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Tag Archives: Winter

Big ol’ jet airliner, don’t carry me too far away!

Well, it depends on how far is too far. Does 6215 kilometres count?

If you don’t recognize this, they form part of the chorus of the Steve Miller Band’s iconic song “Jet Airliner.” This time tomorrow I’ll be on a plane across the big pond, but it’s a Boeing 777, not a 707! I cannot put into words how excited I am, even though I did a similar trip two years ago. There are a lot of nerves too; the weather is always a factor and this time there are 22 kids, not 7.

Speaking of the weather, it’s actually a bit of a reprieve getting out of Thunder Bay and the lousy weather we’ve been experiencing this winter. In my last post I spoke about a possible big dump of snow; well, we got that 30cm and more. It was actually enough to close the schools for the day! Cleaning it up wasn’t fun though and it’s hard to believe that with the big yard that I have, the banks were actually getting too high for the snowblower to reach over them. If that wasn’t enough, it got cold again. Last Thursday it was -45C with the wind; I think just about everyone has had enough with Old Man Winter!

After the storm, February 2014.

After the storm, February 2014.

Mountains of snow, February 2014.

Mountains of snow, February 2014.

March break is just around the corner, though it doesn’t feel much like it. The temperatures climbed a bit this week, but I’ve been too busy to notice. There has been a last minute rush of preparations for the trip. There are so many little things to take care of, on top of all the big things. I was burning up the email with my counterpart from St. Ignatius Alicyn Papich as we worked out the fine details before departure. I spent time today getting all of our travellers checked-in via the web, so it’s one less thing we have to worry about tomorrow. I need a vacation from the vacation and we haven’t even left!

In the last couple weeks Alicyn and I have been going back and forth via email with our Tour Director Felicity. The tour, Canada’s Battlefields, has a rough template of places we will be visiting, but all the details need to be worked out. Felicity has been fantastic so far, offering many ideas and potential places we can see on each day. Even though I saw some of these places in 2012, I’m excited to see them again. Good thing for it too, as it is helping to displace some of the nervousness I’m feeling…I’m such a worry wart!

There are a couple of places I’m very pumped to see. I’ve never been to Amsterdam, so that will be a whole new experience. We were at Vimy Ridge in 2012, but that was with 4000 other people during the 95th Anniversary celebrations and it was rather busy. I’m looking forward to a more relaxed visit. Felicity has also suggested that we take in the Wellington Quarry, which is located just south of Vimy in Arras.

When we travel to Normandy, we will be staying at a very neat “hotel.” We were supposed to stay in the city of Caen, but I guess this place had an opening and they moved us. The Chateau du Baffy dates from the 1700’s and was used as a headquarters by the Germans in WWII. It is located only 6km from Juno Beach and reminds me of a little rustic country inn. It will give us a good opportunity to thoroughly explore the Normandy area.

I guess part of the reason why I’m excited is the kids. I met with them yesterday at lunch and they were literally bouncing. It is great to see the exuberance of youth! For many this is their first trip across the ocean; for some it’s their first trip in a plane. Most of them will have never been away from home and their parents for so long. I’m sure there is a bit of apprehension mixed in too, but traveling with their friends on the trip of a lifetime will overcome that quickly enough.

So with the insanity that has been my life over the last couple of weeks, I have had zero time to devote to any railway work. I was very busy in the last week writing newsletter for the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society, which went out yesterday. Our annual general meeting is coming up on March 22 and there was work to be done on that. I’m sure when I’m back from the trip and things settle down there will be time to get back on track.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I need to finish packing and I have a busy morning ahead of me. The forecast is calling for a bit of snow, but hopefully it doesn’t impede our flight to Toronto and then on that big ole’ 777 to Europe! My next post will be from the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2014 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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When will you make it end?

Ah those iconic words from a great historical movie. Stumped? It’s about one of my favourite periods in history, the Renaissance. Got it yet? Charlton Heston? Painting? Come on, you should have known it’s from The Agony and the Ecstacy! Yes, that 1965 movie with Heston playing Michelangelo and Rex Harrison playing Pope Julius II which depicts the painting of the Sistene Chapel. As Michelangelo labours to finish the ceiling and months drag into years, the Pope constantly asks “When will you make it end?” His enigmatic response is always “When I’m finished.” That’s awesome, but the big question is what the hell does all of this have to do with anything? Please, read on!

Well, we’ve almost reached the end of February and I’m tired already. Why? Take a big guess! If you said the weather, you win the year’s supply of Monarch cake mix (who remembers that one?). God, I’m so tired of this crap! Today’s title is more like a plead to God, “when will you make it end?” This past weekend was Family Day long weekend and my wife decided that we should go to Minneapolis with the kids since we’ll be away during the Match break. We were supposed to leave on Thursday after school, but we got a huge dump of snow that day and it was impossible to drive (so I spent the evening cleaning the snow). We left at 6 the next day and drove straight through to Minneapolis and spent an enjoyable weekend there. Unfortunately there was another big storm on Monday and had to drive home right through it, white knuckling it the whole way. After I got home, I had to clean snow again!

Winter snow, February 2014.

Winter snow, February 2014.

I guess it all isn’t bad, since the temperatures are supposed to go up to more seasonal values, but I think everyone is experiencing some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It just seems that winter is dragging on and on this year. Thank God there are a few things that will break up the routine over the next little while.

