My introduction to handcrafted toboggans and sleds came in about 1985, when my uncle, Fr. Raymond DesChenes of the Oblate Fathers of Winnipeg, Manitoba encouraged me to build toboggans for the Canadian North. I had a background in carpentry and woodworking and I was interested in this idea, but didn’t follow up until he called me again later, suggesting that I come and talk to a fellow who had sleigh making equipment for sale. I went to see the man and left more curious than ever!
Eventually, my uncle put me in touch with Father Darveau, who was the Catholic priest in Lac Brochet, Manitoba for the past 50 years. Father Darveau explained to me that since the fall of fur prices many northern trappers lost their incomes. This ruined the toboggan market as well, and good handmade toboggans were becoming hard to come by. Father Darveau knew that sleighs were still needed for travel, hunting, and the trapping that still went on, and he encouraged me to learn the art of making them. He put me in touch with well-known sleigh maker Milton Chaboyer of Thompson, Manitoba.
I arranged to meet with Chaboyer in Thompson and was very impressed. A trapper himself, Chaboyer had refined the art and technique of sleigh making to become one of the most respected manufacturers of wooden toboggans and freight sleds. I was excited when he told me that if I was serious, had a good woodworking background and a strong work ethic; he would teach me his craft.
In 1995 Milton came to my shop in Warroad and we spent a couple of weeks rearranging and setting up to build sleighs. We went through the different processes as we built both toboggans and sleds. Following his stay Milton remained my mentor and I started Northern Toboggan & Sled. I am grateful to him and appreciate the opportunity to continue the art of traditional sleigh making. I continue the tradition in the spirit in which it has always been carried on: “for the love of the land.”