Running wolves will win races

Four wild husky-wolf pups ate the moose-hide tent behind Carmacks’ interpretive centre. And some might blame the late Wilfred Charlie.

Four wild husky-wolf pups ate the moose-hide tent behind Carmacks’ interpretive centre.

And some might blame the late Wilfred Charlie.

By breeding dogs with wolves, the well-known storyteller and trapper started a community trend.

And recently, a female wolf came and bred one of Charlie’s few remaining dogs, said his wife Dawn.

“Its those pups that were running around town.”

Dawn was dishing up moose stew and bannock at Carmacks Yukon Quest checkpoint alongside Charlie’s sister Mary Tulk and his daughter Vera.

In the hallway, his granddaughter Shannon Combs was selling Quest badges from past races.

The money will go toward the community’s second annual Wilfred Charlie Memorial Sled Dog Race in March.

“Wilfred set a world record in ’67-‘68 at the Whitehorse Rendezvous,” said Dawn.

“He did the dog sled race in under an hour.”

And he set the record with husky/wolf pups, she added.

Out trapping beaver, Charlie came across a den and caught a wolf pup.

He domesticated it and ended up breeding the wolf with one of his trapline dogs. Rosie had five pups, and they were just six months old when they set records at Rendezvous, said Dawn.

But Dawn hadn’t met Charlie yet.

“I didn’t meet him until ’74,” she said.

Back then she was working as a chambermaid at the Chilkoot Hotel.

When he was in town, Charlie usually stayed at Steven’s Hotel, but that night it was full.

“I remember him because he couldn’t pay,” said Dawn with a grin.

“He hadn’t cashed his cheque yet.

“And he stood out because he was nice, polite, easy going and handsome.”

They wouldn’t meet again for another three years.

Dawn ended up renting a cabin in Carmacks from Charlie’s dad.

When Charlie stopped in at the cabin one day for a drink of water, Dawn surprised him.

“He thought the cabin was empty,” she said.

“And I knew who he was, but he didn’t know me.”

They married a few years later.

Charlie grew up on the back of dog teams, and had dogs his whole life.

“He could sit on the back of a toboggan sled and roll a smoke like it was second nature,” said Dawn.

“And when he was out trapping and running teams, he took a pot and an axe and that’s it.”

Charlie went to the university of the land, she said.

“I knew him for a long time,” said his 12-year-old granddaughter Combs, now helping in the checkpoint kitchen.

“He told me the thing with running dogs is to keep them in line and know what you’re doing.”

Charlie also took Combs and her mom hunting and fishing, she said.

“I had a hard time getting to sleep after he died,” said Combs.

“I would cry all the time.”

Charlie died of cancer in June 2005. He was 67.

It happened quickly, said Dawn.

“But that’s how he wanted it; he didn’t want chemo or anything.

“And he had a really good sense of humour — he was happy until the day he died.”

A superb storyteller, Charlie’s presence would fill a room.

“If he was here tonight, everybody would know he was here,” said his sister Tulk.

One of his favourite stories was to tell tourists about the candles in his sled, said Dawn.

According to Charlie, the secret to running fast was to drill holes in the sled runners and plug them with candles.

As the sled picks up speed, it melts the wax and greases the runners, said Charlie.

“And the tourists would believe him,” said Dawn with a laugh.

Charlie also held some real mushing secrets.

And he wanted to share them with the Quest mushers, she said.

“But they told him mushing had changed.”

Now Dawn is saving those secrets for his grandchildren.

He always wanted to have a race in the community for the kids, she said.

“Dad himself talked about it and talked about it, but he couldn’t get it up and running,” said Vera.

“So when he passed away, the family decided to put it on in his memory.”

The whole community helped with the first race, and the Rangers worked on the trail.

Charlie was a member of the Rangers for 14 years. And Dawn remembered winters when he was out helping put in the Quest trail at minus 40.

“I remember as kids running dogs in the bush in the moonlight, going through the trail really fast to try and be like dad,” said Vera.

“And we really had to try and steer to not hit trees.”

There aren’t any real Yukon huskies like Charlie’s left, said Dawn.

And the family could only think of one local dog team.

“Nobody has taken his place yet in the community,” said Tulk.

“We’re still missing that laughter and storytelling.”

Last year’s memorial sled dog race has attracted teams from across the Yukon and from the Northwest Territories, said Dawn.

But it was still too soon after his death, and she wasn’t involved.

“This is my first year working on it,” she said, her eyes welling up.

The coming race is on March 17th in Carmacks.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Togo member Katie Moen sits in a sled behind a snowmobile for the ride from the airport to Chief Zzeh Gittlit School. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Coming together: How Old Crow became one of the first communities in the world to be fully vaccinated

Team Togo and Team Balto assembled with a mission to not waste a single dose of vaccine

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. If council moves forward with bylaw changes, eating and drinking establishments could set up pop-up patios in on-street parking spaces. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Patios may be popping up in Whitehorse this summer

City considers program for downtown restaurants and bars

The Yukon Coroner's Service has confirmed the death of a skateboarder found injured on Hamilton Boulevard on May 2. Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News
Whitehorse man dies in skateboarding accident

Coroner urges the use of helmets, protective gear, while skateboarding.

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s baby bison, born April 22, mingles with the herd on April 29. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Yukon Wildlife Preserves welcomes two bison calves

A bison calf was the first 2021 baby born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

A map provided by the Yukon government shows the location of unpermitted logging leading to a $2,500 fine. (Courtesy/Yukon government)
Man fined $2,500 for felling trees near Beaver Creek

The incident was investigated by natural resource officers and brought to court.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Most Read