So we are now into our third week of new the semester and things are moving along fairly well. The classes are good and keeping me busy as usual. Last week was our annual open house for Grade 8 students and I was busy setting things up for the department display and for the football program. Talk about double duty! The event was well attended and it was good to be able to chat with a number of future students and their parents. Hopefully it will translate into some solid numbers for our school next year.

Speaking of football, things are starting to pick up again on that front. Last week we started our offseason weighting program, BFS (Bigger, Faster, Stronger). I didn’t have a chance to supervise on my usual Wednesday shift because of open house, but I was there this week. We also have a number of our Grade 9 players trying out for the Thunder Bay Minor Football Under-16 team, which is pretty exciting news. Planning continues for our June trip to the UMD team camp which is always a great experience.

With March just around the corner it means that I’ll be heading to Europe very soon. This week was our final meeting with all the travellers and their parents. It’s great to see the kids so excited! For many of them this is their first trip overseas and I know it will be an awesome experience for all of us. I’m still a bit nervous, but as I said before I just want everything to go as smoothly as possible. We are now less than 15 days from departure!

With everything going on at school and with football, I really haven’t had a lot of time to devote to railway work. The long, dreary weather has really made me look forward to spring and a chance to get out and do some hiking. I already have a number of locations and dates in mind, but everything will depend on the weather.

Almost one year ago the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society was incorporated in the province in Ontario. We’ve come a long way in that time, but there is still a ton of things that we need to accomplish to become really fully functioning. At the end of March we will have our 2014 annual general meeting, so I have a lot to do in the meantime. The big priority is to get the winter edition of our newsletter out to the membership, which I should have done by the end of next week. After that, I’ll working on the agenda for the AGM.

Anyway, I should get going. Lots to do, and obviously god isn’t amused by my post; we’re expecting another big storm that may dump upwards of 30cm of snow on us! I’ll be back in a few weeks before we leave for Europe. Until then…

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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And so it continues…

*Sigh* It seems like the more things change the more they stay the same. In my last post I wrote about how bloody cold it was and how tired I was of the weather. Well, guess what? Yup, it’s the same ‘ole story three weeks later. Yes, we did get a little reprieve in there, but come on! This has definitely been the crappiest winter I can remember. Now don’t get me wrong, I did sign up for this (as in I decided to live here), but there’s got to be a limit to it. It hasn’t been as cold as it was at the beginning of the month, but -41C is still flippin’ cold. We better have a kick-ass spring and summer to make up for all the BS we’ve been putting up with. Rant off!

So it’s almost the end of January and that means the end of another semester and the start of a new one. I finished marking all my exams and submitted my reports, so I’m done with the first half of the year. Yay! It’s not that I didn’t like my classes, but after 5 months it’s time for a change; new kids, new classes. A new semester always energizes you a bit, like a breath of fresh air in your sails. Second semester also means that we’re on the downward slide toward June and the end of the school year. Geez, it just keeps going by faster and faster every year!

One of the most exciting parts of moving into February is that we are inching ever closer to the March break Europe trip. One of the students stopped by room last week and said that when we started the countdown it was like 500 and something days before departure. Wow, time has certainly flown by! I am very anxious to go, but as the group leader I always have that bit of nervousness that accompanies a big event like this. The reality I guess is starting to set in. It’s probably just me though, just like I get nervous before every football game. In any case, our EF backpacks and trip water bottles have arrived, so all the little pieces are starting to fall into place. 35 days until we leave!

The craptastic weather we’ve been experiencing over the last month has certainly put a big damper on any outdoor activities one would expect to do in winter. So far I’ve only made it up the mountain twice since Christmas, and haven’t gotten out the last few weekends (see the reason above). I’m hoping that the -14C they are calling for Saturday is warm enough to get out and about, since Sunday is Superbowl Sunday and you know what that means! Yup, it’s time for the annual Superbowl party and I have a million things to do to get ready. It would be nice to squeeze in a little fresh air before I spend the day on Sunday cleaning up and preparing food. This is the first time in a while that I am not cheering for a particular team, since I actually like both Denver and Seattle. Maybe there will be some real football weather for this year’s edition ie. snow and cold!

Snow-obscured Loch Lomond, January 2014.

Snow-obscured Loch Lomond, January 2014.

So I actually have some things to report on the railway front for a change. I have some really exciting news to talk about, but I’ll save that for last. However it started me thinking about writing another article on a railway related topic, so I did spend time doing some research over the weekend. I’d like to write about the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which was a little logging line built by the Pigeon River Lumber Company in 1903. It connected to the PAD&W at Gunflint Lake and was in operation until 1909. It was very unique in that it was an American railroad that had no connection to any other American railroad; its only link was north through Canada. Very odd indeed.

The president of the G&LS was one Daniel J. Arpin of Wisconsin and I’ve been trying to track down a photo of him for some time. That led me off on a search for the gentlemen who manned the Canadian customs house at Gunflint between 1903 and 1909, Thomas Roberts and Peter Chausse. I’ve mentioned on several occasions that I love to do this type of investigation and see what I can come up with. It can be very frustrating at times, but also great when you make a big discovery. Most of my time was spent trying to scrounge up some pictures, which was fairly unsuccessful. But you never know though, maybe a breakthrough will come at some point.

