Kyia Bouchard was in her mid-50s when she discovered dog mushing. One year later, she left her life in New York City behind and relocated to the Dawson City area to learn everything she could about it.
Now, at almost 60-years old, Bouchard is training to run the Yukon Quest, and the dogs have taken over her heart, her bank account, her life’s mission and any extra room on her bed. She has also become a collector of historical dog mushing equipment.
Since her twinkle for dog mushing began in 2006, she has built a collection of more than 600 artifacts in the only dog mushing museum in Canada: the Bouchard Dog Mushing and Sled Museum, located at her home in Sunnydale, where she also runs Slow Rush Kennels.
Before moving here she had been doing six-year stints in different careers: she was the captain of a 71-foot yacht and did tours off Long Island; she owned an indie recording studio in New York; and she was a snake wrangler, to name a few.
“I had an 18-foot, 85-pound Burmese python — it was just crawling around my apartment for many years,” Bouchard says. “I could write a whole book on just living with a snake.”
All that adventurous dabbling gave her courage, know-how and backbone — things that come in handy when you are raising 50 dogs and living off the grid in the Yukon.
“The point is that I’ve done these things and you have to know how to do stuff to live out here,” Bouchard says.
Since 2007 she has thrown herself into dog mushing, whole hog.
“I’m an extremist — I don’t go half-way,” she says. “It’s 100 per cent or nothing. So anything that has to do with dog mushing, I try to bring it into my life. I look for the best equipment; I look for the best connections — finding the famous mushers — and obviously looking for the best dogs.”
Bouchard has befriended several people who have raced the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and has even charmed some winning sleds into her collection.
“These guys have all become friends of mine, and they want their legacy to be on display for the future,” she says.
The walls of her museum hold the sled that Lance Mackey used when, as a rookie, he won his first of four Yukon Quest races.
Veteran musher and Quest winner Frank Turner donated the sled he used in the 1980s — he did the race 24 times in 25 years
Bouchard is also the lucky recipient of one of Larry “Cowboy” Smith’s sleds, all his trophies, and his lead dog’s Golden Harness award from the Iditarod.
“He’s a Yukon legend,” Bouchard says. “He’s kind of a purist — he’s one of these mushers in the Yukon, he doesn’t care about awards. He does it because he does it. The trophies were all laying in a box, covered in dust and dirt. Cowboy said they would have just rotted.”
One sled she would like to locate is the one that Sonny Lindner used when he won the Quest in 1984.
“His wife told me that he doesn’t have it anymore — he’s not sure who he gave it to 30 years ago,” Bouchard says. “We want to put it in the museum. I don’t know what condition it’s in — it could have been run over by a truck, but whatever condition it’s in, I’d like to put it in the museum.”
The museum is also home to a complete traditional Greenland Inuit dog mushing outfit, made with seal skin and beading; ivory and wood carvings of dog sleds and teams; and more artifacts from trappers, RCMP, and First Nations from across Canada’s North, as well as Alaska, Finland, Greenland and Russia.
Kyia Bouchard offers 3-hour tours of the kennels and museum every day between May and mid-September, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The kennels and museum are open year round, with visits by appointment in the fall and winter. They are located in Sunnydale on the west side of the Yukon River near Dawson.
For more information about the Bouchard Dog Mushing and Sled Museum call (867) 335-2036, email [email protected] or go to www.SlowRushKennels.com.