On March 15 at noon, nine teams of sled dogs began the 220-mile adventured of the Hudson Bay Quest. Team left the Stephens Lake Boat Launch in two-minute intervals and headed north for the first checkpoint at the Owl River. The trail this year was hard and fast and team found their way to the cabin with the first team arriving at 5:57 p.m. Martin Massicotte quickly checked in and back out with many of his competitors doing the same in trying to keep pace with the leader. Some teams did decide to check in and rest their dogs before completing the next 45-mile run to M’Clintock.
Massicotte continue to make small stops to snack dogs and change dog boots, but the stops were not very long. With teams hot on his heels, Massicotte pulled into the six-hour mandatory stop in M’Clintock with a 28-minute lead over the next competitor Denis Tremblay. Teams continued to trickle in throughout the night while the leading teams slept and recharged. Seven of the nine teams had checked into M’Clintock before Massicotte got his team up and headed north once again. With a 28-minute lead over his nearest competitor (Denis Tremblay), Massicote headed north to the Chesney checkpoint some 30 miles down the trail. Teams continued to depart throughout the day from M’Clintock with their six-hour rest and time differential served. The last dog team arrived into M’Clintock at 12:02 p.m.
Massicotte continued his hard charging and checked in and directly back out of Chesney and headed for Churchill. Most of the other teams did the same trying to keep Massicotte within striking distance in case something happened to his team. But in the end Massicotte’s team never wavered from the their speedy pace and at 3 p.m. on March 16 the Town of Churchill’s fire siren sounded, inviting all the town members down to the finish line to welcome the race winner into the finisher’s hut. At 3:19 p.m. Martin Massicotte from St. Tites, Quebec crossed the finish line smashing his previous race record by four hours and 58 minutes. The next team to cross was Denis Tremblay at 3:46 p.m. followed by Blake Freking at 4:52 p.m. Peter McClennan was the next musher to set off the fire siren at 6:34 p.m., then rookie Jacob Leingang at 8:08 p.m., followed by Shawn McCarty at 8:57 p.m., Dave Daley at 4:06 a.m. March 17 and Kevin Malikowski at 4:31 a.m. March 17. It would be 22 hours and 18 minutes before the last team of Ed Obrecht would set off the siren in the wee hours of Monday morning crossing the line at 2:49 a.m.
The finishers’ banquet was held on Monday evening at the Churchill Recreation Centre with all the competitors, handlers, checkpoint personnel and volunteers in attendance. A prime rib feast was presented followed by awards and stories from the trail.
This year’s awards were handed out as follows: Calm Air Sportsman Award – Dave Daley; Ducks Unlimited Handler Award – Mary Martin (handler for Dave Daley); Junior Handler Award – Morgan McCarty (handler for Shawn McCarty); Volunteer Award – Jeff Robinson; Veterinarian Award – Jacob Leingang; First Team to McClintock – Martin Massicotte; Best Checkpoint Award – Chesney Checkpoint; Red Lantern Award – Ed Obrecht.
As in HBQ tradition, Louise Lawrie presented the Sigurdson & Martin Award to each musher. Louise is a committee member and a resident of Churchill. She brings great tradition to the HBQ as Ms. Lawrie as a small child used to travel by dog team with her father who use to transport Hudson Bay furs from the trading posts in the area to Churchill. This year’s award was a very impressive multi-tool.
After all the organizers, veterinarians, trail bosses, racers, handlers, volunteers and the 4th Canadian Rangers received their personnel patches from the HBQ, it was time to celebrate the 2019 winner. Carrying on another tradition of the HBQ since its conception in 2004, all the competitors raised the winner’s sled with him standing on the runners.
Teams stuck around Churchill for the next day, exercising their dogs with a run out to Prince of Wales Fort site before loading their team on to railway cars supplied by the Hudson Bay Railway for the trip back to Gilliam and their dog trucks.
Special thanks go out to principal sponsors: Via Rail, Calm Air, Churchill Mitigation Trust Fund, Hudson Bay Railway, Manitoba Hydro, Polar Inn and all the other sponsors without whose continual support this race would not be possible.
And as always a big thank you goes to the 4th Canadian Rangers who man the checkpoints throughout this race and keep all of us involved in the Hudson Bay Quest safe and comfortable while out on the HBQ trail. We couldn’t do this race without them.
So after weathering a horrific snowstorm in 2017 and the Hudson Bay Railway system being closed 2018, the organizers of the Hudson Bay Quest were able to rally the troops, sponsors and volunteers and pull off the 2019 Hudson Bay Quest. Organizers have already met and are taking into consideration suggestions put forth for the 2020 HBQ. So set your calendars for March 19 for the noon start in Churchill, Manitoba.
Jim Cunningham is the Hudson Bay Quest race marshal.