While I was on the topic of the G&LS, I moved into looking at some maps of the area. Hiking the G&LS is on my agenda for this year, weather permitting, since I haven’t really looked at the Minnesota portion since 1997. It`s really too bad the amazing wood trestle near Bridal Falls is gone, as it was quite the sight to see (it burned in the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and had to be dynamited to put out the fire smoldering inside the logs). When I did walk the railway all those years ago, I did not follow the whole length of the line. The question I need to answer is where did it go from there. Documents suggest that the railway ran down to Crab Lake and then possibly a mile east to Whisker Lake. To help me locate the route, I turned to Lidar.

Gunflint & Lake Superior RR map, International Boundary Commission Map (1929).

Gunflint & Lake Superior RR map, International Boundary Commission Survey (1929).

Top of the G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

Top of the G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle during the Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine)

G&LS log trestle during the Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine)

Remains of the G&LS log trestle, August 2011.

Remains of the G&LS log trestle, August 2011.

Lidar is a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to collect elevation and other data from the ground. It is very useful at finding old railway grades, especially where embankments and cuttings were made as they stand out in the ground around it. It`s not always perfect, especially in wet or low areas where the grade has settled into the ground, but it`s better that nothing. Hopefully it has given me a few clues as to where to look for the G&LS south of Bridal Falls; I guess we`ll find out in the fall when I`m planning to go there!

Lidar image, Gunflint Lake.

Lidar image, Gunflint Lake.

By far the most exciting news from the past week was the publication of my article on Leeblain. Yes, I am now officially an author and historian! It is amazing to see my work in print and out there so people can read what I’ve discovered. Unfortunately things are not all roses though; part of my article is missing from the 2013 edition of Papers & Records. After a bit of digging, we were able to determine that a little technical glitch omitted the last third of my article. However, the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society has graciously agreed to reprint it in their 2015 issue. Better late than never and maybe if they like my G&LS article, I’ll have two entries for the book!

Leeblain article, Papers & Records.

Leeblain article, Papers & Records.

Anyway, it’s time to run. I’ll be back in the next few weeks with more news…maybe the weather will have warmed up by that time. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Okay, enough already!

Hey Old Man Winter! Ya, you! You’re a crotchity, cranky old buzzard and you suck! Geez, that’s a little harsh don’t you think Dave? Yes, yes it is and I mean every word of it. Hey, I understand that I decided to live in a northern climate, but this presses the limits of one’s tolerance. Really, could the weather be any worse? Well, the answer is yes, but not by much. The last month and half has been nothing but snow and cold. So yes, I am a bit bitter and rightly so. Am I pushing my luck with Karma? Maybe, but what have I got to lose?

Well, it’s been a month since my last post and the hot button topic has certainly been the weather. If you live anywhere in the central part of North America, you know exact what I’m talking about (Polar Vortex anyone?). The weather has been downright miserable of late, at times making me regret liking living here so much. Comes with the territory right? Yes, but come on? Does it have to be this cold? Last year I wrote that I had seen the lowest temperature I could remember; well guess what? Yup, it got even colder! Twice last week my home temperature record was broken; first at -38.2C, then a few days later at -39C. With the wind it was -51C one of those days! We were the coldest place in Canada! Seriously? Thunder Bay is at 48 degrees north…there are a helluva a lot of places farther north than us and we were the coldest place! I am certainly not alone in my current disdain for the weather, but hope is on the horizon. The forecast is calling for -2C on the weekend. -2! Holy crap! I might have to break out my shorts for that!

-38.2C, December, 2013.

-38.2C, December 2013.

-39C, January 2014.

-39C, January 2014.

So Christmas break has come and gone and I am now back at work. Ugh! It seems like every year the break goes by faster and faster; the two weeks seemed like a blur! I know the kids enjoyed it and Santa Claus was very good to them. I guess I can’t complain though, since Santa brought me a present too…I got the awesome Sean Lee throwback jersey I wanted! It certainly offset the fact that I passed a not-so-great milestone birthday. Yes, I turned the big 4-0! Everyone kept asking me how it felt to be forty; how do you answer that? I felt the same as I did when I was 39! It’s not like I suddenly became decrepit on my birthday. You’re only as old as you feel right?

Sean Lee throwback jersey!

Sean Lee throwback jersey!

The return to work has brought me back to that ever-present pile of marking that never seems to diminish. I know I’ll get it cleared up soon since exams and the end of the semester are just around the corner. Also keeping me busy is the fact that the Europe trip is coming up quick…March seems like a long way away but it isn’t. There is so much to do. I applied for a new passport over Christmas, and now I’m collecting forms, planning meetings and buying water bottles. Was I this busy the last time? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that in 2012 there were 7 students and now there are 22. I am very excited to go, but also nervous in the fact that I want to make sure all the bases are covered. 57 days until departure!

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, April 2012.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, April 2012.

The railway front has been a bit up and down since I last wrote. As usual, time is the biggest detriment in terms of getting anything substantial done. Over the break I finally finished posting all my summer/fall hiking photos and video to Facebook and YouTube, which was long overdue. Hopefully I don’t fall behind like that again. I did spend a little time doing some research during Christmas, mostly looking for some photos of people associated with the construction of the railway (George & Alexander Middleton, Ross Thompson). I certainly love the challenge of trying to dig up these images, but at times it can be very frustrating when you`re making no headway. Places like Ancestry are a very valuable tool, but so far the pictures are eluding me!

