Monthly Archives: March 2012

I can see that on Google Maps?

Why yes you can! If you have no idea what I mean, which is probably the case, I’ll explain later. Patience!

So what’s new Dave? Well, I’ll tell ya. As of today, there are only 8 more sleeps until I’m on a plane headed for France. As you can tell, I’m getting pretty excited. Even though there is a bit of nervousness for this experience, the thought of visiting some new places overrides it all. The only big concern I have so far is the flight. We fly from Thunder Bay to Toronto, then catch a quick connecting flight to Montreal and from there to Paris. We only have a 55 minute layover in Toronto, which is tight, but we are flying Air Canada the whole way so the transfers are all in the same terminals. There is also the benefit of flying with other people, as we are travelling to Europe with our sister high school St. Ignatius. In Toronto I’m assuming we’ll meet up with the third group that is on tour with us, a school from St. Catherines.

I guess the biggest concern right now is some of the labour issues ongoing with Air Canada; fingers crossed I’m hoping all will be okay! I know that the kids are getting pretty pumped as well and part of my excitement stems from their enthusiasm. It will be amazing to experience the history we talk about in the classroom. From what I’ve heard, there will be over 150 schools from across Canada converging on Vimy Ridge on April 9th. Representatives of the government will be attendance, as well as His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet the GG!

On the railway front, I finally have finished my half of the Minnesota History article. It only took me two months, but I’m pretty proud of myself. There are still some tweaks that need to be made, but there’s nothing major left to do. The final word count is 3200, which is over my limit, but there is so much to talk about. I’m not sure how things will make it through the revision process, but I guess I will find out. Not having written anything of this nature does make me a bit nervous, as you do worry how people will receive your abilities and writing style. It will probably be fine, but I’ll be very happy when it makes it to print!

So, the Google Maps thing. I happened to be looking on Google Earth and noticed that they updated some of their maps of the area. Google Earth/Maps has been great in the past for helping me locate the railway and plot the data to my GPS, especially along areas like the Whitefish River that have been eroded over the years. I want to hike the area around Hymers this summer, so I thought, “hey, what if I do an overlay and see how they match?” Well, it isn’t the first time that I’ve tinkered around with Google Earth and map overlays, but probably the most successful I’ve been at it. Some of you may be baffled, so I’ll explain.

Map overlay of the Hymers-Sellars area.

Google Earth has a feature that allows you to overlay or superimpose scans of paper maps onto the satellite photos. It does take a bit of work, as you have to line up key geographic features between the two, but once it’s done it yields awesome results, especially if you are doing historical research.

So I took a copy of the 1960 Geological map of the Hymers-Sellars area, scanned it and did the overlay. It is a good quality map and lined up quite easily. I was amazed when I began playing with the transparency of the map and comparing the current topography with the one from 52 years ago…what a difference! The technology certainly gives you an appreciation of the forces of nature and changes it undergoes. The Whitefish River has changed its course significantly and it makes me wonder how things looked when the railway was built in the early 1890’s. When I hiked the railway back in the 90’s I would often lose the grade where it had been eroded by the river; now with this overlay I can mark the data points on my GPS and hopefully track the railway without any complications. I’ll be trying this overlay with other map areas in the future.

The main reason why I was playing with the maps was due to a request I received last week via email. The Municipality of Oliver-Paipoonge is looking into creating some recreational trails within their boundaries and contracted a landscape architecture firm to do some consultations. I was contacted by a gentleman at the firm who saw some of my photos on Google Earth and was looking for more information about the railway and the old grade. I dug up some of my maps of the railway for his research, and that got me looking at them. You know the rest of the story.  I will be attending the open house meeting on the trails that is being held at the Murillo Town Complex (4569 Oliver Rd) tomorrow from 4-8pm as the architects have some questions for me.

Last tracks of the PAD&W Railway, Rosslyn, ON.

Now because of the meeting and the recent mild weather we have been experiencing, I decided to take a little

drive yesterday (though the warm temps seemed to have disappeared). The real motivator however was the 74th anniversary of the last train run on the railway. On March 24, 1938 engineers discovered that several bridges near Hymers had been weakened by high water on the Whitefish River. No passenger trains would ever travel the rails after that day. Faced with increasing competition from buses and trucks, CN had lost $79,000 over the two previous years. The line was probably in poor shape due to years of neglect so the decision was made to abandon it in October. The rails were taken up the next year.

Tracks and switch, Rosslyn, ON.

I drove to Twin City Crossroads, which is just east of the village of Rosslyn. Here can be found the last remaining tracks of the railway. They are not the original steel (dated 1903), as they were replaced when Canadian Northern took over in 1899. However, they are the closest one can come to the old railway. After photographing the tracks, I drove further west, past Rosslyn to the site of the old Brick Plant. More tracks can be found here, along with a switch that allowed rail cars onto the factory spur. From there the rail bed continues west, just south of Rosslyn Road until you reach the intersection of Fraser Rd, at which point the road becomes Harstone Drive and sits directly atop the grade. I went about 2km west, to where there was a spur that ran to the Stanley Ballast Pit. I think I found the spur, but it was too wet and cool to do any real exploration.

