The Fan Hitch Volume 8, Number 4, September 2006

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

In This Issue....

Editorial: The Northern Experience
A Nunavik Adventure
In the News
Fan Mail
Tip for the Trail: Keep it Clean
Behavior Notebook: Displacement, Discipline, Diversion, Disarming
 IMHO: Transitions
Index: Volume 8, The Fan Hitch

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
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On the trail to Tasiujaq. Polly Mahoney drives Allen Gordon’s team. 
Allan and Evelyn McNichol seated.            Photo: Gordon

A Nunavik Adventure 

by Polly Mahoney

For seven years, my partner, Kevin Slater, and I offered trips to Baffin Island, Nunavut with Pauloosie Koonaloosie and his family. Pauloosie was a very traditional Inuit hunter-gatherer… a man of the land. He was born and raised in an igloo, hunted from an early age to get food for his family and their dog team. He was a survivor and shared his knowledge and skills on how to live off the land with our clients. We were sad to learn of his passing several years ago. Since then we have been searching for another Inuit guide with whom we could offer trips, someone who runs dogs, cares deeply about his culture and is willing to share his knowledge and experience with visitors from far away.

Allen Gordon (FIDO, Volume 7, Number 2) of Amautik Registered, a licensed guide in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik (arctic Quebec) has become that man. In 2005, when we went to meet him, we received a warm welcome. He proudly showed us the sites of Old Fort Chimo, a former Hudson's Bay Company post, first established in the late 1800s, and his family's hunting and fishing cabin on the Koksoak River. He took us by dog team to Gabriel Lake (Qingaujaq), where we looked for muskox in the surrounding country. And we were treated to a helicopter ride to Wolf Lake, where Allen has established caribou hunting camps. We were also fortunate to be in Kuujjuaq when the TV show "Wings over Canada" was filming a special segment about Kuujjuaq and Tasiujaq. Girls' throat singing, fishing for arctic char through a hole in the ice, snowmobiling the hillsides of Tasiujaq, looking for the elusive muskox, sharing fried caribou meat and bannock with Inuit families from Tasiujaq were some of the treats of this encounter. Our timing was good to visit, we felt welcomed and decided to offer trips with Allen.

"The Chariot"                   Photo: Gordon

Spring of 2006 was our first guided adventure with Allen and we had two very seasoned travelers from Scotland with us. Allan and Evelyn McNichol, seventy-nine and eighty years-old, have traveled the world and for the past sixteen years have been on many northern dog sledding trips with us. We told Allen that Allan and Evelyn would need a comfortable sled to travel on and did he ever provide a beautiful new qamutiq for them! I nicknamed it "The Chariot". Allan and Evelyn were very well looked after and had a cozy perch, sitting up high enabled them to comfortably enjoy the views of the beautiful countryside we traveled through. While Allen traveled ahead by snowmobile, I drove the team standing behind Allan and Evelyn on a platform. This qamutiq was equipped with a claw brake for down hills and a snowhook as an emergency brake.

After running my Yukon Huskies for twenty-seven years, I was impressed with the strength of the Inuit Dogs. The stamina they showed traveling from Kuujjuaq to Tasiujaq, averaging forty kilometers (twenty-five miles) a day through a lot of unbroken trail with a heavy load, was remarkable. Inuit Dogs are the draft horses of the sled dog world. Our fourteen-dog team was also very well behaved. Allen has socialized them well, which makes them enjoyable to travel with. Our young eight-month-old lead dog was also a very good hunter. As we mushed along, he spotted a gyrfalcon sitting on the mountainside, as well as a big herd of muskox which we were able to get quite close to. I really enjoyed running the team and getting to know all the dogs and their personalities. After a couple days they got to know me and my commands, even though I don't speak Inuktitut.

Along side a cabin, Willy builds on an igloo for those 
who prefer more traditional accommodations during the journey
from Kuujjuaq to Tasiujaq.   Photo: Gordon

Our other guide, Willy, was a quiet man with a lot of good skills on the land, such as making a perfect igloo during an idle stay at an overnight cabin. He was also good at spotting muskox, tracks of wolves and arctic foxes and assisting with handling the dogs.

Our layover day was at the comfortable Wolf Lake camp. We did some ice fishing for arctic char in nearby lakes. It was a beautiful day and very peaceful as we sat bobbing our lines through one-and-a-half meters (five feet) of ice waiting for the big bite. Allen and Willy went ptarmigan hunting and provided us with a feast of fresh meat for dinner!

Allen Gordon gives a tour of the arctic char hatchery in Kuujjuaq. Allen 
is the driving force behind the  hatchery project.     Photo: Mahoney

After five days on the trail, we arrived in the village of Tasiujaq, which sits in a very picturesque area on Ungava Bay and is home of the highest measured tide in North America, sixteen meters (fifty-two feet). We all enjoyed hot showers, walking the streets of this small community and meeting local people. The next morning we flew back to Kuujjuaq for our last night's stay. It was so great to see from the air the country we had just traveled through and once again feel its vastness.  Another added attraction of our tour was visiting some interesting sites in Kuujjuaq. There is a very successful fish hatchery, started by Allen, which raises arctic char from eggs to small fish and releases them into local lakes. Some other interesting stops were the village's large walk-in freezer, where people bring meat and fish from the land for anyone's consumption, the hunter's and trapper's association selling furs and locally made clothing, gift shops with crafts and souvenirs, the Nunavik government offices and of course the local color at the only restaurant in town.

With the influx of people from the south, no doubt a lot of changes are taking place in the North and the town of Kuujjuaq. But the countryside hasn't changed, and Allen's traditional breed of dog hasn't changed either. I find going out on the land with the Inuit such a rich experience. The stories of days gone by are rich with the steadfastness and stamina of these people surviving in some of the most inhospitable country in the world. Nunavik is a great place to visit and to feel a connection with the land and a culture for which I have utmost respect. 

Allan McNichol, seated, enjoys a “mug up” with Kevin and Polly 
at a cozy cabin enroute to Tasiujaq.                 Photo: Gordon

Polly Mahoney is co-owner of Mahoosuc Guide Service of Newry, Maine, U.S.A.

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