by William Benoit
Originally, a “cariole” referred to a horse-drawn sleigh, especially the lightweight open sleigh used in French Canada. During the era of the fur trade, dogs pulled carioles, which were important vehicles in winter that enabled the transporting of high-profile persons as well as mail, supplies and furs. These toboggan-style sleds had sides of animal hide (or canvas), and birch boards for planking.
Initially, the sides of a cariole were made from wet animal hide that was left to freeze over a lightweight wood frame. The cariole would keep its shape for that first winter. With the spring thaw, the owner would remove the leather and use it for something else. This practice was then repeated the following winter. In later years, the sides of carioles were decorated with painted designs.
The custom of decorating sled dogs with ornamented harnesses and embroidered blankets or “tuppies” (Michif tapii, from French tapis, “rug”) originated with the Red River Métis during the first half of the 19th century. Their tuppies and the “standing irons” upright part of their dog harnesses were trimmed with large jingle bells, fringe, tassels, pompoms and feathers. One can only imagine the sense of celebration when seeing and hearing the arrival of Métis sled dogs.
William Benoit is the Advisor for Internal Indigenous Engagement in the Office of the Deputy Librarian and Archivist of Canada at Library and Archives Canada.