Leon Church of Bowsman is a trainer who has spent the last few years conditioning his athletes and perfecting his lines so he could take them across Canada to participate in a considerable challenge. That challenge would be a 100-mile and 200-mile race in the Yukon and British Columbia, and the athletes would be a team of 12 husky/ labrador-mix dogs that Church would drive across Canada so that together they would make the incredible trek as a team of sled dogs and their musher.
“We’ve been developing a team that I feel comfortable taking travelling and racing, seeing what they can do up against other groups,” said Church. “I want to see how my dogs will do on the long trails and how things will go.”
Church has spent a few years growing his team. His oldest dog isn’t more than five years old, but through acquiring rescues and doing some selective breeding with the dogs he had, he was able to develop a team that he felt could go the distance.
“Last year, we did the Torch River Run, out of Christopher Lake, Sask.,” said Church. “It’s a 40 mile race two days in a row, so you run 40 miles one day and 40 miles the next.” That was Church’s first attempt at competitive sled dog racing, but this year brings additional challenges with a greater distance. The first race that Church will take part in at the end of this week is the Caledonia Classic in Fort St. James, B.C., from Feb. 3-5. This race will be 200 miles.
Church will follow it up on Feb. 11 with a 100-mile race in Whitehorse, Yukon at Yukon Quest. He noted that even though the second event had higher distances available, he wanted to take it easy on the second go around because he still wanted to participate in the Canadian Challenge that starts in Prince Albert, Sask. on Feb. 20. Church will be racing a team of 10 at each event, but will be bringing along two spare dogs in case he needs to change out his scratch list between races. “Each race is a little different,” said Church. “Each has mandatory rest amounts per race based on the distances you go.” He noted that the Caledonia Classic has a total of 14 hours worth of mandatory
rest periods divided between three checkpoints.
The mandatory rest periods ensure the health and safety of the dogs to make sure they can complete the whole thing. “I’m depending on my dogs to go about 50 miles in about six hours,” said Church, noting that training runs are currently running at an average pace of nine miles per hour.
“It’s very much a learning thing to see where we size up and find out what I can and can’t expect from them. I’m pretty confident in the group that we’ll have a good showing. “This has been something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I could remember,” Church continued. “This month coming up is a pretty big thing for me. The excitement level is high to get out there.” When Church started raising and training dogs to be sled dogs, he didn’t necessarily do it
in order to race them, as he felt it might have been a pipe dream. “That was the ultimate goal, but it didn’t seem like a possibility at the time,” he said. “The reason I got into it was because I’m a third generation trapper in the Porcupine Mountain and I don’t like relying on Ski-doos and machinery. I do a lot of things with hand tools and self-powered things, even boats in the summertime.
“I know that I can trust my dogs to get where we need to be no matter what. (Sled dog racing) is definitely a unique sport, but it’s one I really enjoyed since I got into it.” Church’s younger dogs have gotten used to the idea of being harnessed to the sled right from young, but serious training begins closer to when they were two years old, when they are more mature and able to focus on the task at hand.
Conditioning began in late summer, with Church getting his dogs to follow him on his quad, free running beside. Once the weather cooled down and the snow fell, then he could hitch them to the lines and incrementally get them running longer distances, just like any long-distance runner would. He conveniently has been able to run them up and down the Woody River located behind his acreage near Bowsman. “It’s very much how any other athlete would
go about training,” said Church. “Just consistent activity, good diet, good exercise and good rest. These guys have an unbreakable will to harness up and run. They love to go. No one wants to stay home when it’s time to go.”
Church also makes sure that he trains his dogs with an appropriately weighed down sled, to get them ready for the trail. During these competitive events, there is often mandatory gear to take, such as a sleeping bag, tent, first aid, boots and jackets for the dogs, an alcohol cooker to melt water, and the like, to ensure that the musher and the dogs are prepared for the long journey over the cold and remote terrain.
