Until the advent of the snowmobiles in the middle of the 20th century, dog teams served as a primary mode of winter transportation along the Gunflint Trail. In the early winter days of the Gunflint Trail, the road to Grand Marais was rarely plowed and Gunflint Trail residents had to fend for themselves during the long, cold winters. Dogs were an invaluable way to transport individuals and supplies, especially for those such as the Bensons and Powells who lived on the Canadian side of Saganaga Lake. During winters from 1879-99, John Beargrease brought mail from Two Harbors to Grand Marais once a week via dog sled.
The Gunflint Trail is plowed in the winter now and now dog teams on the Gunflint are kept not for necessity, but recreation. A dog sled ride with one of the beloved dog teams on the Gunflint offers residents and visitors to the area a taste of what life was once like in the Minnesota wilds. Cook County, MN remains home to a vibrant mushing community and local kennels both provide dog sled rides and participate in wide variety of races around the state and country.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of dog sledding in Cook County, the Cook County Historical Society is hosting a conversation on dog sledding in the community room of the CCHS Museum in downtown Grand Marais (the light keeper’s house). Tim White, Beth Gagnon Drost, Arleigh Jorgenson, and Bruce Kerfoot will speak on the topic on Saturday, January 22nd at 3:00 p.m. A special dog sledding exhibit is also currently on display at the CCHS Museum through the month of January. It’s a great way to keep your history appetite whetted until Chik-Wauk’s opening in May.