So my biggest piece of railway news is the anticipated release of the Thunder Bay Museum`s Paper and Records. I`m really excited to see my first published article in print! It should be ready anytime soon and hopefully it will be the start of more written pieces on my part. I was hoping to begin work on another piece about the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, but I just didn`t get around to it over the break. I`m sure to find some time for it over the next few months. We`ll see what happens!

Anyway, time to go. I’ll have more to say in the coming weeks, but for now you can enjoy my 100th post! Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2014 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Oh, December…

Yep, December…what a fickle mistress you are! You can be warm and inviting, or frigid and heartless. Which one will you be this year? Sometimes you can’t make up your mind (though it seems like you are leaning a particular way), much like your name. Even though you are the last month of the year, we really know your name means otherwise. Despite all of this, I still do appreciate you; well, maybe without the double-digit negative temperatures! You bring with you a season of giving, happiness and holidays. And beyond that, comes a new year, an opportunity for renewal and new hope. So here’s to you and what may come!

So here we are in December…and none too soon. As you can tell, I haven’t really gotten back into the routine of writing; things are still pretty busy. This is unfortunately only my third post since July! My schedule is a bit better than it was, so most of the explanation behind my lack of writing is laziness, though I can say there is a bit of burnout as well. A lot has gone on since my last rant, so I’ll attempt to fill in the blanks here with as much brevity as possible.

I guess for starters, football season has been over for a month. It was another very successful campaign for our team, though we wished it would have ended differently. We finished third in the regular season, and upset the number two team in the semi-finals. So for the second time in three years, we advanced to the SSSAA (Superior Secondary Schools Athletic Association) Junior Football championship. Our competition would be our sister school, the St. Ignatius Falcons. The boys played hard, but unfortunately our season-long injury situation caught up with us (5 starters were out) and we fell 7-0.

Now you may be asking what I’m doing with all the extra time I have. Well, obviously it’s not writing! For the most part, the last several weeks have been about catching up on everything that had gone on the back-burner since September. It’s been a bit of a struggle, but I’m slowly making some headway, especially with my marking. I’m hoping to have pretty much all of my outstanding assignments cleared up before we break for Christmas.

One of the things that has been keeping me hopping is the preparations for our March break trip to Europe. We depart in 85 days! It’s hard to believe it’s coming up that quick. I know the kids are getting pretty excited, and though there’s some stress associated with the planning, I’m eager to go as well. I did manage to convince my wife to come along, even though she’s a very nervous flyer. It will be nice to share the experience with her.

The railway front has been fairly quiet as of late. With football and everything else going on, there hasn’t been a lot of time to devote to it. I did fit in a presentation a few weeks back to one of the local Gyro clubs, but that’s about it. Probably the biggest news is the forthcoming publication of my first article on the town of Leeblain. It just went to print last week, so hopefully I’ll have copies in my hands by the end of the month. Obviously I’m pretty excited to see the culmination of a lot of hard work!

I would imagine that the next few weeks will be about catching up on posting some of the pictures and video that I shot over the summer and fall and never was able to post on the net. I can’t believe that I’ve fallen that far behind. I did however receive some great photos via email. J.T. (James Thomas) Greer was a logging contractor that established a cutting operation along the railway during the winter of 1915-1916. His work along North and Gunflint Lakes during this period is an interesting chapter in the history of the railway. Several famous photos were taken of the train stuck in the snow on Iron Range Hill (the steepest grade on the line-2%) on its way to North Lake. I was sent two photos of this event from a relative of J.T. Greer; they make an awesome addition to my collection.

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Anyway, it’s time to get rolling. As I mentioned in my intro, it seems as though December has made up its mind as to which way it is going. In the last week we’ve received a few big dumps of snow and now the temperature has dropped considerably (-40C with the wind at night). It certainly makes for an interesting start to winter. I’ll have more updates in the coming weeks. Until then…

Early winter snow, December 2013.

Early winter snow, December 2013.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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I can feel it in the air…

It’s coming. It might not be completely discernible right now, but it’s on its way. I can’t wait. Not that I don’t like things right now, but it’s a much more preferable scenario. I’m sure I’m not the only one; there are many like me who are waiting. It’s even been foretold that its arrival is imminent.

Confused? If you’re not, you know I’m talking about spring. Yes, glorious spring. A time when the weather warms, the snow recedes and my yard smells like dog crap. As I gaze out the window I just know it won’t be long now. Even though it was a balmy -10C today (-19C with the wind), I know that soon enough we will be reaching positive temperatures on a consistent basis. The days are getting longer and the sun is getting warmer. It hasn’t been a particularly terrible winter (aside from the -38 a few weeks ago), but I’m just ready for it to be over. Over the last number of years February and March have been very warm, so I hope that trend continues.

So with the beginning of February comes the beginning of a new semester. New classes, new faces and a fresh start; this job is always about change. It’s only day two, but things are looking good so far. My Grade 11’s are a nice bunch and it will be a great way to start the day. My Gr.10 Applied has lots of rambunctious boys, so they will be a handful at times, but I’m sure the content will keep them interested.