Church also makes good use of the Swan Valley Veterinary Clinic to check up on his team and double check that everyone is in good health for the big trip. “Some of the bigger races even have vet checks before and after the races as well,” said Church. “The dogs are very well monitored and safe.” In order to keep his athletes in tip-top shape, Church has also started making his own dog food, using meat and items from his garden to put together a product that he found to be more nutritious and more easily digestible by the dogs than the commercial dog food he had been feeding to them prior.
Of course, as is natural on any team, Church has to deal with the different personalities of the dogs and putting them in roles that they work best to create a better team overall. “The dogs all have their own way to be and even their own preferences of whether they want to be on the right side or the left side,” he said. “One of them can’t run or focus with anyone behind him, so he has to be at the back. “It’s like picking a hockey team. You monitor them to see who works well with each other and some don’t gel so you keep them apart. “The dynamic in my group is nice because everyone here has been together for three or four years,” Church continued. “Now that we’ve trained as much
as we have, when I get home from a run, instead of putting them away one at a time, I can just let them all go and they run around the yard doing their own thing. There’s no fights and everyone gets along. And, they come to me when I walk to their spot to give them food.
“It’s all a matter of how much time you put into them. If you really put the work in, they’ll reward you with the best behaviour you can imagine. It’s amazing what these dogs have been able to learn the last couple of years.”
Not all the dogs that Church has had were suited for his A-team, but he has made sure that those dogs were able to find alternative homes. Church also has enough dogs for him to train a second line, and then some so that he has a backup squad when it’s time to retire his stars.
At publication time, Church was packing up his dogs and gear and heading out onto the open road, hoping to come back with new experiences and stories to tell as he progresses further in his pursuit of sled dog racing.
The Swan Valley entered the polar vortex last weekend, with temperatures getting as cold as -35.7C on Sunday (Jan. 29). Forecasts indicate that the cold snap is short lived, with weather returning to single digit temperatures by the upcoming weekend.
Dauphin Kings captain Owen Wareham, left, and OCN Blizzard captain Riley Zimmerman took part in the traditional Ukrainian greeting featuring the presentation of bread, salt and wheat prior to the game, Friday, during the annual Ukrainian Night.
A crowd of 1,994 fans took in the festivities, which included dance recitals by local Ukrainian dance groups, Boris Nowasad and the Melody Kings greeting fans as they entered Credit Union Place and the ever popular kielbasa toss and mattress races.
Fans were sent home happy after the Kings won the game, 5-2.
No team has been able to pull away in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s tight MGEU West Division.
With four straight wins, the Dauphin Kings are tied with the Waywayseecappo Wolverines and Swan Valley Stampeders atop the division with 51 points each, while the OCN Blizzard are just two points back and the Virden Oil Capitals are creeping up, sitting two back of OCN for the final playoff spot and only four points out of first place.
The Kings swept a weekend twinbill over the Blizzard, winning Friday’s Ukrainian Night game, 5-2, before scoring a 2-1 win, Sunday.
Kings head coach and general manager Doug Hedley pointed out the Kings have the most wins of any team in the division with 24.
“How crazy is that. Three at 51. One at 49. One at 47. Four points between first and out of the playoffs,” he said.
Friday’s Ukrainian Night contest provided the best atmosphere Hedley has ever seen at a Kings game.
“Sold out seats and standing room. It was really good,” he said.
After the first 10 minutes of Friday’s game, Hedley felt the Kings started using their speed to get pucks up ice.
“Before that, we were trying to beat somebody, carrying the puck instead of moving it up ice and then using our speed. After the (media) timeout, we settled in and got on our toes,” he said. “We were first to pucks a lot on the forecheck. And then created some great chances. Our power play was good on Friday. We had some net-front presence, unlike tonight (Sunday).”
Hedley was pleased with the patience the team showed in Sunday’s win.
“We weren’t giving up many chances. Our power play could have stepped up a little bit, especially in the second period, but they did in the third and we found a way to get it done,” he said.
