Yellowknife’s annual dog derby safe after Dominion steps in

Canadian Championship dog derby
Competitors begin the 2015 Canadian Championship dog derby.
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Organizers of the annual Canadian Championship dog derby in Yellowknife say sponsorship from Dominion Diamond has saved the race.

The Diavik mine was a former title sponsor of the 240 km race, which was then known as the Diavik 150 as the distance equates to roughly 150 miles.

However, the dog derby has had no such backing for the past two years.

The size of the new one-year deal with Dominion has not been disclosed.

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“It’s definitely an amount that takes a lot of pressure off,” said dog derby organizing team member Scott McQueen.

“For the last few years there’s always been that looming danger, until Dominion stepped forward here, that the dog derby wouldn’t go ahead. Every year, there’s that pressure that the event might not happen.

“It can be tough to continue when you don’t have any guarantees in place. To have Dominion Diamond step up is just a big sigh of relief.”

In January, fellow mining company De Beers revealed it would no longer sponsor Yellowknife’s Long John Jamboree festival. Organizers of the March festival responded by immediately cutting back on events, particularly an ice carving contest central to the success of last year’s show.

Related: De Beers defends decision to drop Long John Jamboree backing

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“This sponsorship was a very pleasant surprise, especially after the news that De Beers was pulling out of their sponsorship of the Jamboree,” continued McQueen.

In a news release late last week, Dominion chief executive Brendan Bell said the company was “committed to supporting our local communities and encouraging traditional activities”.

Bell’s comments come after a Long John Jamboree organizer appeared to imply De Beers – which is suspending operations at its Snap Lake diamond mine – was revising its “corporate responsibility” to the North. De Beers, in response, said that was unfair and it remained dedicated to working with northern communities.

This year’s Canadian Championship dog derby is set to take place over three days during the Long John Jamboree. McQueen said there had been “a lot of interest” in the 2016 edition, with a competitor from Rankin Inlet already registered and American contenders also set to enter.

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More: History of the Canadian Championship dog derby

“There’s a huge cost in putting the dog derby on. That reflects the cost of the sport: it’s really expensive nowadays,” McQueen told Moose FM.

“There are big equipment costs, food costs, housing your dogs, veterinary costs. We have to make sure there is compensation in place to cover all of these tremendous costs.

“Nowadays, I don’t think people realize the importance of dog sledding in the North’s past. Your level of comfort in the North, before, was largely dependent on your ability to train a good dog team.

“For that reason, the dog derby was a really big thing for all the communities around Yellowknife. It was such a huge honour, up until the late 1960s. That spirit is kept alive through the derby continuing on.”

Dominion Diamond has a stake in two NWT mines. The company holds an 80 percent share of the Ekati mine and operates the Diavik mine in a joint venture with Rio Tinto.

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