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Winter Activities

Tobogganing in Canada

As with most Canadian winter activities, tobogganing in Canada originated with the Native groups of the region using the crafts to haul supplies or people over the snow covered landscape. It quickly developed into a recreational activity for the Native children when they began using them for sliding down hills. Now children head to their Canadian toboggan hills to enjoy the exhilaration of speeding down the slopes to squeals of delight.

History of Canadian Tobogganing

Canadian Natives required a method to travel across the snowy tundra and to haul their supplies or family with them. Pulling their children on toboggans may be considered the first Canadian sleigh rides. They fashioned the toboggan to accomplish this task. The toboggans were used on hunting trips to bring supplies and to haul their meat back home again. They were also used for trading and monitoring trap lines. Snowshoeing in Canada combined with the toboggan became an efficient mode of transport for these people.

The sub-artic Native groups constructed toboggans out of 2 or more birch slats affixed to cross-bars for support. The boards were curved up at the front by bending them when they were still green and allowing them to dry. This allowed for easy maneuvering across the snow. These early toboggans were pulled mostly by people; however, they were sometimes pulled by dogs. Like their Artic brethren, it became another form of dog sledding in Canada.

With the arrival of Europeans, the novelty of tobogganing was discovered and they soon formed the Montreal Tobogganing Club in 1881. Recreational tobogganing was born. In the 19th century it became a popular winter activity in Canada. The Montmorency Ice Cone in Quebec City became the prime location for recreational tobogganing in Canada.

Canadian Tobogganing fell out of favor in the late 1800’s and many of the competitive runs were abandoned. As a pastime, though, children and adults still enjoyed this favorite winter activity. Competitive runs were re-established with the bobsled and luge tracks that were constructed in Calgary, Alberta for the 1985 Winter Olympics.

If you're traveling to Alberta for a winter holiday, be sure to allow time to visit the Calgary Olympic Park. It is a sight to behold.

The Evolution of Tobogganing in Canada

As a winter activity in Canada, tobogganing has evolved from a recreational pastime to competitive racing. This occurred with the introduction of the bobsled. Bobsleds consist of two axles on runners that are steered by a wheel or pull rope. A team of 2 or 4 racers maneuver the sleigh down the track in the fastest time possible. Bobsleigh racing has become a popular Olympic sport.

Other forms of tobogganing in Canada include:
  • Luge – where 1 or 2 racers lay back in a sitting position while racing their sled down the luge run.
  • Cresta tobogganing – where the rider lies on his chest.
  • Skeleton – where the racer lies in the prone position and races down the track head first and face down.
The Mountaineer Method of Tobogganing

Developed by natives in the interior of Canada, the mountaineer method of tobogganing was used by tribes to travel as a community. The toboggans were fashioned out of birch in much the same way as they are constructed today. Each person in the group pulled a toboggan loaded with supplies and infants. They even constructed a smaller version for the children to pull. The adult males would lead the expedition, spelling each other as the lead male. The women came next, followed by the children. Wearing snowshoes and pulling toboggans created a smooth path for the women and children to follow.

Canadian tobogganing also developed into a life saving device when it began being used by ski patrols to transport injured skiers down the mountain slopes. The ski patroller positions themselves between the handles of the toboggan and skis down the hill with his patient in tow.

Popularity of Tobogganing in Canada

The popularity of this Canadian winter pastime can be witnessed by everyone who passes a small hill. There you will find children and adults racing down the hill and spilling over into the snow. You’ll hear screams of laughter and maybe a few tears. Those tears are soon replaced with "Let's do it again".

Most Canadian adults remember their childhood adventures on the toboggan hills, playing until their frozen fingers and toes sent them home for a hot chocolate. They can’t wait until their own children are old enough to take them for their first sled ride. Canadian tobogganing is a tradition handed down from generation to generation.

Along with ice skating, tobogganing in Canada is one of the least expensive of Canadian winter activities. All one needs is warm winter clothes and a cheap toboggan. Heck, even a piece of cardboard will perform nicely.
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