It was the only sporting event left on the calendar in Yellowknife which had yet to be cancelled.
But it, too, was forced to wave the white flag over the weekend, conceding to COVID-19.
The Canadian Championship Dog Derby, which was set to kick off this coming Friday down on Yellowknife Bay, was forced to pull the plug on proceedings on Sunday following a new recommendation from Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory’s chief public health officer, that gatherings of all sorts should be called off.
“We held out as long as we could,” said Dianna Beck, who works on the derby’s organizing committee. “But we got the e-mail from the chief environmental health officer (Peter Workman) with the new recommendation and we had to pull the trigger.”
The race was originally given the go-ahead after officials from the Department of Health and Social Services were satisfied that Beck and her crew had met all of the requirements to ensure the well-being and safety of anyone who either raced or attended the derby. That all changed when the territory’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced by Dr. Kandola on Saturday.
“The more things went on, the more we understood why it had to be done,” said Beck. “We discussed everything we could to have people keep their distance, like watching from cars and spray-painting spectator areas but we can’t do crowd-control. We just don’t have the volunteers to do that and all of the factors played a part in the race being cancelled.”
This year’s race was shaping up to be a big one with several mushers from within and outside the NWT set to line up, Beck added.
“We had six mushers from the NWT outside of Yellowknife and six or seven mushers coming in from outside the territory,” she said. “Some of those mushers were already out on the circuit and were on their way to Yellowknife when we had to tell them that the borders were closing. They were the first ones we told about the situation.”
That was the first recommendation made by health authorities: close it up and make it a NWT-only event, which Beck said the plans were working toward, and it still would have been a pretty full house.
“We did a lot of work to grow the race this year,” she said. “We made a lot of gains in the number of mushers that were coming and the purse we were going to give out.”
That purse totalled in excess of $50,000 with $10,000 going to the winner of the 10-dog, 150-mile main event. The race cancellation also means that the Yellowknifer Knife will not be handed out for the first time in 48 years. The knife is awarded to the top-finishing Yellowknife-based musher in the main event.
Beck said there is no way that the race can happen in 2020 because even if the situation surrounding COVID-19 gets any better, the weather simply won’t allow for it.
“We’re going to make the push for 2021 and try and keep all of the momentum we’ve built going for next year,” she said.