Monthly Archives: January 2012

Technology: The good, the bad…

The ugly? Haha. I think this title appropriately sums up the week I’ve had and how technology has flavoured it, both positively and negatively.

I always say that technology is a double-edged sword; great when it works and a pain when it doesn’t (I guess so does everyone else). I experienced both, but it’s funny that technology usually picks the worse time to fail. For me it was on Thursday, which was the first day of semester 1 exams. For the last few years I have been using response technology on the multiple choice sections of my exams. While there is some inherent laziness, since I do not have to mark, the “clickers” allow me to analyze the data and use it to improve my teaching/questioning. Last year I switched to a new system, the CPS Pulse by eInstruction. Everything went fine, as did the trial run I did on the Monday before the exam. However, when my period 1 class arrived (Grade 10 Canadian History, Academic/AP split), the program would crash when I tried to activate it. After many restarts and failures, I told the students to go to plan “B” and use the answer sheet. Shortly thereafter, it started working. ????? There were a few choice words muttered to myself but I was glad it was working (worked fine for the most part for the next 2 exams).

On the upside, there were some great things that technology did for me on the research front. I have spoken before about how great the digitization of old books has been and the impact it has had on researchers like myself.  This past week has been a flurry of discoveries, which unfortunately had an impact on the article writing I was supposed to do (sorry Lee). However, I could not resist the temptation to continuing digging, which is clearly more my forte than writing. I began probing a site that I had visited before, but now I’ve realized that there is way more material available than I initially thought. Hathi Trust has been an absolute gold mine of information and I continue to find more and more material (I was just on it prior to writing this and looking up Poor’s and Moody’s Railroad Manuals). You must download each page individually, but that isn’t such a terrible problem since you never really need more than a few pages from each book or article. Everything has not been entirely perfect, as there are a few sources that are not available even in a digital format. Take for example the 1897, Volume 67 issue of Railway News which has some very important information. It cannot be downloaded and the closest library that has copies is in Kansas City (1250km from my house in case you’re wondering). I’ve tried to get a copy from that library, which hopefully works.

The one by-product of all this new research is that it has left me with stacks of paper that needed to be properly filed. They have been accumulating for a few months now and on the weekend I decided it was time to organize it all. I ended up with 21 piles of paper; I couldn’t resist taking a photo. It started me thinking about the time and money I’ve devoted to this project. There are hours on the internet, in the library and in particular tromping through the bush in the heat and bugs doing field work. Cost? I can’t even begin to calculate what I’ve spent on printing, gas and in the “old” days postage and film developing. Some people golf, some people drink…I research a “dead” railway (that’s what my wife calls it). We all have our vices right?

So speaking of this vice of mine, I finally decided to try to complete some of the critical research that needs to be done before I can contemplate any real writing. For years I have been making plans to visit the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa where some of the most important railway files are located. I also need to go back to the Archives of Ontario in Toronto and re-examine some of the material I looked at in 1999. I am very fortunate that my job allows me to take a deferred salary leave and pursue this goal. Therefore, if everything goes smoothly, I will be off from February to September 2016! I know it is a long way away, but I’m sort of excited already. Now the big decision is going to be how many days do I need in each city?

I guess the last thing I will leave off with this week is the fact that there are some really great people who share my interest in the railway. In the past few weeks I have received some awesome pictures of the railway and some of its associated history. First was a picture from Brett showing an aerial view of Trestle Bay on North Lake, where you can clearly see the pilings left from when the 1000 foot bridge burned c.1909. Today it was a series of pictures from Don of the old Bishop’s property also on North Lake. North Lake is a bit of special place for me as it was where I first encountered the railway way back in 1990. The photos showed the old Bishop’s cabin where I stayed on my first moose hunting trip. It also makes me think about how fragile history is and how quickly it moves and changes. Maybe this is what motivates and drives me; just as these gentlemen have shared history with me, I want to share history with others. Until next week…

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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Do lawyers hate history?

So, yet another enigmatic title huh Dave…well, if the shoe fits. Now you’re probably looking for an explanation, but you’ll have to wait, as I usually save the railway related babble for the second half of the blog.

This past week was the last full week of classes before the start of exams, which is certainly a relief. While they mark the midway point of the year, exams are also a reminder that the new semester will soon be starting and with it a new set of students; some fresh blood so to speak. Not that I don’t like my current students, but after five months it is time to change things up with some new faces and new ideas. I’ve finally cleared up most of the backlog of marking that I had, which will certainly leave me more time to for other pursuits. There will be a brief flurry of marking because of exams and culminating projects, but I’m usually able to finish those off fairly quickly, especially since marks are normally due soon after the completion of exams.

