Susie recalls as a young girl trying to hop on qamutiit for  short rides when the dog teams were leaving the village on fishing trips. Also, her late father, Johnny Cain, always had a dog team until the late 1970s. So there are good memories about dog sledding from her younger days.

I also want my two children to experience dog mushing and the care of dogs while they are young and imprint them with dog sledding. The kids of today are so much into television, computers and video games and spending so little time outdoors.  I figure when my children are grown up they will remember our mushing trips and hopefully they will continue the tradition of running dog teams with their kids.

TFH: It would have been easy for you to assemble a team of "husky dogs". Please tell us why you chose to build a team of pure ISDs.
AG: Most of my current roster of dogs are mixed huskies. They probably have the genes of most northern type huskies.  Last July I received two pups from Siu-Ling Han in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and I can say that these two females are pure ISD. Also in December, I acquired a two-year-old pure ISD male from Ludovic Pirani in southern Quebec. I'm planning to breed the females with this male and finally build up a team of pure ISDs.  The reason I want to be the owner of pure Inuit Sled Dogs is because they are a big part of my Inuit cultural heritage and they were once native to this part of the Arctic up until the late 1970s.  Also, most of the younger generation of Inuit don't know the differences between pure and mixed. I hope to educate them  and promote the return of the pure ISD to Nunavik.

Allen and his two pure ISD bitch pups        Photo: Gordon

TFH: How difficult has it been for you to get pure ISDs?
AG: It has been very difficult since I can't just order pups from someone in Nunavik, since no one here has pure ISDs to sell (a couple of other mushers here in Kuujjuaq got some of Siu-Ling's pups the same time I did).  Some years ago when I was visiting Iqaluit, I met Matty McNair and saw her pure dogs. So last spring, I made contact with Matty and she lead me to her musher friend Siu-Ling Han. Siu-Ling had a pregnant female. Weeks later, I was very fortunate that Siu-Ling gave me two beautiful pups, although she did not know much about me or my dogs. Even from Iqaluit, male puppies are very hard to get since they are reserved well in advance before birth.

TFH: We know you would like to see interest in the pure ISD grow in Nunavik. What do you feel is needed to see this happen? Is there a role the ISDI can play?
AG: First, it is all about education. Like I said, most of the younger generation needs to see, touch the dogs and really understand the physical characteristics of a true uncontaminated purebred ISD. Also, regional organizations, schools and municipalities in Nunavik could all participate and assist the mushers in getting proper secure kennels, vet care, and funds to buy breeding stock. From a successful breeding program in some communities the puppies could then be sent to all Nunavik communities for future generations to use in a traditional way, especially the cultural programs in the schools. I'm sure the ISDI could play a role. Your organization has many contacts and much expertise with regards to breeders and enthusiasts throughout the world.

TFH: In many regions, dog teams serve a function, primarily involving tourism. Is it reasonable for Inuit in your community to use dog teams for more than just tourist related activities?
AG: As far as my community is concerned the ten or so mushers in town are not raising teams merely for tourism.  We all have different personal reasons and there is no money in it. In fact it is extremely expensive for us to own a dog team.  Actually dog team tourism is not new to Nunavik. I remember Italians and people from France traveling by dog sled down the coast with Inuit mushers every year and arriving right at the doorstep of the Arctic Travelers Hotel in Kuujjuaq during the 1970s.

Allen displaying a beautiful Arctic Char         Photo: Gordon

TFH: Tell us about what you do in Kuujjuaq. We understand you "wear many hats" and are involved in several ventures.
AG: My main job is with the Nunavik Tourism Association as Executive Director.  I also own three outfitting camps offering packages in fishing and autumn caribou hunting.  I'm the third term elected President of the Nayumivik Landholding Corporation which has title to Inuit lands surrounding Kuujjuaq and engaged in social and economic development and wildlife issues that benefit the Inuit of my community.  I also started the very successful first Arctic Char Fish Hatchery in Nunavik.  I'm with the Kuujjuaq Canadian Rangers Patrol.  I'm on the Board of Directors of Kuujjuamiut, Inc., and Umiak Builders.  In the past I was elected to the municipal council for three terms and was the deputy Mayor of Kuujjuaq once. I have not sought re-election with the council due to all of the other mandates.

TFH: Are you planning any long distance trips with your dogs?
AG: Yes, I've been planning to take a March break and travel with the dogs to my wife's home town of Tasiujaq (population 250). The community lies on the shores of Leaf Bay, just northwest of Kuujjuaq and about 100 miles by dog sled.  Most of my dogs are only two years old so to me the trip, when completed, will be a major achievement for them and me getting back to mushing.

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