I have been spending a lot of time preparing for my Gr.12 World Issues eLearning course in the last few days. I certainly have a much better handle on what I want to do, but it still is a big challenge wrapping my head around this new medium. The course material is all online, but as the teacher I need to decide how much of each unit/topic to cover and what assignments the students will complete. As they say preparation is 90% of the battle, but in this case there is going to be a lot of “on the fly” learning.

Even though work is a little less hectic, as usual there are still a ton of things going on. Next Thursday we leave for the Glazier coaching clinic in Minneapolis and there are many things still left to take care of. It will be a nice diversion though, a little football to get my mind off school and railway stuff. Looking forward to it as well; it is a great coaching development opportunity. On the Friday morning there are 3 back-to-back sessions on the 3-5 defence, which is the scheme that our team runs. I should get a lot of good stuff from that. This clinic is also a nice program builder, as we have a chance to learn together as a staff.

Tomorrow I have an executive meeting of the Silver Mountain Historical Society. We will be ratifying the new constitution for the society, which is the next step in the process to becoming officially incorporated. Unfortunately I’ve hit a bit of a slow patch with the whole Leeblain thing, as I am waiting on some action from the Ontario government. I’ve never worked with any type of bureaucracy, so I guess I need to understand that all of this takes time and things don’t happen overnight. However my plan is to be persistent, as keeping the pressure on will remind people that this is an important issue.

Now speaking of Leeblain, my biggest railway news of the week is the upcoming presentation at Gunflint Lodge on Saturday. I spent most of my free time in the past week preparing for this event and I really hope I am ready to go. It’s always tough figuring out what to include and what to leave out; I want to stick to one hour so I hope I don’t go overboard.

In the morning I have an on-air interview with WTIP radio in Grand Marais to talk about the presentation. This is the second interview I’ve done with these wonderful folks; the first was this past summer when I did the talk at the Chik-Wauk Museum. It’s such a great way to promote the event and my work, but just like Saturday I will be a bit nervous when the time comes.

I certainly wish I could spend more time at Gunflint than the one night that I will have. I could have stayed Friday as well, but with the trip to Minneapolis the following week I didn’t want to be away from the family for two weekends in a row. However I know I will make the most of the time and take in everything that I can. If I’m lucky I will be able to do this again at some point in the future and maybe I’ll be able to stay longer. I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures in any event!

Gunflint Lake, May 2011.

Gunflint Lake, May 2011.

Well, I do need to get rolling. I will definitely have a lot to say next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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I must be doing something right…

So I just checked the counter on my “dashboard” and I have just eclipsed the 5,000 views mark for this blog since I first created it in November 2011. Impressive…most impressive! I had to throw that one in there, since I am wearing a Darth Vader t-shirt today (Ethan and Noah’s favourite, the one where Darth is walking an AT-AT instead of a dog). Anyway, a big thank you goes out to all of you, the readers, who have taken the time to peruse my often witty, sometimes boring ramblings. Most of you are fellow Canucks, some of you are our neighbours to the south and a few are from far away places such as Vietnam, Jersey and Malta. I hope you return for more entertaining, insightful musings.

Since I am a bona fide literary heavyweight, I guess I need to make sure that this week’s installment is packed full of great material, both delicious and nutritious! As per usual, it has been a crazy week, with tons of things going on and it doesn’t appear that it will change anytime soon.

So I’m currently sitting here watching my Grade 12’s finish their exam, fitting in some sentences while I circulate and answer questions. This is my last exam, which means that by tomorrow all my marks will be in and another weight will be lifted off my shoulders. Thursday and Friday are both PD (Professional Development) days, filled with meetings, information sessions and preparations for second semester. At least we get a chance to go out for lunch on those days, which is a nice change of pace.

I do have a bit of apprehension heading into the new semester, since I am teaching my first ever eLearning class. eLearning is a fairly new program whereby course content is delivered online using a system called the Learning Management System (LMS). While I’ve never taught in this medium, I’m sure I can handle the technology portion just fine. I am a bit concerned about the fact that I’ve never done the course before, which is Grade 12 World Issues (geography). I’m sure I will be fine, but it is always a challenge teaching something for the first time and figuring out exactly how to work it. I’ll find out soon enough!

Remember last week when I wrote about the absolutely frigid temperatures, the likes of which I’ve never seen before? Well today it was 39 degrees warmer at +1C with some slushy, wet snow…this weather rollercoaster is absolutely insane! However the weekend was gorgeous, and coupled with the recent snowfall, allowed me to finally get up the mountain for the first time this year. It felt good to get out into the fresh air, especially after being cooped up in the house because of the cold weather. The only “sore” point was the fact that my body didn’t appreciate the 7k walk and 700 foot vertical climb. My legs were pretty stiff trying to get out of bed the next morning!

Looking north on the trail, January 2013.

Looking north on the trail, January 2013.

Loch Lomond, January 2013.

Loch Lomond, January 2013.

Descending the big hill, January 2013.

Descending the big hill, January 2013.

It has been another very busy week on the railway front once again. There has been some movement with the Silver Mountain Historical Society, as we press toward the incorporation of our group. I’m trying to get some action going on a logo for the society, which will help us with marketing once the incorporation goes through.

In my last installment I wrote about several photographs that I received from Library and Archives Canada and my attempts to identify them. I’m happy to report that one photo was most likely taken at Whitefish Lake, where the Snowden Brothers operated a logging business. Another appears to be a construction camp at the east end of North Lake. The third shows a locomotive, which has added another piece to our ongoing investigation of the Black Auntie.