Twenty-year-old goalie Dmytro Kubritskyi made his Kings debut, Friday, making 30 saves in the victory. Sunday’s starter, Cole Sheffield, picked up his third straight win in which he only allowed one goal.
“He’s definitely a guy that we’re happy with. And then what can you say about (Kubritskyi’s) first start. He was outstanding. He made some good saves and made it look easy,” Hedley said.
The Kings will face the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s newest franchise, the Niverville Nighthawks, Friday in Dauphin at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday in Niverville at 3 p.m.
“They’re fighting for a playoff spot, as well. They’re seven ahead of the Blues,” Hedley said. “I know they’re a hard working team. They play very well, with good structure. They’re well coached. And we know they’re going to come at us hard. They’ve got some good talent there. It’s going to be a hard weekend.”
With so much video now available, teams are familiar with their opponents even without playing each other. So the Kings will familiarize themselves with Niverville and how they play.
“The biggest thing for us is to focus on what we do well. When we play fast, use our speed and separate guys from pucks and our back pressure with guys standing up, and just focusing on transition and using our speed to go on two-on-ones and odd man rushes, if we stay structured through the neutral zone, we’re a tough team to beat,” Hedley said.
In partnership with the Manitoba Health Care Providers Network (MHCPN) and Max Rady College of Medicine, Faculty of Sciences, Prairie Mountain Health (PMH) hosted the University of Manitoba medical student Rural Interest Group (RIG) in Brandon, last week.
The RIG weekend promotes the benefits of practicing medicine in rural communities and available lifestyle opportunities. Some 34 first and second-year medical students participated.
PMH has advocated for the initiative as it provides the health region with additional opportunities to engage medical students early in their training.
Clinical workstations were set up at Brandon Regional Health Centre to allow the students to put their skills to the test by undertaking tasks like suturing, casting and airway management.
Prior to the two days, tudent RIG co-president Sydney McLaughlin says participants looked forward to the event after a brief pause due to the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On behalf of both the Rural Interest Group and the University of Manitoba medical classes of 2025 and 2026, I would like to extend a huge thank you to PMH for the preparations and for welcoming us again this year,” McLaughlin said. “These events are so important for our education as they expose students to what it is like to work in rural medicine, provide opportunities for students to network with doctors and residents, and give us an idea of what it is like to work within the health region.”
Some minor changes are being made to the structure of policing in the city with an officer currently assigned to the Crime Reduction Enforcement Support Team (CREST) being reassigned to general policing duties.
City council approved the plan at its Jan. 13 regular meeting and will officially be making the request under the Municipal Policing Agreement.
In 2019, the City increased its compliment of officers from 14 to 15 in order to support a newly-created Investigative Support Team, which was tasked with combatting drugs and gang activity in the communities of Dauphin, Winnipegosis and Ste. Rose.
In 2020, the IST evolved into CREST, which is provincially funded and does the same type of work, but on a provincewide basis.
The City continued to fund the CREST position - the only municipality on the hook for funding - after the provincial government indicated that removing City dollars would result in that position being removed from CREST, a reduction the City did not want to see at the time.
“Council at the time said, ‘okay we’ll let it play out and see how it goes, right, wrong or otherwise,’” city manager Sharla Griffiths said. “This council is looking at more of a community policing. We want more boots on the ground in our community. We want to have that 15th officer in our community.”
The move, she said should not affect the service the City receives from the CREST.
“Each district has its own, and when other areas of the province need them, they go," Griffiths said. "So the process should be if Dauphin needs something, they’ll come from other parts of the province.”
The time was right to make the move, Griffiths said, as the city is preparing for the development and implementation of a Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan later this year.
The world of community service has evolved and Dauphin’s new mayor is hopeful that not only will his council be open to new possibilities, but that other community organizations will take a critical look at their operations.
