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Where are you, Sno-Cat?

Philippe Morin
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 20/06) - There is an endangered species in the Beaufort, and its name is the Sno-Cat. Or perhaps Bombardier, Tucker, Thiokol or LMC.

Whatever the make or model, these covered snowmobiles are rapidly disappearing.

NNSL Photo/graphic

This old beast of burden - which is next to Tsiigehtchic's fire hall - has been abandoned since the late 1960s. - Philippe Morin/NNSL photo

While many have been left to rust in the landscape, some people are keeping them alive.

Tuktoyaktuk's deputy mayor, Merven Gruben, still has a blue 1969 Bombardier, which his family drives on occasion.

"It's strictly for pleasure," he said, with the enthusiasm of a collector talking about his prized Cadillac.

And while the vehicles are still used in places like Hay River, where their covered design is still the best way of touring in winter, Gruben said they are quickly becoming an icon of the past.

As Gruben explains, covered snow vehicles - which he calls "Arctics," but have been called everything from Bombardiers to Sno-Cats - used to be common in the North.

He said his grandfather Eddy Gruben and his father, Bobby Gruben, used Bombardiers when they started Gruben's transport in the early 1960s.

At the time, they would transport people to Paulatuk and Aklavik, doing what is now accomplished through charter planes or cars on ice roads.

Russel Andre, from Tsiigehtchic, remembers seeing Bombardiers used in oil and gas exploration in the region.

He said the hamlet's fire department also had one in the late 1960s which has been sitting by the road ever since.

Gruben said the vehicles were not just industrial, but also used by families - like a station wagon.

"My dad used to pick up school kids in it," he said, fondly remembering the Bombardier's heated cab.

"It had two bench seats and two front seats, so you could seat eight comfortably."

But while Bombardier and other companies still make snow vehicles, Gruben said they've changed, and are no longer designed for average families.

Some industrial models sell for more than $150,000 dollars, Gruben said, and it seems people prefer ATVs and single-person snowmobiles, anyhow.

Besides, he said roads are getting better and four-wheel cars will go much further in the communities these days.

"You used to see them around, but not much any more," he said of the old Sno-Cats and Arctics.

"I guess everything has its time."