I did spend a bit more time on Ancestry trying to gather more information about the railway management. I did make some headway, but my principal task of locating photos has proved very frustrating. I wish there was just a magic place that had all the pictures I was looking for!

Most my interesting piece of news from the past week was an email I received from Gunflint Lake. If my article on Leeblain is selected for publication, I thought it would be important to have a detailed map of what the site looked like. My biggest problem is that the only map of the area was done nearly 20 years after the town was established. I needed some expert help, so I contacted long-time resident and current Gunflint Lodge owner Bruce Kerfoot. Bruce’s mother Justine (who I was fortunate to meet in 1997), first arrived at Gunflint in the late 1920’s and became a legend in the Boundary Waters area. I met Bruce back in 2011 at the Gunflint Green-up and I was hoping that he could help me out.

In response to my inquiry, Bruce sent me a map that completely shocked me. I was aware that there were several buildings at the site, but Bruce’s map showed the locations of 8 structures on top of the station beside the grade. Unfortunately this information has provided me with yet another mystery; if there were so many structures at Leeblain, why are they not on the 1911 Boundary Map? My theory is that some buildings, such the trading post/hotel, were shifted to Gunflint Narrows. I can’t wait until the spring so I can get out to Leeblain and do some exploring!

Leeblain, 1931 Boundary map (surveyed 1911).

Leeblain, 1931 Boundary map (surveyed 1911).

Speaking of Leeblain, next weekend is my presentation at Gunflint Lodge. Things are rapidly coming together and I guess I need to get my butt in gear and finish the slideshow. Another busy week ahead…what’s new!

Anyway, I need to get rolling. This coming Sunday is Superbowl, so I’m sure there will lots of news to talk about. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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So this is what Siberia feels like

If you’re old enough, you might remember hearing references being made to Siberia i.e. being sent to Siberia, or how cold it was in Siberia. Since I was born in the 70’s, I certainly have vivid recollections its mention. The Cold War was on and the Russians were the bad guys; I heard all about how they sent people to prison in Siberia and they never came back (or maybe that was just my mom threatening me). Since I had never been there, all I could do was envision what it was like. I imagined a cold, forbidding place, far removed from any vestiges of civilization. Today reminded me a lot of those younger days, but that’s a story for later.

So here we are in the last few days of classes before exams, which start on Thursday. I still haven’t completely caught up on my marking, but I’m getting there. Unfortunately I’ll be back to square one with three sets of exams and two sets of culminating activities to mark soon enough. Oh well, I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks right?

The crazy thing in all of this is that the next semester has not started yet and it’s lining up to be even busier, at least in the beginning. I already have four days that I’m out of the classroom in February alone. One is for eLearning orientation (yes, I am doing an online class), one is for open house, another is for a department head meeting and the last is for our trip to the Glazier coaching clinic in Minneapolis (yes, we’re going back this year). I generally hate to be out of the classroom; it does mess with the continuity and it is more work for me to be away than to be there. However, most of it has to do with the fact that I am complete control freak with my classes and I like to do things my way!

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what’s with the title. If you guess I was alluding to the weather, you are correct. Remember a few weeks ago when it was +7C and rained? Ya, well that’s a distant memory. The last several days have been some of the coldest I’ve ever experienced; there might have been colder, but I don’t remember. Without a doubt it’s the coldest it’s ever been since I got married. How bad it is? Well I’ll tell ya.

So it started snowing on Friday…finally! And thank God for that, because things could have gotten ugly without any snow cover on the ground. It snowed all day Saturday and stopped in the evening. Sunday was pretty chilly, which made snow blowing the driveway quite wonderful. However, the worst was yet to come!

Falling snow, January 2013.

Falling snow, January 2013.

Yesterday was cold, damn cold. When I left work to pick up the kids, my truck almost didn’t start. It had been sitting in the parking lot exposed to the sub -30C wind-chill all day. On the second try it went, but felt like a block of ice the entire drive. The thermometer never moved from -28C and it was 3:30 in the afternoon! The temperature continued to drop, and by the time I went to bed it was -38C with the wind.

One of my morning routines immediately after getting up is to check the outside temperature (the wireless sensor is on the northwest side of the house). I was shocked to see it display -37.2C, by far the coldest I’ve ever recorded at my house in 10 years (it bottomed out at -37.8 by 7:00). When I got to work, the wind-chill was sitting at -45C! That’s kinda one of those unfathomable numbers…I may have stated earlier today that it was “stupid” cold. Funny thing is that it does even come close to breaking the all-time record, which was set at -41.1C. Brrrr!

Early morning temperature, January 2013.

Early morning temperature, January 2013.

-45 with the wind, January 2013.

-45 with the wind, January 2013.

Well, all this frigid weather means that there’s a lot of time spent inside, and that gave me chance to do some extra railway stuff. Most of it involved research, but I did do a little work in preparation for my upcoming presentation at Gunflint Lodge. The event has been confirmed for February 9th at 7:30pm (CST) at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center. I’m pretty excited about the presentation and especially that I get to go to Gunflint to do it. Now I just need to convince my wife to come with me and enjoy a little break from the kids!

