Without sled-dogs there could be no winter travel over the great territories of the Far Canadian North, and consequently little or no fur trade. Possibly you have never had occasion to think of such a modern thing as commerce in connection with those great snow-bound wildernesses that lie beyond the white man's country : possibly it never occurred to you that the winter life of Indian and Eskimo could concern you in any way at all. Yet, since to them do we owe thanks for great stores of fur pelts, they touch on our lives in an indirect way even as far " back home " as London, Paris, New York, and in all cities; though few people who buy rich furs over city shop counters picture the drear surroundings in which fur-bearing animals are captured-interminable wastes of snow; intense cold, even blizzard; and lone men with patient wolf-dogs battling against bitter, merciless Arctic winter. Perhaps only Vikings of the ancient Hudson Bay Company, and others of the like who have traded in fur for half a century, really know how much is yearly harvested by the aid of the sled-dog. Just as civilisation cannot to-day do without railways, so the Far North cannot subsist in winter without dog-trains; dogs which are the means of gathering from great distances, and long trap-lines, the choicest furs for the markets of civilisation; and that gather also the fuel-wood and winter food that keep alive the dusky-hued races that hunt through the dark months of the year for treasures that are coveted by cultured people.
Let a stranger enter the North ; let him come to a far-out fur Post, and he will be wonderstruck at the canine population; for if a Post contain ten hunting Indians it is highly probable that the whole foreground will be dominated by some 120 to 150 sled-dogs. The proportion of man to dog is usually on such an astonishing scale.
It is certain that the stranger will wonder to see such numbers of those uncommon beasts of burden, and possibly he will be somewhat surprised that the natives of the Far North so extensively rear dogs for utility, with much of the same purpose as his own people would rear horses in the civilised South.
And he cannot but remark the striking presence, and stalwart wolf-build of those dogs: some half-wild, disdainful, powerful; beautifully proportioned, beautifully coated; others less handsome cross-strains, rough-coated, unevenly coloured, but brim-full of courage and strong to endure.
To find the true type of sled-dogs, or wolf-dogs, or huskies, or malamoots-call them what you will out of those names of the country- one must come to the far-out fur Posts ; for good dogs, like good Indians, lie nowadays beyond the outposts of the white settler. That the finest dogs are in the Far North is perhaps due to their untrammelled surroundings, and to the nature of their feeding, for, on the fringes of the Frontier, fish, the chief dog-food, is often scarce, and in demand for human food, whereas in the Far North fish are plentiful and little sought in the clear waters of the countless lakes and rivers that abound in those distant places. Moreover in Frontier settlements, and such Posts where white and halfbreed and Indian intermingle, and are unsettled by more modern enterprises than the old-world, patient, plodding fur trade, the sled-dogs are often outcast when their winter's work is done, and remain through summer no man's care, little better than thieving curs, kicked and abused by everyone.
If you are travelling north, particularly in summer, it is sure to be your misfortune on the early outward trail to run foul of those thieving fellows, who instil in you a firm distrust of every sled-dog in existence long before you have cleared their unhealthy habitat. All sled-dogs steal-even the best of them-but the untended outcasts of the Posts near the edge of civilisation are particular vagabonds. My most memorable losses by dog-thieves-memorable because they seriously shortened my carefully calculated food-store on a long outward canoe journey between two ports-was the loss of a shoulder of dried moose meat, stolen from over my head at night, and a week's baking of " bannock" (sour-dough bread) plundered a few days later from a grub box in camp during a heavy storm.
It is not uncommon to find an outcast dog, or a lost dog, living along the shores of lake or river like a totally wild animal. Living thus they gather oddments of food from the water's edge, besides what live prey they catch, such oddments as dead fish that are washed ashore, or carcass of duck or gull; sometimes too they chance on a nest of eggs, while if there are berries ripening in the woods they will even devour those in their hunger. It is under such circumstances that one may observe the full reawakened wild-natured cunning of those brutes, for their sense of smell when roaming thus becomes keen and suspicious as a wolf's, and they will examine any particle of food with great care before daring to touch it, as if they feared poison or a trap with all the dread of a once caught, once escaped, wild thing. If you want further proof of how close they are to their wild forefathers, watch them at dusk, cunning as wolf or fox, and as naturally stealing through the pine woods over dry, moss-grown knolls, eyes and ears and nose alert, treading stealthily with head forward and tail straight, ready instantly to pounce on grouse or rabbit or any living thing the high-strung senses may detect.
There is one thing in the way of food that, as far as I know, a sled-dog will not touch, and that is mice. I've seen dead mice lying outside cabins for days untouched, where ravenous sled-dogs existed. This is peculiar, because some domestic dogs will eat mice, though it is true they are often sick after doing so.
I have said that all sled-dogs will steal. I'm afraid that is true, and I cannot revoke even such sweeping judgment, but what I like about the dogs in the Far North is that they have the grace to acknowledge themselves rascals, for they stand aloof from mankind, half-wild, half-afraid, making no overtures or pretences of friendship - and they steal whenever they can. On the other hand, poor-caste mongrels of the Frontier may sidle up to you in friendly fashion, and you, in good humour, may treat them kindly-then turn your back, and they sneak into your tent and plunder whatever is at hand. This sort of thing can be very annoying, and the only thing to do is to steel one's feelings against all and treat them as rogues-every one.