Dog Sledding Legends: Arthur Walden
By Robert Forto, PhD
When sled dog racing started to catch on as a winter sport in New England and Canada, the speedy little Siberian dogs with the great endurance had not yet been introduced outside of Alaska. These crossbred dogs still held the inside track. Arthur Walden and Emile St. Godard won many races in New England and Canada during the 1920’s; Walden’s dogs were the big golden Chinooks, a freighting dog, and St. Godard’s were hound-husky crosses, bred for speed.
For his part in the promotion of the sport in New England, Arthur Walden held the inevitable title, “Father of New England Sled Dog Racing.” For nearly twenty years he traveled all over the Northeast, including Canada, driving his teams in races and exhibitions, at schools and fairs. For much of that time his famous dog, Chinook, was on lead, and was a welcome companion at ball games, lectures, and promotional visits. With a breeding program that included not selling any dog that could not reproduce to Walden’s standards, he developed his unique dogs and sold them as sled dogs and pets.
In 1928, Walden, age fifty-six, and with his special breed of sled dog, ventured from New Hampshire and his New England Sled Dog Club, from the races and the farm where he taught dog driving, and joined Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic Expedition. His position was that of dog handler, his chief assistant was his faithful lead dog, Chinook. Chinook did not make it back to New England from his trip to Antarctica and the Manchester (New Hampshire) Union Leader newspaper carried a tribute story to this fine sled dog on January 24, 1929.
Walden returned to New Hampshire and remained a popular speaker on sled dogs. His life touched all the aspects, from dog punching to racing, from kennel manager to explorer. He brought the spirit of the gold rush dog team from Alaska and he instigated sport races a continent away from their original home.
Walden lived to be ninety-one years old, straddling the animated decades from the 1870’s into the 1960’s. Without Arthur Walden, the lore and the lure of the sled dog would be much less than it is.
Dr. Robert Forto is a professional musher and training for his first Iditarod racing under Team Ineka. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at http://www.teamineka.com