Monthly Archives: November 2011

Christmas Trees, Grey Cup, Football Highlights and Pierre Berton

So I spent a very interesting Sunday. After cleaning up some of the snow that fell on Saturday, it was that time of the year to put up the Christmas decorations. Needless to say my boys Ethan and Noah were ecstatic, probably more so about the approach of the season that about the tree(s) coming out. Had I had more time, I would have done my part which is to put up the lights outside. Unfortunately some of my talents were needed inside and I also had plans for later in the day.

The last Sunday in November is traditionally a football day here in Canada as it is playing of the Grey Cup. For those of you outside Canada, football here means the gridiron (not soccer) and the Grey Cup is the Superbowl of the Canadian Football League. This year was the 99th installment of this great tradition and since 1992 my good friend Dave (yes, another Dave; there are three of us!) has hosted a Grey Cup party. Unfortunately my Eskimos were not in the big game, but it is a good excuse to get together with the guys (btw, BC beat Winnipeg 34-23).

Speaking of football, much of my time over the last few days has been devoted to putting together a highlight video of our past season. I use this video for recruiting in the off-season and for promoting our program. I know the kids also love to watch the video; keep an eye out for it in the next week or so on YouTube.

My railway work over the past few days has consisted of a mixed bag of things. In preparation for writing the article, I pulled some material from my files regarding the need for railways in Canada and how it became part of our national identity. I also busted out my copy of Pierre Berton’s The National Dream as it had some great stuff about Canada’s enchantment with railways.

I’ve also spent some time doing a little light research on the net. It is very interesting how you can find yourself bouncing around from subject to subject as you get ideas or some other sort of inspiration. I found myself on Saturday night looking up some material on John Paulson; I was able to find a few good tidbits. First, Paulson was involved in another railway project before his Paulson Mine days called the Lake Superior, Willmar and Dakota Railway (I have no idea if it was ever built). My other interesting development was stumbling upon a website for the Eagle Lake Lutheran Church, where Paulson’s brother Ole was pastor for 11 years. The site talks about how many parishioners moved to the Willmar area from Carver County after the Civil War.

Yesterday I found myself vainly trying to find information about the establishment of the customs house at Leeblain. At the same time this city was being abandoned (trains stopped running to Gunflint in 1903), the Pigeon River Lumber Company was starting its operations at the east end of Gunflint Lake. They built a short logging railroad called the Gunflint and Lake Superior and both US and Canadian governments established customs houses in the area. The office on the Canadian side became know as Leeblain (even though it was several miles away from the original location). It was opened in July 1903 and closed in April 1909 (it was moved to North Lake). Unfortunately I could only find a short excerpt on the net; I’ll need to try to get a copy of the Acts of Parliament for 1909.

There was one curious and unexpected revelation that came from my digging yesterday. I had heard stories that there was a gold exploration north of Leeblain during the 1890’s; I believe it was Justine Kerfoot who first told me about this. I found a report from the Ontario Bureau of Mines that mentions this small development. Maybe at some point I will have to try to locate this shaft, but given its location it might be quite the undertaking. I’ll be sure to write about the mine if I ever get there.

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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Here I go…

So on Thursday I made a trip to the library to try to find a book related to the Paulson Mine. Through my communications with Clark in North Dakota, we were able to unravel a good part of the life of John Paulson. Apparently he had a brother, Ole, who wrote part of his life’s experiences in a book titled, “Memoirs: Reminiscences of a Pioneer Pastor in America, 1850-1885.” According to Clark there are some references to his brother John which I am really eager to read about. Our communications also helped us find two photos of Paulson; one from his Civil War days as a Private in the 9th Minnesota Infantry and another as an older man returning to Willmar, MN. Hopefully I can get the book!

Now that I have more time for railway matters, one of my goals is to resume posting videos from my archives. I’ve already uploaded 3 of these videos; Gunflint Railway, Gunflint Mines and the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I still have a whole bunch of clips from my 1997 North-Gunflint Lake trip and 1998 field work to sort through. Makes for a great trip down memory lane! First however I have to edit the 2011 football highlight video, which will take a bit of time.

In the meantime I had a chance to put together an outline for the article I’m planning to write with Lee Johnson. I think the hardest part will be saying everything in 2500 words. Brevity isn’t always the easiest thing to adhere to when you’re writing about 12 years of railway history. In my planned book this will take up five chapters, but I only have eight pages to work with! I just have to remind myself that this is just an article and not the real thing. With any luck I’ll get a chance to start writing this week.

On another note, plans for our school’s Vimy Ridge trip are coming together. I will be leading a group of 6 students on an eight day trip to Europe over Easter in junction with our sister school St. Ignatius. I’m pretty pumped for this trip as we get to visit Paris, Dieppe, Juno Beach, the Somme, Ypres and of course Vimy Ridge on the 95th anniversary of the battle. These places are on my bucket list; I’m sure my wife is happy that I’ll be taking care of this now and not dragging her along when we retire! I will post more details as we get closer to our travel date.


Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Life after football

Well, now that football has ended for another year (albeit on a disappointing note; we lost 20-13 in the championship game) I will have more time to devote to research. I’d like to resume writing book chapters (with the material I have-there’s still a lot more to be researched), but I actually have a small side project that I will be working on.

Even though I’ve done all this research over the years, I have never had anything published; well, maybe that will change. I’ve been very fortunate to meet some great people over the last 17 years who share my passion for history and particularly the history of this area. Last March I approached Superior National Forest archeologist and fellow historian Lee Johnson about sharing research material. Lee had contacted me several years back when the US Forest Service decided to use the 2007 Ham Lake to create a new hiking trail along the old railway right of way in Minnesota (Centennial Trail) and we have kept in touch since. As part of our collaborative research, Lee proposed the idea of co-authoring an article about the railway and the Paulson Mine for the Minnesota History Magazine.

I immediately jumped on the idea, but truth be told I was (and still am) a little nervous. I’ve written a lot of papers, articles, etc. over my academic and teaching career, but I’ve never done anything of this magnitude. Fear of the unknown? However, I guess it’s like writing a big essay. Maybe because this is my first scholarly article I am a bit apprehensive, especially since I don’t really regard myself as an academic. I am extremely knowledgable about the subject, but I always think that this is the stuff that doesn’t fit my mold. I’m sure I’ll be fine, but since there is already a book out there about the railway, it’s like there is something hanging over my head.

So if I can find some time this week I’ll start working on the outline for this article. Lee and I will have to spend some time working out the fine details, since I’m only writing half of the article. Hopefully I can start writing before Christmas and with any luck this article will be out in the second half of 2012. Maybe this will lead to other opportunities; I’ve considered writing an article about Leeblain for the Thunder Bay Historical Society’s Papers  & Records. Maybe that’s next on the list!

On a related note, I had a few research highlights in the last few weeks. Working with a fine gentleman from North Dakota named Clark, I’ve received a few more tidbits about the life of John Paulson. I also received a response from the Queen’s Own Rifles Museum in Toronto (located at Casa Loma) regarding a request for a picture of A.B Lee Jr I sent in a letter for back in September. The scan was from a book (and I already had the pic) but the resolution was much better. Now I just have to track down photos of J.F. Eby and David Blain and I’ll have the entire Toronto Syndicate. Happy hunting to me!


Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Research


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My first blog!

I thought I’d try the whole blogging thing to add more information to my research on the railway. I guess this is a way publicize what I’m up to. Stay tuned!

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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Miscellaneous