Now some of the things that I “need” to get to are projects around the house. My wife and I are nearing the end (finally) of our three-year project to finish our basement. One of the last pieces of the puzzle is to install the laminate floor, which I am hoping comes in this week. When we ordered it in mid-December we were told it was on backorder until January 23rd or so, which would allow me to get it done this coming weekend. I’ve never installed a floor before, but I’m fairly handy so I don’t think it will be too much trouble (fingers crossed). I’d really like to have it ready since Superbowl is approaching soon, and I host an annual party for my friends; a new floor makes it feel finished.

Aside from some prep-work in the basement, this past week was fairly uneventful. We experienced a cold snap last week, so the temperatures prevented any cross-country skiing or trips up the mountain (on Saturday it was still -19C at noon). It gave me some extra time to work on railway-related matters (not yet…) and also do some planning for a few upcoming events. The trip to Europe is going in 71ish days, and we just got approved to attend the Glazier Football Clinic in Minneapolis from February 16-19. We try to get to this event every two to three years as it is a fantastic opportunity to learn and connect, drawing coaches from Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, northern Ontario and Manitoba. Glazier is one of the largest football clinics in the states, and they bring in some of the top high school, college and pro coaches. Really looking forward to it and for the first time I’m going to do some tweets from the sessions; I know everyone will be excited to hear about zone blitzing and the 3-3-5!

I did get a chance to do a bit more writing last week on the article, focussing on silver mining and its role in the construction of the railway. I’m sure I’ll write more this week, and that will only increase as the new semester starts. My “railway” time was also consumed with some additional research, which I feel at times will never end. Each time I type something into Google it reveals some new information or a new lead. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly qualifies my previous statement. I had an interesting exchange with a contact on Twitter last week and her suggestion was to get this “done” sooner than later. I spent some time pondering that statement as I had the same comment made to me at last year’s Gunflint Green-up presentation. I would love to dedicate my time to this project but as a husband, father and teacher there are other priorities in my life. Maybe I need my wife to hurry up and win that lottery she plays every week! More realistically though, I will be submitting the paperwork for a deferred salary leave this week (in 4 or 5 years…I haven’t decided), which will give me the time to travel to research and do some writing.

Alright, I guess I’ve kept the suspense going long enough. So what’s with the title? Well, it ties in with my railway research from last week. I was examining the material on the sale of the railway in 1899 again and it gave me an idea. In 1890 the Canadian Bank of Commerce loaned the PAD&W funds for construction totalling $1.5 million dollars, I think. I thought the best way to clarify this would be to contact CIBC Archives and see if they possibly had any information. I sent an email request on Wednesday and received a reply on Thursday. The contents of that response inspired the title of this blog.

Okay, so what did it say? Unfortunately, the answer was one that I had received before and made me extremely frustrated. Last year I wrote to TD Bank Archives for information on the Toronto General Trusts Company interest in the railway. While the archivist was very helpful, my efforts were thwarted by the “legal department.” In both requests, I was informed that the material I was looking for might be found in executive council minutes; for reasons of confidentially however, these records are permanently closed to the public. Arrrggghhhh! So, the bank lawyers are worried that someone might sue over financial information regarding companies that are long since gone and people who have been dead for nearly 100 years. While I can understand their concern, since everyone sues today, as a historian it is extremely frustrating and disappointing. Why are these records kept if no one can look at them? And unlike publicly held information, I cannot use access to information to get it. Damn you lawyers! Obviously a little tongue-in-cheek here, since I’m sure lawyers don’t hate history, but hopefully it explains the title. Make sense now?

Anyway, ’til next week.


Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Of mountains and railways…

So, what’s with the title Dave? Well, it’s sort of a play on the Steinbeck novel “Of Mice and Men,” which I haven’t read by the way. I don’t really read much outside of history (go figure), mostly because I don’t have time to with all the other stuff I need to read. Anyway, I was stuck for a title and that just popped into my head. I think it’s appropriate though; just as Of Mice and Men was based on Steinbeck’s experiences, this blog was talks about my past week. So, there is a decent explanation!

Well, since I have now opened the proverbial can of worms, I guess I should elaborate on the events of the past seven days. It did take me a few days to get back in the swing of things after returning to work, and I was certainly feeling drained by Friday. I was struggling to clear up that backlog of marking, which by the way I’m still not all the way through (I can see the light at the end of the tunnel though). Saturday was our second cross-country ski lesson, which was a bit more active than the first. The kids got to experience going down a hill, and so did Dad! However, going back up the hill was interesting, especially since I didn’t have poles to help me out. My glutes were feeling it a bit later that day.