It had been a while since I stuck my nose in the computer and did some railway stuff other than writing. I always love the rush I get when I’m on the hunt…you’re still talking about historical research right Dave? Yup, and call me a nerd, but I find it exciting! Whether I’m out in the field or following a trail on the computer, nothing beats trying to locate the next clue. This is why this project is so amazing; I never get tired of discovering new things. It will be a sad day when I finish all my research.

Anyway, there have been a lot of great revelations. I’m not sure what started it all, but I did spend a lot of time looking at things on ancestry.ca. That site has been absolutely phenomenal for my line of work. Well worth the money. I think it started with my thinking about Leeblain, and specifically the customs house that operated at the eastern end of Gunflint Lake from 1903 to 1909. I looked up the two gentlemen who ran it, then moved on to Archie Bishop who owned a sawmill on North Lake circa 1911.

Somehow or other I ended up with a census record showing that certain key railway people were all boarding together in Port Arthur in 1891 (Alex Middleton, Richard Hazelwood and Ross Thompson). That then led me into a search of these gentlemen and then some. It was at this point I made interesting discovery.

George Middleton (Alexander’s brother), was a primary contractor of the railway along with prominent area politician James Conmee. While the railway was being constructed, the contractors had control of the line, and so Alexander served two terms as president (and chief engineer) in 1890 to 1891. He was eventually succeeded in his role as chief engineer by Richard Hazelwood. Hazelwood as it turns out, thanks to Ancestry, is George’s brother-in-law. Nothing like a bit of nepotism!

My next mission is to try and track down pictures of these people, which doesn’t look to be an easy task. Maybe Ancestry will come to the rescue again…fingers crossed! Speaking of pictures, I just received three pictures I ordered from Library and Archives Canada today. One is of a locomotive, which may help in solving our engine mystery. The others show a construction camp and workers loading logs; now I’ve got more work to do trying to figure out where they were taken!

Anyway, time to finish my marking. Hopefully be next week it will be a tad bit warmer. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Lazy Mayans, burnt tongues and Christmas chaos.

Well, since you’re currently reading this post, you too have survived the most recent end of the world-apocalyptic prediction. Yup, those Mayans were sure on the ball; maybe they were procrastinators and ran out of time (ha-ha) to finish their calendar? Could be a plausible explanation. Not like anyone else has ever put things off until the last minute and turned out a crappy final product. So there, the Mayans were not wrong, they were just lazy…the world according to Dave!

Anyway, it is the night before Christmas and the house is finally quiet. I guess it could be worse as I could have been at work today. Yes, I am officially on holidays, though the craziness of the last few days doesn’t make it seem like it. I was very glad when Friday rolled around last week as it meant the end of a very long haul that started in September. It is typically a very fun day for obvious reasons; we teachers probably like it more than the kids!

In the last number of years it has become tradition for me to cook pancakes for my period one class to reward them for their efforts with the city Christmas cheer campaign. Although it is a bit of work on my part, I know they appreciate it (I normally make pancakes from scratch, but that’s not possible in this case). Hopefully I can keep this up for the next 15 years!

Now the only black spot on that day was another food related incident with my Grade 12’s. They got me again! As we prepared to leave the class for the annual Christmas assembly, one my students casually offered me a jelly bean. I really had to try it. I thought, “It’s a jelly bean, it can’t be that bad!” As I bit into it, I was immediately greeted by the taste of…orange. Perfect right? Unfortunately that was suddenly replaced by a searing sensation on my tongue. I had just eaten an Ass Kickin’ jelly bean, wonderfully flavoured with habanero peppers. My God! Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice…

So as I’ve already mentioned, the last few days have been a bit hectic, but since tomorrow is Christmas, I’m hoping that things will slow down in a few days. Today we had the family over for dinner and of course it was non-stop excitement. My wonderfully wife did a big chunk of the heavy lifting so it could have been worse for me. The boys are tucked in for the night and Santa is on his way. Time to relax a bit!

Once things settle down, I hope to spend time working on some railway stuff. I’ve decided to put the Historical Society on the back-burner for a week or two so I can get to a few things that I’ve neglected for a while. One of my principle tasks is to get some writing done on the Leeblain article.

I did spend quite a bit of time last night working on it last night. It actually felt really good to immerse myself into some research and writing again. Leeblain is one of those great what if’s in the story of the railway. Over the last few years I’ve spent quite a bit of time there and I often find myself looking around trying to envision what that spot would have looked like had the railway succeeded and the town grown into the metropolis that it was supposed to be. Certainly it would have transformed the Gunflint Lake area.

Tonight I read my son Ethan the “Polar Express” as his bedtime story. I wrote about this topic a year ago and I can remember my words regarding trains rolling along the line in winter. Tonight my thoughts were of Leeblain, and what it would have looked like nearly 120 years ago. What was Christmas like there in 1893? The optimism for great things must have been palpable. The experience of celebrating this event at a station/hotel in such a remote location must have been memorable, although if it was as cold as it is right now (-22C with the wind) it would not have been very toasty.

Leeblain, August 2012.

Leeblain, August 2012.

Anyway, I’m pretty pooped so I think it’s time to wrap it up. Big day tomorrow…can’t wait to see what Santa brought me! More great thoughts next week. Until then…Merry Christmas!

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2012 in History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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Dreaming of a brown Christmas?

