A unique, long-running event that allows you to send mail carried by dog team to anywhere in the world is coming up at the end of January in Quesnel, Wells and Barkerville.
This year will mark the 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run, a Cariboo tradition in which mushers, sworn in as official Canada Post mail carriers for the three-day event, carry mail from Quesnel to Barkerville. The Mail Run started in 1993, the year Quesnel hosted the Northern B.C. Winter Games.
“We wanted to do something special for the Northern B.C. Winter Games, and so we got the idea of having what’s called a mid-distance run with dogs, from Quesnel to Wells-Barkerville, and to carry the mail,” said Jeff Dinsdale, an organizer and participant who has taken part in every single Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run.
Mail Run participants carry special Mail Run envelopes that feature different artwork each year and are stamped “Carried by dog team.”
That first envelope from 1993 features a photograph from the movie Call of the Wild, which was being filmed in Barkerville. Every year since then, there’s been a distinctive envelope, often adorned with artwork by a local artist.
Every year, the envelope is cancelled in Quesnel, Wells and Barkerville because there are functioning post offices in those three communities.
“What’s really distinctive about the mail run in Quesnel is that it’s real Canada Post mail,” said Dinsdale. “People are writing a note to whomever, and it goes in the mail with a real stamp, it’s carried by dog team from Quesnel to Barkerville, and then when it gets to Barkerville, it goes into the regular mail system and gets delivered throughout the world. It’s not uncommon for mail from the mail run to end up in over 50 countries. That’s what makes it really quite unique and special.”
The Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run started off in 1993 as a race. It was a timed event, and there was prize money. The route was much longer than it is now, 320 kilometres, because it was a qualifying race for the Iditarod. Now, the Mail Run is not timed, and there are no prizes.
“It’s a participation event, but it’s also a living history event,” said Dinsdale. “People who are taking part are reliving a significant part of our Cariboo Gold Rush history.”
Dinsdale says there are documented records and photos of mail being delivered along the Yukon Telegraph Trail from the turn of the 20th century to the 1920s by dog team, and while mail was not delivered to the Barkerville area by dog team because the snowfall was too deep to make it practical, there are documented records of some miners using sled dogs in that area for their own personal use, travelling back and forth to their claims.
“Now, to be totally honest, sled dogs were not a big part of the Cariboo Gold Rush, and it’s important also to keep in mind, when we are talking about mail and sled dogs, we’re talking about the delivery of mail in the winter,” he said. “The First Nations in this area never had sled dogs; they never used them. The other reality is that the snow was simply too deep for almost anything, actually. Sled dogs were not a big part of the gold rush history, but sled dogs were a big part of delivering mail in Quesnel.”
As far as Dinsdale knows, there are other mail runs, but the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run is the only mail run using real mail and regular postage that is still running in the world.
This year’s unique mail run envelope features artwork by Christine Yaffe of Quesnel, who also produced the artwork for last year’s mail run envelopes and for the 2018 envelopes.
Envelopes can be purchased on the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run’s website or in-person at several outlets in Quesnel, Bouchie Lake, Wells and Barkerville. The deadline for online orders to be included in the mail run is Jan. 21.
The 28th Annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run takes place Jan. 23-26.
The event begins with a participant and volunteer meeting Thursday, Jan. 23 at 5 p.m. at A&W at Three Mile Flat.
Participants will be sworn in as official mail carriers Friday, Jan. 24 at 9 a.m. in front of the Quesnel Post Office on Reid Street, and then the first stage of the mail run begins at 11 a.m. at Umiti Pit, 17 kilometres north of Quesnel.
The second stage of the mail run begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25 at Troll Ski Resort, and there will be Musher’s Sports and other activities that afternoon, starting at 2 p.m.
The Gold Rush Sled Dog Trail Run social, dinner, awards, and silent and live auctions will take place at 5 p.m. in the main lodge at Troll Resort. Contact Cathy@dogsledmailrun.ca for tickets or order them online at sleddogmailrun.ca.
The third stage of the mail run takes place Sunday, Jan. 26, and Jan. 26 is also the Barkerville Dash, a fun race in which the mail carriers are joined by many other participants to end the mail run.
“Those people who are in the Dash, a lot of them will be skiers,” said Dinsdale. “Some are snowshoers; we’ve had people ride those big fat-tire bikes; we’ve had people with kick sleds; there’s been people running — they travel from Wells to Barkerville, along with all of the mail carriers as well. It all finishes in front of the post office in Barkerville. It’s always been a really, really neat experience to do that last leg. The distance from Wells to Barkerville is about 10 kilometres, so most people, they just have fun doing it. That is a race, but it is with kind of a smile, because everybody is timed, and the whole intent is you’re supposed to be racing to Barkerville so you can stake your gold claim.”
On-site registration and check-in for Dash-only participants is at 10:30 a.m. at the Jack O’ Clubs General Store in Wells.
Stage three begins at 11 a.m. in Barkerville, and mushers will carry the mail to Jack O’ Clubs General Store, where the Barkerville Dash will start at noon.
All participants will race through the meadow from Wells to Barkerville, and they are expected to arrive at the finish in front of the Post Office on Barkerville’s main street starting around 12:15 p.m.
There will be an awards and wind-up at 2 p.m. at the Jack O’ Clubs, and at 3 p.m., there will be a special screening of the short film Shadow Trap, which was shot on location last year in Barkerville. This film introduces audiences to the story of Simon Gunanoot, a well-respected Gitxsan hunter and merchant, who spent 13 years on the run after being accused of a double murder in 1906.
For more information about the mail run, visit sleddogmailrun.ca.