Anyway, until next week…

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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Shorts in March?

Yes, you read that title right. So, you’re probably saying, “it’s March, in the northwestern Ontario…what is he thinking?” Well, I’ve never worn shorts in March, but there’s a first time for everything right? I guess it all started last week when we were in Minneapolis and the mercury climbed to +18C; things only got better from there! Yesterday the temperature rose to +21 and I couldn’t help myself…actually I got too hot in pants. So I broke out the shorts and made history! Needless to say I feel very proud of my accomplishment. I even Tweeted about it 🙂

Today unfortunately it was back to work and boy was I dragging! Teaching is a great profession with some good holiday time, but coming back from vacation is always tough. This is especially difficult when you have to jump right back into the swing of things such as the Battle of Passchendaele and the Enlightenment. I’m certainly going to sleep well tonight!

Now speaking of sleeping, there are only 15 more sleeps until Europe! Can you tell I’m excited? Tomorrow I am having the final meeting with the travellers and their parents, so the reality is really setting in. Last week I picked up a new suitcase and some travel adapters so I think I’m ready roll. I am a little concerned with the current Air Canada labour issues, but fingers crossed everything will be okay.

I’ve been looking at our hotels and where we are heading from those locations. After our two days in Paris, we move to Rouen from which we visit Dieppe and Juno Beach. Then we’re on to Amiens which is close to the Beaumont Hamel and Ypres, as well as the culmination of the trip, Vimy. On paper they seem so far away, but they are really only an hour to an hour and half apart. Anyway, enough about that; you’ll be reading about it soon.

So, what about the railway? Well, there’s a lot to report on that front. I worked more on the article last week and I’ve almost reached 2800 words. I’ll try to get more writing done tomorrow and hopefully I can wrap things up next week. Since I’m almost done, I need to start thinking about pictures and maps for the article. I think I’ve got the pictures covered, but I’ll need to try and find some decent maps. I might have to make a few phone calls and see what I can dig up.

Last week I also received some good news regarding my presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum. After the exchanging a few emails with Ada from the museum, I’ve been confirmed for Sunday, August 5th at 2:00 pm CST. I will be talking about the railway and the Paulson Mine…obviously pretty pumped for this event! It’s been a while since I did a public lecture on the railway so I’m great to get back into the saddle so to speak.

I managed to get that Wikipedia article on Leeblain finished as well. Quite proud of myself; it was actually a bit of work to put that together, especially with all the research involved (well, more like digging through my files). Maybe this will lead to more Wikipedia stuff, though I don’t want to get too carried away…I have anough on my plate. Paulson Mine next?

Joseph Fisher Eby

For my closing comments I thought I’d mention the busy week this is going to be in the history of the railway. Here’s the list:

Thursday-Gunflint Lake Iron Company is organized in 1892 by John Paulson, Kristian Kortgaard and Orrin D. Kinney

Friday-Investor Joseph F. Eby is born in Berlin, ON in 1844 and Canadian Northern VP Donald Mann is born in Acton, ON in 1853

Saturday-the last train runs on the Canadian National Railway-North Lake Sub-Division in 1938

Of all the events, the last is probably the most important, but I`ll save my comments for next week.

Until then…

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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Waterparks, Ikea and the Battle of Yavin

So I’m sitting here in the parking lot at the Albertville Outlets, typing away while my wife shops. It’s a bit too wet outside for the boys to play on the equipment, so they’re watching a movie on their DVD’s. It is Monday, so it’s blog day, so I thought I’d get a head start on this week’s post. Unfortunately I just lost part of because it wouldn’t save, so I’m now resuming this post at 7:00 CST.

Lego Store, Mall of America

Now for the title; what else would you expect from me? We’re obviously on vacation, but it is somewhat abbreviated, since we head back home tomorrow…no Duluth on this trip 😦 Besides the usual spat of shopping, we did make time for a visit to the Waterpark of America which the boys loved as usual (Dad’s legs certainly didn’t love the trips up and down the stairs to the water slides). There was also some time spent at Nickelodeon Universe…the Splat-o-Sphere was particularly wonderful. Ethan kept saying to me, “isn’t this awesome!” as I struggled to keep my lunch down. We also squished Ikea into the agenda, as we were looking for some office furniture for the newly floored basement. We also made Mom happy by eating at her favourite, the Cheesecake Factory, but we had to roll ourselves out after dinner!

Well, that leaves the Battle of Yavin right? I mentioned in my last post that Ethan and Noah were excited to visit the Lego store (Dad always is too) and they were hoping to get some of the newly released Lego sets. Their wish came true, and the boys spent Saturday night assembling the X-Wing and Y-Wing while Mommy went to Kohl’s. Since then, the Battle of Yavin (the end scene from Episode IV: A New Hope, where Luke blows up the Death Star for all you non-Star Wars people) has been raging unabated. Today we celebrated Ethan’s 7th birthday with a traditional trip to the Rainforest Café and they’ve been at it since we got back. I’m sure Luke-Red Five and Dutch Vander-Gold Leader (and poor Jek Porkins-Red Six) will relish tomorrow’s travel day and a break from the war against the Galactic Empire!