Sunday afternoon found me and boys back on the trail up the mountain, determined to surpass last week’s distance. So we headed up another level on the mountain, which unfortunately has some tough sections. One area, which is too rough and narrow for snowmobiles (most of the trails are used by both hikers and snowmobilers), includes a 250 foot vertical rise in 1100 feet. That’s a thigh-crushing, hamstring-tightening, lung-popping 23% grade…how’s that for a description! Trying to get two little boys up that is not easy, nor is the fact that I could stand to lose 10 pounds and am somewhat out of shape. However, the view makes it all worth it, as does the time I get to spend with my sons. I really hope they grow up to appreciate and enjoy the outdoors as much as I do. I’m already mentally planning where I’d like to take them on my personal day in June…Leeblain comes to mind 🙂

As for railway related events, I did not get to the article as I expected to (I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope). However, there were some interesting developments. On Wednesday I received an email from the Chik-Wauk Museum, which is located at the end of the Gunflint Trail (just across the border in northeastern Minnesota in case anyone is wondering). They wanted to know if I was interested in doing a presentation there at some point in the summer; of course I said “yes.” It’s been quite a few years since I done a public lecture, probably dating back to 2000. In a four-year span I gave a series of presentations on the railway (twice), mining and logging at the Paipoonge Museum (now known as the Duke Hunt Museum). There is no date yet, but hopefully I will know by the end of March. I must say that I’m excited; it love to talk about the railway and I know there will be a receptive audience. I also relish the opportunity to bring a little Canadiana to our neighbours to the south and describe how closely related our histories often are.

My second development was another contact in the ongoing Alexander McEwen saga. I received an email from a kind lady across the pond in Britain, who as it turns out is the great-granddaughter of McEwen’s mistress. Wow, quite the interesting tidbit! While she was not able to offer any additional information, it is another piece of the puzzle and might help me get to my goal of finding a picture of him.

Digging through my files for his information led me to a few other things on the weekend. First I continued with my article filing that I mentioned in my previous post, which unfortunately I did not get entirely through (damn US railroads!). From that I spun into looking at the book chapters and a new chapter I added regarding the sale of the railway in 1898-99. As I looked at the file, I really wished I could get to Toronto sometime in the near future. There is a file at the Archives of Ontario on the sale of the railway that has some really important information (I looked at it in 1999, but I need a second go-around). In the meantime I think I will email the archives at CIBC to see if they have any documents related to the money loaned to the railway in 1890 and how it factored into the sale. Wow, I have some work to do, never mind working on the article!

Until next week…

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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Ugh, back to work!

That pretty much says it all…the vacation is over! Two weeks flies by quick, though I shouldn’t complain since many other people don’t get time off over Christmas. It is tough to go back though; the first couple days are always exhausting. I never sleep well on the last night which leaves me half-asleep and since I don’t drink coffee (I can’t stand the taste or smell of it), it makes for an interesting experience. You really need every ounce of energy since teaching can be mentally challenging, so I did flub a lot of things in my sleep-induced stupor.

The only drawback of my holiday was the pile of marking that I procrastinated about and only managed to get through a small amount of. Sort of makes me wonder how beneficial the two weeks off really is, though the stress relief is very necessary. The visit to Duluth was great, and I was able to do a few other things as well. This year my wife and I signed the boys up for cross-country skiing. I have not cross-country skied since I was 11 or 12, so it’s an interesting experience. We bought some used equipment at the fall ski-swap and filled in the missing pieces after Christmas. Saturday was the first lesson at Kamview and I didn’t even get into my skis as I spent my time keeping the boys on their feet. I think they are enjoying it, which is great since it’s a terrific family activity. I also need to exercise so I can lose a few pounds!

Speaking of winter activities, I was also able to make my first hike up the mountain last week. I live close to the Nor’Wester Mountains and there are many trails on the mountains that can be accessed from the end of my street. Three years ago I began taking my oldest son Ethan up the mountain on the toboggan as a way to exercise and have some father-son time. I’ve been doing it every winter since, however now I also have my youngest Noah as well, which makes pulling a nearly 100 pound sled very interesting (Ethan walks the hills). We did 5k, not bad for the first time out; maybe this week we’ll push it up to 6 or 7k.

