Dogsled business glided into farm owner’s life

Doug Nixon made a life-changing decision 14 years ago. A representative from Talisman Resort Village called him to ask whether his farm offered dogsledding. If it did, they would include his information in a winter brochure.

So he decided on the spot: he told the caller that he would run his own dogsledding farm, now known as Rob Roy Snow Dogs.

Workers and visitors alike enjoy petting and interacting with the dogs at Nixon’s farm. Different types of groups go dogsledding throughout the winter, including families, school groups as well as corporate groups. (Aneta Tasheva)

“I had to scramble and find dogs … I had to get the harnesses, the sleds,” Nixon said.

Nixon had been working with someone who owned sled dogs. He had brought them to Nixon’s farm just south of Collingwood, Ont. but stayed with Nixon for only one year. When Talisman Resort Village called the following summer, Nixon decided he would continue running the dogsledding farm himself.

Apart from having to find his own dogs and equipment for dogsledding, Nixon had to figure out how to work with Siberian and Alaskan huskies.

“In the beginning, the first few years were rough. I was putting males with males and fights (broke out between them),” he said. “These dogs are quite calm and docile with people, but if it’s two males (in harness) it could be trouble.”

Steve Bruno, who specializes in nature and adventure at the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership, said dogsledding has increased in popularity. He credits this to the connection people feel when they interact with the dogs.

Nixon watches over two of his huskies as they wait for his command to mush. When Nixon started Rob Roy Snow Dogs, he had about eight dogs. He soon realized he needed more dogs to manage a successful dogsledding farm. Nixon now owns 30 huskies. (Aneta Tasheva)

“(Visitors) get to see the enthusiasm of the dogs who just love to do this task that they’re bred for,” Bruno said. “It makes a connection … that you probably don’t get in any other sport except for maybe horseback riding.”

Nixon, who moved from Toronto to Rob Roy, Ont., 26 years ago because he wanted a lifestyle change, currently owns 30 dogs on the farm, most of which he uses to run the dog sleds. Along with others who help him, Nixon goes on the track just outside the farm to help visitors learn how to dogsled.

“It’s a fun thing. We don’t push them on long journeys,” he said.

Bruno describes dogsledding as a unique activity that many Canadians like to try. In Ontario, when the cold winter months allow for ideal dogsledding conditions, some Torontonians drive north to go dogsledding.

Most people in Ontario who try dogsledding do it for fun, Bruno said, without the intention of pursuing it competitively. But he still considers the activity as an iconic Canadian sport.

“I think it’s something that we can claim from a Canadian standpoint,” Bruno said.