Dog Sledding with Boreal Journeys, just outside Thunder Bay

Pull of the Wild

By Shannon Leahy

The following article is an edited version of material originally published in the Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 edition of The Chronicle-Journal (Thunder Bay).

Leahy couple on sled

If an Alaskan husky ever jumps up, puts paws on your shoulders, looks you dead in the eye and sticks its tongue in your mouth, you've been kissed. 

At Boreal Journeys Sled Dog Kennel in Kaministiquia, 45 minutes west of Thunder Bay, dog hugs and dog kisses are common.

Paul Amano, owner and full-time musher at Boreal, basks in the canine friskiness. His 40 huskies are powerful creatures whose eyes shine with good humour and sharp intelligence. The kennel's love for Paul is as astonishing as it is vocal. Barking and howling reach a fevered pitch as Paul meanders through the winter colony's sturdy dog houses and large puppy pen.

The morning is a classic northern Ontario winter's day: snow, sun and cold. We're only 30 minutes into our half-day journey at the kennel and my fear of dogs is already gone.

I'm confident my feet will be gone too. They're frozen.

As Paul leads us away from the kennel, inquisitive barks and spine-tingling howls mark our departure. The dogs, according to Paul, are summoning us back, concerned we are running into the wild without them.

After marching through jack pine toward packed trail, we are heckled by a whiskey jack perched above a pair of empty sleds. Crafted by local woodworker and sled maker Brian Wiese, the basket-style sleds carry up to 150 lbs of cargo and two adult mushers.

Leahy running dogs boreal

Working in shifts, the five of us will be pulled through up to 40 kilometres of Kaministiquia landscape depending on snow conditions and our courage. 

Paul will control the sled from the back seat and stand on the sled's skies. The guest musher stands in front of Paul and is also responsible for keeping their feet on the skies and shifting their weight as the sled rounds corners. 

The orientation's focus on safety and teamwork sets off a new fear.

I had planned on acting as a spectator, a giggling dog-sledding tourist, rather than a musher with responsibilities. While planning this excursion from Toronto, I had imagined sitting in the sled's basket waving at wildlife while sipping a latte.

My pipe dreaming is interrupted by the arrival of our sled dogs. Five Alaskan huskies – Eureka, Louise, Nanabijou, Marlin and Savage – are the furry Northern Ontario ambassadors set to pull me into the wild and out of my urban shell.

Leahy unmoving dogs boreal
Boreal Journey dogs getting ready to run the trail - Photo Credit Shannon Leahy


What happens on the trail stays on the trail, but I will tell you this: You must go dog sledding at least once in your lifetime, preferably with Paul and his dogs. Dog sledding through some of Canada's most iconic and revered landscape changes your life. Yes, you'll feel proud to be Canadian, and proud that northern Ontario is your home.

But a call from the wild connects you to something else, too. Perhaps it's the exquisite silence that falls once the dogs start running. Maybe it's the animal tracks that blur by or the way the sun hits the snow or the hard crunch of the beaten trail. But something is out there you need to feel to believe.

When we showed up at Boreal Journeys, we were looking for adventure. What we found was a magical place stewarded by kind, generous people and dogs utterly at peace with the joyful burdens they pull behind them.  

All 40 dogs marked our departure with lonesome howls. Whatever those dogs sang to us from their Boreal Journeys world, it's a song that promises to call each of us into the wild again, no matter the season, no matter the trail that lies ahead.

About Shannon Leahy

Shannon Leahy comes from the snowy shores of Lake Superior. After earning her storytelling stripes at the family dinner table in Thunder Bay, Shannon began collecting stories in Ireland, Japan and even Calgary. A professional storyteller and writer, Shannon founded Raystorm Communications shortly after escaping the Toronto publishing world. Today she leads storytelling workshops, writes about lighthouses and chases travel stories across Canada.

Related Articles

Experience Your Perfect Summer in Thunder Bay

An A to Z guide to outdoor adventure in this scenic Northern Ontario city

Conquer a Giant

This iconic Northwest Ontario landmark rises 1000 ft above the surface of Lake Superior.

A Pancake is Just a Pancake... Or Is It?

The Top 10 Places to get Finn Pancakes in Thunder Bay

Green Mantle and Nanabijou's Wife

Discover the Legends of Thunder Bay's Natural Wonders

12 best places to stay in Thunder Bay

A boutique courthouse, art-filled hostel, or a luxe waterfront hotel—TBay has accommodations for every taste.

A Bird's-Eye View of Thunder Bay

Mount McKay Lookout - Anemki Wajiw is a must-do in this Northwestern Ontario city

The Best Sights to See in Thunder Bay

From the legendary Sleeping Giant to Indigenous art galleries these Thunder Bay attractions are not to be missed.

Fishing in the City

Discover Thunder Bay's Urban Angling Hotspots

Top 5 places to view the Sleeping Giant

Thunder Bay's Most Famous Landmark and the best places to see it

Discover What’s New in Thunder Bay

From rainbow hot dogs to a massive patio expansion in the Waterfront District, here's what's new and hot right now. Hint: It's hot sauce.

12 Places to Go Walleye Fishing In and Around Thunder Bay

Catch your limit and experience the province's best angling near this Northwest Ontario city.

Two Days of Italian Cuisine and Culture

An August Long Weekend Tradition

Rainy Days and Everyday

Indoor Play Areas for Kids in Thunder Bay

Landing the Big Fish at June Derby In Red Rock

Memories of a Legend

Remembering Terry Fox at Memorial Sites near Thunder Bay

The Birth of Thunder Pride

A Look Back to the Beginning of Thunder Bay's LGBTQ Pride Festival

Treasure Hunting in Thunder Bay

A longtime thrifter's story—and some hot tips!

Thunder Bay's Bay & Algoma Neighbourhood

Find Something for Everyone in this Unique Shopping Area

There's Alpacas! And you need to visit them!

This farm grows fuzzballs!

Cruising Northwest Ontario on the 11/17 West Loop

On a solo ride from Thunder Bay to Manitoba