On the railway front, things have been progressing, albeit slowly. I did make it to the library last week to get a few articles that I needed and boy have things changed since the last time I did that. Well, I guess it’s been about 14 years since I’ve looked at a roll of microfilm so I guess it can be expected. Now things have moved into the digital age with computer-run scanners that can save images to .pdf. Too bad I didn’t bring a flash drive! I’ll have to remember that for the next time. At some point in the future I’m going to have to spend some time going through newspapers again, since I need to find articles from roughly 1900 to 1938. To compound things, since this town used to be two cities, there are two newspapers worth to look through!

I spent some time at home printing out articles I had saved and neglected to make hard copies for my files, and subsequently attempting the file them with varying degrees of success (there’s still a bunch in the “to be filed” stack). I also decided to take my plan to Facebook/Tweet important events about the railway to the next level. I set up a Google Calendar where I can input dates (there is a page on this site as well); all I need to is figure out how to post those dates automatically, which is proving to be a bit of a chore. Stymied by technology!

So I’m hoping by the end of the week to resume writing the article, though that is contingent on me clearing up that backlog of marking. Maybe by next week’s ramble I’ll have some news to report.

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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Hockey, Legos, Railways and Ghost Towns

Happy New Year! My New Years was low-key, as it has been for the last number of years; tough to do much with a 6 year old and a 4 year old at home. For the best anyway…hangovers suck!

So we’re a few days into the new year, and here I am in a hotel in Duluth, typing away on a little keyboard while my boys sleep. I guess at this point you have two questions: 1. why are you in Duluth and 2. what’s with the little keyboard? We’ll I’ll tell ya. I’m in Duluth for a few reasons, mostly because this year the Christmas break left us a whole week after New Years off and it was a good excuse for a little holiday and shopping. Ya, you’re probably thinking “those teachers have it so rough” (my wife and I are both teachers). Hey, that’s the way it goes I guess. The price for the hotel was good, so why not (my wife doesn’t need a lot of arm twisting if a trip to Kohl’s is involved). I also figured that while I’m there I could meet up with Lee to discuss the article we’re working on.

So that brings me to the second question about the small keyboard (which is a bit tricky to get use to, especially since I’m not a super-proficient typer). In my previous post I mentioned that I had bought something on the Christmas Eve pre-Boxing Day sale. Well, it’s here…sort of. I bought a Blackberry Playbook from Futureshop as a present for my wife and the boys (she claims that I’ll be the one using it the most, which is probably true). The sort of part is that I got it in a roundabout way. I was ticked off that it didn’t ship until the evening of the 28th, and then it didn’t show up on the 30th as Canadapost claimed it would. We went into the Futureshop on the 31st and after finding out I could return the web order in store, I bought one right there. I even upgraded to the 32gb version. This way I could bring it with me instead of the laptop.

Now, I’ve probably raised yet another question; why a Playbook? Aren’t all the cool kids using iPads (my wife asked the same thing)? Well, it was a combination of things, but mostly the price. This wasn’t a must have purchase, so shelling out $600+ for an iPad did not appeal to me. The $350 discount on the Playbook did. Don’t get me wrong, the iPad is awesome, especially the apps, but I had heard some good things about the Playbook so I decided to try it out. My brother has an iPad and he really likes it, but the lack of Flash is annoying. The Playbook links to my BB Torch and the OS update coming out soon will allow the downloading of Android apps, so I think it will be okay.

Now as for the railway, I haven’t done much work since before Christmas, mainly because of the craziness of the season. I spent a lot of time putting together Lego sets after Santa’s visit, and I’ve also tried to take in some of the World Junior Hockey Championship, which is one of the few hockey things I make a point of watching (yes, seems weird for a Canadian-I’m more of a football guy). I did however have a chance to catch up with Lee tonight, so I think the article is back on track. I’m planning on getting to the library on Thursday, so that should constitute my research quota for the week.

While I’m on the topic of the railway, tomorrow marks an important date in the history of the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western. January 4, 1893 was when the railway was completed, sort of. Well, I should clarify; there is no definitive date for its completion, but on January 4th there was a tour given to investors and dignitaries. They rode the line to North Lake, Gunflint Lake and crossed the border to the Paulson Mine. John Paulson himself led a tour of the mine site and the work being done. While they were there, the dignitaries christened the city of Leeblain on Gunflint Lake. Leeblain was intended to be the railway’s major terminal point outside of Port Arthur. It was named after two important Toronto investors, Arthur B. Lee and Hugh Blain. So a big day to say the least.

Anyway, enough for this week and this little keyboard. I’ll have more to say next time.

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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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