Government of Canada
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Get your toboggan!

"Get your toboggan, and I'll race you!" Every winter you hear children across Canada shouting this to friends as they grab their sleds and careen to the bottom of snow-covered hills. Tobogganing was probably part of your childhood, too, but have you ever wondered how it started, or where the name came from?

Originally, Aboriginal people built long, flat-bottomed wooden sleds with curved fronts to transport goods during the harsh Canadian winters. And, although many Aboriginal groups used this type of sled, the word comes most probably from one of the following Algonquian languages:

  • Mi'kmaq: tobâkun or tepaqan
  • Abenaki: udãbãgan
  • Montagnais: utapan
  • Cree: otâbânâsk
  • Ojibwa: odaban-ak

In the early nineteenth century, French Canadians borrowed the word—either from Mi'kmaq or Abenaki—and spelled it "tabaganne."

Later in the same century, tobogganing became very popular in Canada as a recreational activity. In 1860, Quebec City's well-to-do were tobogganing on the many slopes found on the Plains of Abraham. In 1872, Lord Dufferin, then governor general, added a toboggan slide at Rideau Hall for the public to enjoy. And, in 1881, enthusiasts formed the Montreal Tobogganing Club. This brief wave of popularity waned for a time, but today tobogganing is fully entrenched as a Canadian pastime.