In 1970, a unique endeavour was undertaken to mark the centennial of the entry into Confederation of the Northwest Territories, which was much larger in 1870 than it is today.
A mail run by dogsleds – in relays from community to community – was made from Fort Smith to Inuvik.
The Western Arctic Centennial Dogsled Mail Run was organized by the GNWT, and inside special envelopes was a proclamation from then Commissioner Stuart Hodgson recognizing the NWT’s 100 years as part of Canada.
The special mail run began on March 15 and ended on April 12, 1970.
And recently, Sholto Douglas of Fort Smith obtained three of the special envelopes, and decided to present them to the people who participated in the mail run or the communities they represented, if the mushers were no longer living.
His first presentation of a framed envelope was made on March 5 to K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) to honour two of its members who were among the mushers – the late Sam Lamalice and the late John Smallgeese.
“They took the mail from here and they went all the way to Fort Providence,” said Douglas, while making the presentation to KFN Chief April Martel during the March 5 opening ceremonies of K’amba Carnival.
Douglas, the vice-president of the NWT Dog Sledding Association, was joined in making the presentation by Fort Resolution’s Bess Ann McKay, the association’s president. Both were helping with the dog races at K’amba Carnival – McKay as the event co-ordinator and Douglas as the race official.
Martel thanked them for the special envelope carried 50 years ago by KFN members.
The chief said she and the rest of KFN were “honoured” to receive it.
In the coming weeks, Douglas plans to make presentations in Fort Smith and Fort Resolution.
In Fort Smith, a framed envelope will be given to Gordon Mason, who was the first musher on the relay.
In Fort Resolution, a presentation will honour Tommy Beaulieu and the late Henry Edjericon.
After Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, Hay River and Fort Providence, the special mail run proceeded to Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson, Wrigley, Fort Norman (now Tulita), Norman Wells, Fort Good Hope, Arctic Red River (now Tsiigehtchic), Fort McPherson, Aklavik and Inuvik.
Douglas noted that the three packets of mail were opened in Inuvik.
“People had an opportunity at that time to go and get some of these envelopes as mementos,” he said.
Douglas, who was living in Tulita at the time, remembers the special mail run passing through the community when he was a teenager.
“I remember those dogs pulling into Fort Norman into the schoolyard,” he said.
There, the packets were taken out of one sleigh and put into another.
Recently, Douglas obtained three of the special envelopes, which were postmarked on the date of the 100th anniversary and bear stamps issued to mark the centennial.
The envelopes came from Boyd Warner, a former NWT resident now living in Alberta.
Douglas and Warner were talking at Warner’s residence, when the Western Arctic Centennial Dogsled Mail Run happened to come up. And Warner said he had some of the envelopes, which were collected by his father.
“I was dumbstruck, basically,” said Douglas, who offered to present three of the envelopes to the still-living mushers in the South Slave or their communities.
If he can find more of the envelopes, he hopes to make similar presentations in communities down the Mackenzie Valley.