Leader of the Pack

Close up of man with sled dog

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Photo: Daniel Raiti

View from sled as dogs pull over snowy trail

Photo: Travel Manitoba

Photo: Travel Manitoba

"The dog is the most soulful being on the planet," says long-distance dog sled racer, David Daley.

His 43 rescues are the heart and soul of Wapusk Adventures, a dog sledding company that he runs in the remote and rugged town of Churchill, Manitoba.

David's profound respect for dogs is tightly bound to his home and heritage.

“I feel a strong connection to the land on which I live,” he says of his near-Arctic hometown. “And that connection is deepened through my dogs.“

As Métis, David has always acknowledged the significance of dog sledding to his people's culture. Running dogs is in his blood.

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Photo: Daniel Raiti

David's love of dogs began in childhood.

“I was always taught that all animals have souls like we do,” he says. David has vivid memories of hooking his grandparents’ two Samoyeds, King and Queen, to his sled to see how far he could get. Not very far. That was the 60s when dog mushers were a plenty in Churchill.

There were lots of dog teams then, says David, now there is only a handful.

In 2001, with a pack of ten sled dogs, David founded Wapusk Adventures. Known within his community for the dignity and respect with which he treats and trains his dogs, David says he works with each dog’s individual strengths and weaknesses.

“I have 80 lbs dogs that think they’re 30 lbs dogs. And vice versa. Some run short distances, others are marathoners. Some have curly tails, others have straight ones. Each one is unique. Just like humans.”

Black and white photo of man with sled dogs

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Close up of sled dog with tongue hanging out

Photo: Travel Manitoba

Photo: Travel Manitoba

Photo: Travel Manitoba

Photo: Travel Manitoba

Tent under night sky with green Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Two people standing in front of teepee

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Photo: Daniel Raiti

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Black and white photo of man with sled dogs

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Close up of sled dog with tongue hanging out

Photo: Travel Manitoba

Photo: Travel Manitoba

Photo: Travel Manitoba

Photo: Travel Manitoba

Tent under night sky with green Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Two people standing in front of teepee

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Photo: Daniel Raiti

David's dog sledding tours draw intrepid, curious travellers from all over the world.

Just as affecting as the experience of flying through a forest of snow-covered Spruce, or catching flashes of stars and deep violets in a darkening sky as you race home, are David’s stories from his Métis culture.

He is a custodian of knowledge and he shares it with reverence and pride.

His racing stories, like the time he journeyed 1200 km from Churchill to Winnipeg, much like his ancestors would have done once upon a time, are humbling to listen to.

It was a 20-day journey with temperatures dipping as low as -33°C, he tells me.

“You never know what’s in store for you on the trail; you just have to persevere.”

Close up of sled dog with bright blue eyes

Photo: Travel Manitoba

Close up of sled dog with bright blue eyes

Photo: Travel Manitoba

"I was always taught that all animals have souls like we do."
David Daley

In 2004, along with a small group of fellow Churchill dog mushers, David founded the 400-kilometre Hudson Bay Quest, an annual dog-sled race along the coast of Hudson Bay between Churchill and Nunavut.

A man leading a dog sled team at the start line of a race with onlookers

Photo: Daniel Raiti

Photo: Daniel Raiti

“I don't race to win. I've never won a dog sled race. I like to participate and meet people who have the same passion as I do. It’s about community.”

At 61, David is hoping to wind down a bit. Long-distance racing can be gruelling on the body. Taking the reigns is 28-year-old Wyatt Daley, every bit as passionate about dog sledding as his Dad.

Fishing, trapping, hunting, and dog sledding; they're all highly revered practices in Indigenous culture.

"I’m proud to see my son keeping our traditions alive,” he says.

Churchill is located in Northern Manitoba on the edge of Hudson Bay. It is on the fall migratory path of the Polar Bear and the summer breeding ground of Beluga Whales. Visit in the winter for Northern Lights viewing and exciting adventures like David's dog sledding.

Athena Tsavliris

Athena Tsavliris is a lifestyle writer with a focus on decor, fashion, food and family life. She has written for Toronto Life, the National Post, the Toronto Star, Uppercase, House & Home, Chatelaine and Today's Parent. Pottery is a more recent passion, and you'll often find her running around Toronto covered in clay dust and blue glaze. Athena loves to swim, preferably in the sea. She lives with her husband and their three children in Toronto's south Annex.

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