So the $64,000 question is where did all the snow go? Last week I wrote about the big dump of snow we received quite suddenly; fast forward a week and it’s gone just as fast. The abnormally warm temperatures we experienced over the last few days is the obvious culprit…we don’t usually get +8C in December. There’s no global warming right? Anyway, the big downside to all of this is that we’ve returned to that dreary, blah landscape of brown. I’m not the biggest fan of winter, but I must admit that things do look better covered in white. And besides, snow just puts me more in the Christmas mood, especially since the big day is only three weeks away!

So, other the lack of a white blanket in Thunder Bay, what’s new Dave? Well, to quote my usual response, “same ole’ crap!” Not that life is that uninteresting or negative, it’s just that I’m tired. No, not the I need a nap tired, but just that I’m a bit burnt tired. Time for a breather…a break if you will. And coincidentally enough Christmas break is just around the corner (well, 13 days from now to be exact)! As I’ve mentioned on several occasions already, I am definitely looking forward to the vacation. Things are not entirely sane right now and it will be nice to have a few less things on my plate.

What is it keeping my so busy you ask? The most obvious answer to that question is work. Despite my desire for a respite, I still have a job to do. This is usually the time of the semester that my marking tends to pile up and my illness a few weeks back did nothing but exacerbate the situation. I am behind! Marking is like this never-ending battle (well, it technically does end at the close of a semester); just when you seem to have gotten yourself caught up, you’re almost instantaneously swamped again. I guess I have another 15 years of treading water…cheers to me!

Anywho, the craziness with work has made it a bit of a challenge to get through all my railway related projects. My free time has once again, like it has been the last number of weeks, been dominated by preparations for the Silver Mountain Historical Society incorporation. Things are a little more real now since the 9th is this weekend. There is still so much to do! I think Shelley and I have nailed down the agenda, and now I’ve begun work on the actual presentation. I have part of the slideshow done for the meeting, and I’ve started work on a video for one of our principal priorities, the preservation of the North-Gunflint Lake corridor.

As the date approaches I am becoming increasingly nervous. Preparation is not the concern; as a teacher, I learned a long time ago that preparation is a critical element in the success or failure of anything. I think it’s just who I am. As a bit of a perfectionist, I do put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to things like this…I just want things to come off as good as possible. I get the same way before football games…I routinely have to trot off to the port-a-potty on the field even though I went before we left the school. I’m sure I’ll be fine, but guaranteed the butterflies will be swirling before I start.

All the preparations for the meeting over the last few weeks has not taken every minute of my time, as I have found a few spare moments to do some other things as well. I did manage to get another vintage video up on YouTube, this time of the area around the Gravel Lakes. The Gravel Lakes are a chain of four lakes stretching for 2.5km from Sun Hill to Gravel Lake Station (mile 52); they are one of the most “interesting” sections of the railway. When I say “interesting” I am obvious being very facetious, as the Gravel Lakes are probably one of the worst pieces of grade on the entire line.

Rail bed, Gravel Lake I, July 2010.

Rail bed, Gravel Lake I, July 2010.

Rail bed, Gravel Lake II, July 2010.

Rail bed, Gravel Lake II, July 2010.

This entire stretch lies just at, or even below the water level of the lakes. It could be that the level of the lakes has risen in the past 120 years, but most likely the grade has settled into the swampy, muskeg topography of the area. If you’re not familiar with muskeg, just give it a Google. In his book “The National Dream,” noted author Pierre Berton wrote of the challenges of building railways through the Canadian Shield. He stated that many times entire sections of seemingly solid line had to be re-laid as they had settled into the muskeg; one had to be done seven times!

Ties, Gravel Lake II, July 2010.

Ties, Gravel Lake II, July 2010.

I first walked this section back in 1994, and was completely horrified (maybe that’s a bit strong) by what I found. I even got lost at one point, as I could not believe that it was the railway winding its way submerged through the last lake; it in fact was! I returned in 1997 to grab some video (I could have sworn I was there in ’95) and found that the water levels had receded somewhat. This is the footage I posted to YouTube.

Rail bed with ties, Gravel Lake III, July 2010.

Rail bed with ties, Gravel Lake III, July 2010.

I was back in the area two years ago in the summer of 2010. This section is interesting in the fact that because it is rather swampy, not many people have travelled it since the rails were removed. There are stories floating around of the locomotive engineers setting the engine on a slow speed and walking beside it on a particularly bad area because there was a tendency to derail. There are others of the train men becoming adept at coaxing the train back on the tracks because it would derail so often. I swear these legends speak about the Gravel Lakes!

Rail bed, Gravel Lake IV, July 2010.

Rail bed, Gravel Lake IV, July 2010.

Anyway, my journey a few years ago was to gather GPS data for the grade as it is difficult to plot its location due to the settling. I found that the water levels were even lower than in previous years, revealing things such as ties that I had never seen before. Many of the ties still had spikes in them! I would imagine that after sitting in the ground for so long, and the area being so wet, that they just left them in place. I took many pictures, but sadly I did not have my video camera with me. Therefore I will be returning to the Gravel Lakes to do just that, maybe even this summer.

Ties with spikes, Gravel Lake IV, July 2010.

Ties with spikes, Gravel Lake IV, July 2010.

Anyway, time to call it quits. I’ll definitely have a lot to say after Sunday’s meeting. Until then…

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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