The 2021 Canadian Championship Dog Derby begins on Yellowknife Bay on Friday, the culmination of an unusual season-long contest between NWT teams.
The past year has been decidedly different for mushers in the territory. Pandemic border restrictions kept many competitors out of the NWT, while in other jurisdictions – such as Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia – many big races were cancelled outright.
Races in the territory this season have been contested entirely by homegrown mushers.
Canadian Championship Dog Derby organizer and longtime musher Jordee Reid said the NWT is lucky to have “an active dog mushing community within our borders.”
“There’s this really excited community of dog mushers here that are all friends and it’s more like a celebration each time a race comes in, that we get to come together once again and compete against one another,” she said.
“With our family, we’ve just been really grateful that there have still been races to take part in.”
The dog derby’s 150-mile race, held over three days, is the weekend’s top event and the longest race on the NWT circuit. Reid expects eight teams to participate.
Competitors include Reid’s brother, Taltson McQueen, rookie Alexis Campbell, and several members of the Beck family.
Richard Beck, who has won the 150-mile race several times, will be racing against his brother Grant, his son Brent, and his granddaughter Taylor. He’s been training since last fall and competing in shorter races to get his team ready for this year’s race.
However, Beck joked, he’s not planning on taking it easy on anyone – despite being related to half the competition.
“Once we’re on the racetrack, we’re all competitive,” he said. “Once we leave the chutes, that’s it. You’re on your own. May the best one win.”
Meanwhile, Beck’s granddaughter Taylor said she is looking to have a fun, clean race.
“I guess everyone’s hopes and dreams are to win the big race,” she said. “That’s everyone’s ideal, but I am just wanting to go with it and see how we do day-by-day.”
Like her grandfather, Beck has been training her team throughout the season. It helps to come from a family that is so involved in the sport, she said.
“It is really hard and lots of work, so it’s nice to have people support you … that are in it, that actually know what it’s all about,” she said.
Twenty-eight-year-old Alexis Campbell is the only 150-mile rookie competing this year.
Born and raised in Yellowknife, Campbell comes from a long line of trappers and dog mushers but this will mark her longest race to date.
“With Covid keeping us in the NWT this year, we decided this would be a good year to try the race and give our dogs the experience they might not have gotten if we were down south,” she said.
Campbell said she is both “excited and nervous” to take to the trails this weekend, but ultimately just wants to finish “with all the dogs happy.”
Reid urged those in the city to come out and cheer the competitors on as they race down the ice road to Dettah.
“People can come and watch all along the ice road,” she said. “You just find a secluded place where no one else is to park your vehicle with your family and you can get out and you can watch teams go by.
“I would encourage anyone to have fun with it.”