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.