A MAGICAL RIDE Dogsledding becomes a popular winter adventure

After the dogs were hitched, we left for this magnificent adventure bathed in silence, wind and barking with great sensations

For Gilles Vaillant of Vincennes, France, the chance to go dog sledding in northern New Brunswick was “a dream come true.”

“After the dogs were hitched, we left for this magnificent adventure bathed in silence, wind and barking with great sensations,” he said, describing the adventure he took with his wife, Christine, during a visit to Canada in 2014. Christine - who is usually uncomfortable around dogs - described the sled dogs as endearing and beautiful, and her experience as “a magical ride.” “It was very impressive for me to see as soon as they were hitched, that I had to press hard on the brake as they had one desire to take off,” she said.

“They were barking very hard to go.” The first known use of putting dogs to work to pull sleds dates back some 4,000 years, but more recently dog sledding has become an enjoyable winter activity that is drawing tourists to Canada for the experience. For Diane LeClerc, dog sledding is a chance to bond with her dogs and to educate the public on the sport and her Acadian culture in northern New Brunswick.

“It's the nature, the silence, the peace, the liberty that you get from that,” she said. “You can't imagine until you try it.” LeClerc was born in northern New Brunswick but spent much of her life in Quebec - working at the Granby Zoo for 24 years. “I always wanted to come back to New Brunswick to do dog sledding,” she said. “I came back, bought a house and 33 acres with my dogs.”

In 2014, LeClerc opened Sled Dog Adventures in Allardville, N.B., and in her first season drew tourists from such places as Germany, Madagascar, Turkey, Japan, China and France. She said people come for the experience. “It's the dogs, it's the outdoors, and it's more than that. You get a relationship with the dogs and you can't imagine how the dogs are strong, how they listen and how loving they are.”

Add to that the scenery as the dogs take riders along snow-covered trails through forest and fields. “It's for all ages. You don't have to be athletic to do dog sledding.” So far, LeClerc has nine adult dogs and 15 pups. She has seven sleds of various heights to match the people who use them.

She uses three or four dogs per sled, depending on the weight of the riders. Participants also have a chance to sample the Acadian culture of the area through the food. LeClerc said she serves such fare as chicken fricot, a traditional stew, and cake made with wild blueberries. Gilles Vaillant said he and his wife enjoyed the Acadian meal and the interesting conversation. “The next morning after a good breakfast, like all good things come to an end, we left the place with the desire to return as soon as possible,” he said. LeClerc is also doing an educational program with schools and with the Girl Guides of Canada. Sled Dog Adventures offers a variety of packages ranging from a two-kilometre ride that takes 20 minutes to a five-day trek that covers 80 kilometres and can include snowmobiling, ice fishing, hockey and more. Another company, Northwoods Survival, also offers half- and full-day mushing adventures and dog driver instruction from its location in Knowlesville in western New Brunswick. Jason Hoyt, a spokesman for New Brunswick's Department of Tourism, said the development of dog sledding operations in the province is helping to broaden the experiences that can be offered to potential visitors during the winter months. “With the most snow in the Maritimes, we are perfectly positioned to draw Maritimers and Quebecers here for snowmobiling, skiing and dog sledding,” he said. The cost of dog sledding packages varies greatly depending on the duration, and if accommodation or other features are included. Registration in advance is recommended. www.snowdogadventures.com www.northwoodssurvival.com www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca

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