From a City perspective, David Bosiak would like to see councillors spend their time on projects they are passionate about and that they actually add value to a group or organization with which they are working.
“I don’t want councillors to grudgingly have to go to inefficient or ineffectively operated meetings, to sit through meetings that information could have been shared in a different way,” Bosiak said. “Councillors’ time is valuable and we have lots of things on our plates. I want the time they spend engaging with groups to be as effective and efficient as possible.”
Like any municipality, the City of Dauphin has to make decisions based on available resources, Bosiak said, adding he wants to ensure those resources are properly targeted.
“So I want to ensure that council and staff time is spent very effectively, but also those organizations which we fund, whether it’s with operating grants or special grants, even things like letters of support, I want to ensure that it’s all legitimate,” he said. “That the organizations are running as effectively as they possibly can to meet their mandate. Not to bow down to the City, but to meet their desired mandate.”
As part of that, Bosiak is hoping all community organizations take an open and honest look at their operations to ensure the time they spend in meetings and the time spent engaging with volunteers is effective. Volunteers are a valuable resource, Bosiak said, and organizations across the board are struggling to attract and retain them.
“In my work history of dealing with organizations who are functional and dysfunctional there’s a common thread. Many of the dysfunctional organizations have an inefficient and ineffective use of their resources, be that people or time or money ,” he said. “So I’m just trying to get organizations to take an honest look to see if there are more efficient ways of being. I want groups to willingly, not forced, but willingly look at themselves and determine are we being as effective as we possibly can be? Because resources are tight. That’s people, money, time, it’s all tight.”
Bosiak added he did not undertake this exercise presupposing any outcomes and whether those reviews will result in any changes is unclear.
“That’s the irony or the uniqueness of this. I have no motive . . . not to reduce funding or to reduce the number of meetings or the length of meetings, if that’s not necessary. My real goal is to determine what is necessary and to spend as much time and energy on those things and not the distractions,” he said. “I’ve had meetings with all of the councillors to discuss their roles on the various committees they’re on and (encourage them) to work towards making them efficient. And efficient doesn’t mean less, necessarily, because a lot of people get scared. ‘oh you’re going to cut our funding.’ No it’s about making you be as good as you can possibly be.”
Like all charitable events, the Trojans annual Stick it to Cancer is truly a community event where people from around the area donated their time, their money and their goods and services for the rainbow and silent auction tables in order to make the Expanding Community Cancer Care benefit game the rousing success - and such a heartwarming evening for nine years.
Almost every year since 2014, the Major Pratt Trojans have held a benefit game at the Russell Memorial Multiplex in aid of the expansion project.
Get all the details in this week's Russell Banner!
Last Friday, the Russell and District Regional Library joined hundreds of other learning establishments right across the country to celebrate Family Literacy Day.
Family Literacy Day takes place every January 27th to raise awareness about the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family. Taking time every day to read or do a learning activity with children is crucial to a child’s development, improving a child’s literacy skills dramatically, and can help a parent improve their skills as well. Since 1999, thousands of schools, libraries, literacy organizations and other community groups have taken part in the initiative.
The theme of this year’s Family Literacy Day was “Celebrate Your Heritage”. Canada is a great diverse country full of different cultures.
The goal of the theme of “Heritage” was to see that parents take the time to explore and learn about the historical stories and connection involving researching and learning about their shared heritage as a family. A few years ago the Russell and District Regional Library underwent an addition to the west end of the building.
The new space allows for a wealth of new activities and a chance to partner and spotlight other important community groups.
Check the full story out in this week's Russell Banner!
A new study in Manitoba shows how the great grey owl,” a common sight, either soaring over the plains or perching and nesting in the Boreal forests of the eastern Canadian prairies, overcomes many obstacles to find its prey.
The bird is able to “punch” through as much as 50 cms (20 inches) of hard, crusty snow – enough to hold a person’s weight – to catch a vole hiding beneath.
Details in this issue.