Gerald Azure owns and operates Bluesky Expeditions with his wife Jenafor. Born and raised in the Northern Métis Community of Cormorant, Manitoba, Azure used sled dogs as his primary mode of transportation until the early 1970s. However, a changing climate has forced his company to use wheeled carts during the summer, when there is insufficient snow to safely run sled tours.
How are you able to offer dog-sledding in the summer?
A consistent lack of snow, and a desire to keep my dogs well exercised forced me to design my own carts so I could provide a product year round. Summer guests now have the opportunity to experience the exhilarating experience of riding with a dog team without snow!
Why do you do this?
I am Metis, the youngest of 10 children and I grew up in Cormorant, Manitoba. Dogs provided the only form of transportation while trapping and commercial ice fishing. Times changed, and we had to re-invent ourselves. Tourism has taken the place of trapping and fishing for my livelihood now. I can embrace my history, heritage and culture with my dog team, sharing it with the world one sled ride at a time. People’s lives have become so hectic; somehow a dogsled ride takes people back to a time that was simpler.
What are your dogs like?
Every one of my dogs has a unique personality and it’s my job to ensure they are safe and well cared for. It’s no different than caring for your family–they are my family. My dog team is my connection to the land, mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally. When I’m sad they’re sad, when I’m happy they’re happy. Being able to work with them by my side is a privilege and an honour.
What inspired you to create this company?
Growing up life was difficult, but I learned to take care of myself on the land, and the importance of hard work. I made a conscious decision not to dwell on the negative aspects of my past and move forward focusing on what I knew best: my dogs. If my business doesn’t succeed, my dogs don’t succeed. I have the satisfaction of knowing my team and I have accomplished something authentic, natural and unfurgettable we could share with the world while maintaining self- sufficiency.
When is your busiest time of the year?
Ten years ago that question was easy to answer: October and November when the polar bears are here. But all that has changed now along with the weather. July and August thousands of belugas provide the world’s best whale watching, and the added bonus of frequent polar bear sightings have our summers bringing record numbers of tourists to Churchill. December through March, the aurora dances in the sky, and the dogsledding is the best.
What are the challenges of running this business?
Access to our community is definitely the biggest challenge. It’s costly for everyone to travel to and from Churchill. A return trip to Winnipeg to see a vet can run you $650 before you pay vet bills. Ensuring our dog team is safe from polar bears and wolves consumes a lot of our time as well. My wife and I have spent many hours sleeping in the dog yard, but the trade-off is that we get to enjoy the sled-dog opera under the northern lights!