2018 Hudson Bay Quest Canceled

Hudson Bay Quest Churchill, Manitoba

Dave Daley leaving the start in Churchill. Nace Hageman photo.

For a second consecutive year the Hudson Bay Quest dog sled race, that runs from Churchill to Gillam every March, has been canceled. The ongoing saga of a washed out train line, known as the Hudson Bay Line, after runoff from two late-season blizzards in 2017 has again wreaked havoc on the region’s lifestyle. Without the train line to transport dogs and supplies for mushers, the expenses would be too steep for those wanting to compete.

“Normally what would happen was we would have our sponsors bring the mushers’ dog teams either to Churchill or from Churchill, depending on which direction the race was going,” said Bill Dingwall, Hudson Bay Quest committee chair.

“But this year, without the train, we couldn’t guarantee that the teams would either be able to get to the start or the finish, or home from the finish.”

The alternative would be returning by land with the dog teams after the race finishes and the cost for most mushers would be prohibitive

“That was quite a daunting task for a lot of the mushers and it would have cost them a lot more money,” said Dingwell.

“Once we put out that you’d be on your own to get to the start and home after the finish, I think it was an easy decision for a lot of the guys.”

Last year the Quest was canceled as well by one of the severe blizzards that buried the open tundra and made the trail too treacherous to run the dog teams.

“We were very disappointed last year because it was such a last minute decision to cancel,” he said. “This year we knew going in not having a rail line was going to be extremely hard to do with logistics of moving mushers, moving handlers, moving even our race marshal, our vets, and everybody … It wasn’t safe to do it, honestly.”

The Hudson Bay Quest is well known among the heartiest mushers as one of the most challenging races in North America. it annually draws mushers from all over the world and some use it as a stepping stone to bigger races such as the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. On a smaller scale, mushers are self – sufficient out on the land just like those races.

“It’s not as long [as others] but it’s a hard race … It’s so hard that if you finish the race, you get your registration money back. Doesn’t matter when you finish, we have a timeline, but if you finish we give your registration money back just because it’s that much of an accomplishment, we feel.”

In a “normal year”, which in the north such a phrase carries a completely different meaning, the Quest will draw from 12 – 16 mushers and dog teams. This year only four had entered this far and three of those opted to defer their registration fees to next years event with the hope that the train line will be repaired and the region will be back in business. A decision to only proceed this year if a minimum of six racers entered was made early on. With the deadline to enter looming race organizers officially pulled the plug on this one.

The race has been an iconic event for the region for a long time and once the rail line is repaired it will happen again. Churchill, in particular, has suffered extensively from the lack of train service. The polar bear season was a needed boost to the morale and economy of the town but a long-term solution is needed. Town officials expect news soon on the transfer of the port and accompanying rail line and the future of the Hudson Bay Quest. Stay posted to our site for upcoming news on the ongoing drama in the north!

Churchill Floods Cause Havoc on Train Service


Churchill flooding

Flooding at Churchill’s Goose Creek subdivision. Riccki O’Connor photo.

Nobody really thought ahead when the massive blizzards were pounding Churchill this past March. When the spring thaw came, permafrost has prevented meltwater from permeating the soil and has lead to major flooding in parts of the tundra from Thompson to Churchill along the Hudson Bay rail line.

Once again, as was during the time of the blizzards, supplies and groceries have been delayed due to lack of train service to the northern community. During the March storms groceries were stranded in the south for three weeks leading to a state of emergency.

“With the spring melt underway, water is everywhere”, said Mayor Mike Spence. “We’ve got historic record water flows coming into our community here. It’s a lot of water coming down,”.

Not expected to peak until early June, the Churchill River, as of last weekend, was flowing at about 160,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). With ice still on the Churchill River the flow of overrun onto land can be unpredictable due to tidal flow and ice jamming along shore.

The Goose Creek subdivision has been flooded up river and volunteers have been furiously filling and placing sandbags to try to contain the water. The tracks over parts of the 100 mile stretch of the Hudson Bay rail line have been completely flooded over and no trains have been through since May 23rd.

“We have a rail problem here where we are not able to use the train system because of damage to the rail line, so that needs to be attended to, and that actually can’t be attended to until the water conditions are dealt with.” stated Spence.

Churchill is working with Thompson’s Calm Air, to work out plans to fly groceries into town as soon as possible!

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