The Village of Calowrie, Manitoba is located about four miles south of St. Malo and is home to a world champion dog musher.
Dave Hochman says he and his mom used to live in Winnipeg where he and a friend delivered papers door-to-door. He notes his friend had a German Shepherd and he used the dog to pull a sled and help him in his deliveries.
"I wanted a husky or a dog that looked like a wolf and I wanted to do the same thing."
Hochman says he convinced his mom to purchase a Samoyed at the Festival De Voyageur, where they used to hold sled dog races.
"That's how I started, with one dog. That Samoyed, I taught how to pull me on my ten-speed [bike]. She used to pull me around at 12 miles an hour because I had a speedometer on my bike. She was no good at delivering papers because she wouldn't stop. My friend's dog would stop and he could pick up another bundle of papers and then cross a bunch of people's yards. My dog, as soon as you stopped she would just scream to go."
He notes while at the Festival De Voyageur purchasing his first dog, he quickly discovered there was a three-dog class race.
"So, I figured if I convinced my mom to get two more dogs then I could enter the race."
In 1980 Hochman says he competed in his first race with his three dogs. He notes there used to be quite the sled dog race circuit in southern Manitoba including in Seven Sister Falls, Selkirk, and Winnipeg adding there were also circuits in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. He says he's also raced in Quebec, northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Anchorage in Alaska, and Laconia in New Hampshire.
He notes after a year-and-a-half, he and his mom moved to Ile des Chenes where his race team grew to nine dogs. Some municipalities have a limit on how many dogs a resident is allowed to have, however, Hochman says in the Animal Control Act it states that sled dogs are exempt as a commercial enterprise.
Hochman says he has never raced the Iditarod, as he's into sprint racing and that race is about 566 kilometres in length and takes between 8 and 15 days to complete. He notes he has raced on part of the same trail used for the Iditarod.
"I raced in the world championship for Rendezvous. It was really neat because we raced as many dogs as you could handle, so I raced the 18 dogs downtown through the streets. You've got to go over an eight-lane highway, you've got to go through several culverts. It's live telecast by helicopter so we all had, back then it was walkmans with earphones so we could hear where our position was live on tv. It was neat because people were screaming my name from the top of balconies. I had never experienced that in my life."
To acquire the world champion title in 2008, Hochman says it took him seven tries at the world championship sled dog race in The Pas. He notes there was one musher from Saskatchewan, Kevin Cook, who was a 12-time world champion at this particular race.
"It's quite a feat to even come close to him. The first day I passed him and he looked at me he said, 'my goodness you have a dog team' and I said, 'only in my wildest dreams.' It was a lifelong dream to win this race. He beat me the second day and it was 18-seconds between us for the title. The third day I won by three-and-a-half minutes. I just got it all together."
He says the races in The Pas consisted of three 35-mile heats each day, equaling 106-miles in three days.
"The race has a lot of history. What used to happen, it used to be a fur trade rendezvous where all the fur trappers used to get together in the spring and they used to see who had the best sled dogs. Then, after that, when the snowmobile was invented, they wanted to keep it up, keep the mushing sport alive. So, they decided to host the world championship dog derby. I think it's been going on since 1912 and stopped during the two World Wars."
Hochman notes the longest race he's ever done was in Yellowknife where he raced three 50-mile heats.
He says the next race he will be participating in is the Winter Carnival in Vita on January 13-14.
"The dog races that we put on are a mass start which means all the teams are lined up at once and a flag goes off and sometimes there are 100 to 250 dogs that take off at once. They're yappy at the start and once that flag goes off you won't hear a peep. Imagine standing on runners that are two-inches high at 20 miles an hour and the only thing you hear are the sounds of the runners hitting the snow and the panting of the dogs. Very exhilarating."
Hochman says he would like to see the sport of dog mushing grow, adding he would most like to see the sled dog races reinstated at the Festival De Voyageur.
"I think it's part of the French-Canadian heritage. The country was developed on mail runs and RCMP posts were all run by sled dogs back in the day. So, I would like that to continue."
He notes he also likes to mentor people who want to get into the sport of dog mushing.