Dashing through the Snow

An original McLaughlin cutter with jump seat, ca.1908. The McLaughlins have an interesting history. In 1867, Robert McLaughlin built two cutters in his driving shed and in 1869, as his cutter and buggy business prospered, he established the McLaughlin Carriage Company Ltd., in Enniskillen, Ont. In 1877, his rapidly expanding business moved to Oshawa to take advantage of the railway. Realizing the future was in those ‘horseless carriages,’ the McLaughlin Motor Car Company was formed in 1907 and began assembling some of the earliest automobiles produced in Canada. The company later formed General Motors of Canada in 1918.
Photo Courtesy of Dr A. F. “Al” Oeming

12 Days of Cowboy Christmas


Dashing Through the Snow

The Romance of Sleighs

By Terri Mason

Whisper quiet and smooth as silk, sleighs have never really gone out of fashion. The mainstay of Christmas carols, seasonal decorations and the most famous teamster of all — Santa — sleighs play an important part in our Christmas pageantry and, as it turns out, our early highway laws and modern automobiles.

Once the premiere mode of winter transportation here in the Canadian West, sleighs enjoyed popularity for many reasons. Sleighs — especially bobsleighs — are very smooth riding. Sleighs are also a comparatively easy pull; one horse can pull eight times as much weight on a sleigh than on a wagon.
Freedom was also a reason; sleighs can travel where there are no roads, and it’s easier to cross a frozen stream in areas where there are no bridges. This ability to travel off the main road to enjoy some privacy translated into a lot of courting over the centuries, aiding in the sleigh’s romantic reputation.
The beauty and the danger of sleighs is their lack of noise. The runners glide noiselessly and the horse’s hoofbeats are muffled by the snow. While this makes for a relaxing ride, it created a safety hazard for unsuspecting pedestrians at the turn of the century. Here on the prairies, Alberta’sfirst Attorney General, J. J. Boyle, made the use of sleigh bells compulsory in 1906, one of our earliest highway traffic act laws.
“Sleigh” is a generic term to cover any vehicle to be pulled through the snow. The most common type of sleigh is a cutter, and the most popular styles include the Portland and the Albany cutter. The vis-à vis (veez ah vee) (literally translates as face-to-face) style sleighs are glamorous and were popular among the wealthier families living in large cities. In rural Canada however, utilitarian vehicles were more practical.
Many automobile companies started as carriage manufacturers and a few, such as Studebaker and McLaughlin, survived the transition from carriage to “horseless carriage.” Some of the terms used for sleigh parts are still evidenced in today’s automobiles; a “dash” is the front of the sleigh and protected the driver from snow and ice kicked up by a “dashing” horse, while the “fenders” protected occupants from sideswiping branches and, for the most part, kept the cold drafts out.
One of the fastest rising social activities is sleigh rallies and cutter parades. Participants gather at a variety of locations; from private farms and ranches to agricultural grounds and enjoy the day dashing through the snow, sipping hot chocolate and visiting. The social rather than competitive aspect of sleigh rallies has dramatically increased this fun winter sport, as well as fuelling driving clinics for novice drivers.
It’s great fun to snuggle under a buffalo robe in a horse-drawn sleigh with the jingle bells ringing. Just don’t forget the hot chocolate — and the mistletoe.

More sleigh resources:
The Remington Carriage Museum in southern Alberta houses the largest collection of horse-drawn vehicles in North America, with over 250 carriages, wagons and sleighs.
Remington Carriage Museum
A: Box 1649, Cardston, Alta T0K 0K0 Phone: (403) 653-5139
W: RemingtonCarriageMuseum.ca

Sleigh reading:
Horse Drawn Sleighs
(Second Edition) by Susan Green
published by The Astragal Press
Mendham, NJ ISBN 1-931626-07-3

(Originally published in Dec2006/Jan2007 edition of Canadian Cowboy Country)

This unique Newfoundland Taxi sleigh allowed passengers easy access and is quite rare. The driver sat at the rear — very unique.
Photo courtesy Remington Carriage Museum

This Albany style vis-à-vis travels on straight runners and is pulled by a team. The driver sits in front and there are two seats in the back facing each other allowing the passengers the opportunity to visit.
Photo courtesy Remington Carriage Museum


This eight-passenger vis-à-vis bobsleigh is one of more than thirty sleighs from the collection of the Remington Carriage Museum in Cardston, Alta. The driver and groom sit behind a curved dash, while up to six passengers sit facing each other in the passenger compartment. This seating arrangement gives the sleigh its name, “vis-à-vis” from the French for “face-to-face.”
Photo courtesy Remington Carriage Museum