In other news, the countdown is still on to Europe. Three weeks tomorrow I will be on a plane to Paris! Ironically, this is my first trip overseas since I went on my own EF Tour to Greece and Rome back in 1992…the 20 year anniversary trip! Last week I was sent all the flight and hotel information so it’s that much closer to reality. Last week I also taught my two Grade 10 classes about the Battle of Vimy Ridge, so I promised them pictures direct from the battlefield. When I return, we will be starting WWII so it will perfect timing to show them pictures of Dieppe and Juno Beach in Normandy. Talk about living what you teach!

As for railway related matters, last week was a fairly productive week. I managed to get another chunk of writing done on the article, bringing my word count to almost 2300. I will definitely have to do some cutting, but maybe by re-jigging the incomplete first part of my section I can minimize what is removed. I’m hoping to finish in the next week or two, for sure before I leave on the trip. I’ll need to get Lee’s input on what he thinks, as there will certainly be some tweaking that will be necessary. A summer or fall publication date? Let’s hope!

I did get a bit of research squeezed in last week too; I need to remember to download a few things that I bookmarked while surfing over lunch at work. With a bunch of new material to print out, I guess I’ll be doing some filing over the last few days of the break. I’ve probably killed more than a few trees in the past 18 years of research. One could argue that in this electronic age I could somehow keep everything on some sort of digital file, but I would have no idea how to organize that in a way that I could keep adding material. Anyone know?

Last week I also made a little foray into the realm of Wikis, for the first time creating a new page on Wikipedia. I have edited pages in the past, but this was the first time that I made something from scratch. It was completely off the cuff too; I just thought about it while my kids were writing a test on Friday and began plucking away on it over lunch. It is by no means complete, but I hoping to finish it off at some point during the break. The topic was on the ghost town of Leeblain in case you’re wondering, one of my favourite places. I always wondered what it might look like today had it worked out. Hmmmm…

Anyway, gotta go; long day tomorrow. Until next week…

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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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March break already?

Wow, we’re a week away from the break and it feels like the semester just started. The last four weeks have flown by! I guess like the saying says “time flies when you’re having fun.” I wouldn’t say that it has been all fun, but I’ve certainly enjoyed the last month. My classes are settling in and hopefully this one absence per week craziness will abate.

I’m certainly looking forward to the break and I know my boys are very excited. Our usual March break routine involves a trip to the States, with stops in Minneapolis and Duluth. Last year we tried driving through to Minnie from home on Friday after work, which is a tiring 6 hour slog. However the trade-off is well worth it, leaving us more time in Minneapolis to shop and have fun. I know the boys are pumped to visit the Lego store in the Mall of America, since there are new sets to be had. I must admit that Dad is excited to check-out the new X-Wing and Y-Wing too! We have to throw in some stops for mom at the Albertville Outlet and every Kohl`s we can find, as well as celebrating Ethan`s 7th birthday at the Rainforest Café. Then it`s off to Duluth for a few days before heading home.

Now speaking of travel, the calendar tells me that we leave for Europe and Vimy Ridge in 29 days! It`s hard to believe that it`s coming up so fast…kinda makes me a bit nervous. I think that I`m taking care of things as they come up, but there`s always that bit of the fear of the unknown. Things will be fine, but I want to make sure it`s all done right.

I know that I`m very pumped to go and I`m sure the kids are equally excited. Our slick jackets arrived on Friday, black for me and red for the kids; I think that we will certainly look good if anything else. I`ve definitely made up my mind to take the Playbook with me to blog, which I will hopefully do on a daily basis. Camera, video camera, Blackberry, tablet…I`ll having everything covered in detail for sure!

Last week I did spend quite a bit of time working on the article. I’m now up to 1800 words, which is just short of the limit for my portion. I think that I’m going to have to do a bit of trimming when all is said and done to stay below 2500 words. I actually pretty excited up for this article since it will be my first published work and it will allow me to say that I’m a “historian.” The most important part however, is the valuable experience it will provide me with in the area of historical writing.

It’s also great that I’m re-visiting some of the research that I did many years ago. There is so much information associated with this project there are many things that I had forgotten; it almost like I am relearning the material all over again. It is certainly helping me understand the history of the railway in a completely new perspective. Maybe historical research, like life, is about maturity. The older and more experienced you get, the more things make sense. In a few years I’ll really be smart!

Obviously the writing left little time for research, and I doubt I’ll get much done this week. A break is good too, time to recharge and refocus. Makes me think of how many hats one has to wear when doing investigation of this nature. I really want to get to that High Court of Justice file at the Archives of Ontario because it contains a plethora of information. However I feel as if I need a lawyer to help me interpret some of the material! I guess you can’t be an expert at everything, but one can try. I’m not a civil engineer, nor have I ever built a railway, but comprehending the intricacies of it is critical. Therefore my current bedtime reading is a book on how to construct a railway…its scandalous!

Anyway, time to go. Next week’s blog will be on location in Minneapolis.

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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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