Monthly Archives: May 2012

Uh, I think we have enough rain now. Thanks.

A monsoon is a seasonal prevailing wind which lasts for several months. The term was first used in English in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and neighboring countries to refer to the big seasonal winds blowing from the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea in the southwest bringing heavy rainfall to the region (

Pic from the net of Vibert Road in Oliver-Paipoonge.

So you’re probably thinking, “Dave, you live in Thunder Bay and according to Dr. Koppen, it is a Humid continental (Dfb) climate (sort of)…you don’t experience monsoons!” As I demonstrate some of my geography skills in jest for you, it seems as though we do. It has been raining for the better part of five days now. It is actually quite bad; several outlying municipalities have declared emergencies today as well as the city of Thunder Bay. We have received well over 100mm of rain that have caused flooding, washouts and for the first time in my teaching career, cancelled buses. Some unfortunate people have had their basements ruined. The ditches, creeks and rivers are full of water; my backyard looks like a swamp! The sun is supposed to return on Wednesday, so let’s hope it dries up soon.

This week is the last week of May and it could not come soon enough. My burnout only seems to get worse! Football training camp starts soon and there are a whole bunch of things that need to get done before that happens. There is timetabling, graduation and a bunch of meetings still to go. I know that it will fly by, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I just need a breather!

Another picture from the net of an OPP SUV in a rather precarious situation.

All the rain doesn’t bode well for my plans to do any hiking in the near future. Rather hard to walk near rivers and lakes when they’re flooded. On Sunday I decided that since I could not hike, I would take the boys on a little drive. My one hour expedition turned into three hours, but it was all good. What could I possibly do in those wet conditions you ask? Well, my main objective was to create some places on Facebook with my phone so that I could effectively locate them when I post. I didn’t get everything done, but the Harstone Bridge, Harstone, Silver Creek, Hymers, Sellers, Leeper and Nolalu are now all officially recorded. I’m sure I’ll finish the job soon enough…the drive made me want to look at these areas sometime soon.

The most dramatic development of my week (other than the flood of course), was when I was informed that a very sensitive area of the railway is due for some development. The North-Gunflint Lake corridor is my favourite on the railway and I try to get there as often as I can (I booked my field work for August 5-8 at Gunflint). It is the farthest area from Thunder Bay and fairly inaccessible, so it has remained mostly free from human interference.

Rock oven at Leeblain, August 2011.

I received an email on Saturday that there were plans in the works to possibly open a resort on the Canadian side of Gunflint Lake, near the ghost town of Leeblain. I have spoken about Leeblain before, and it contains the remains of an old hotel and workers camp, the most important of which are several rock ovens. These ovens were used by Italian labourers on the railway to bake bread and in other places such as BC they are preserved in parks. About 2.5km west of Leeblain is the Gunflint Cross I wrote about a few weeks ago.

I’m not against the development; it would actually be nice to access Gunflint Lake without have to endure a 1 hour boat ride from North Lake or go through the US. However, I think it is critical to ensure that these important historical sites are preserved and protected. I’ve written emails to local MLA’s Michael Gravelle and Bill Mauro, as well as the local archeological review officer for the Province of Ontario; hopefully someone listens to my pleas. I will certainly mention any developments should they arise in my subsequent blogs.

Now speaking of Gunflint and Leeblain, I’ve confirmed my plans to visit the area this summer. On August 5th I will be doing my railway/mine presentation at the Chik-wauk Museum and I had hoped to conduct some fieldwork in the following days. By chance I stumbled upon long-time Gunflint summer resident and current lodge owner John Schloot. Back in the 60’s John spent many summers on Gunflint and often visited the Bishop family on North Lake and the old railway station there. He recently purchased the Moosehorn Lodge on Gunflint, which is now known as Cross River Lodge.

I’ve visited the US side of Gunflint Lake several times, staying mostly at the Gunflint Pines Resort, but I also spent an evening at the historic Gunflint Lodge. John graciously suggested that I stay at Cross River and I was more than happy to oblige. Besides, John has old films of the North Lake Station taken in the 60’s and I am very eager to see them. He has even kindly offered to provide me with a copies that I can post on my YouTube channel. The trip should be interesting since I managed to convince my wife Jo-Anne to tag along with the kids. She’s not particularly outdoorsy, so hopefully we can find some things for her and kids to do while I hike the railway. If the weather is good, it should prove to be very a memorable visit.

Anyway, I think it is about time to wrap things up. Maybe be next week the water levels will have subsided somewhat and everyone can return to a relatively normal routine. Until then…

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Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Well, if it wasn’t for the black flies and ticks…

“Why did God make yucky things like black flies and ticks?” asked my four-year son old Noah. “Not sure buddy, there must be a reason” was my reply (the standard answer…I am only a history teacher).

If you have no clue what I am referring to, a black fly (sometimes called a buffalo gnat, turkey gnat, or white socks) is any member of the family Simuliidae of the Culicomorpha infraorder. Ticks are small arachnids in the order Ixodida. Along with mites, they constitute the subclass Acarina. I hate both of them! (thanks to Wikipedia for the long, hard to understand scientific descriptions)

Living in northern Ontario, I’ve had to put up with black flies all my life. Most people in Canada and the northern US know what I’m talking about. They are usually most active in the spring, before things start to dry out and get too warm for them. They like to feed particularly on human blood, leaving one with small, red itchy dots at the bite location. Their most annoying trait is the swarming they do around their victim, flying into your hair (I don’t have that problem), up your nose, in your ears, eyes, wherever! Even in your mouth if it’s open…mmmmmm, tasty black fly! Unfortunately they are one of the few things that I hate about where I live.

Ticks on the other hand are a completely different story. A few years ago, no one had ever heard of a tick. There were very few of them, if any, around this area. Then things changed. It might have been the movement of more deer into this area, or more likely attributed to global warming. In any case, we now have ticks. Lots of them. My first run in with a tick happened about 5 years ago and every year it gets worse. This year is predicted to be a bad year for them, since the winter and spring were so mild. If the past few days is any indication, the forecasts are correct…I picked so many off the dog I’ve lost count.

So this weekend is the Victoria Day long weekend, which I mentioned in last week’s post is the traditional beginning of the summer season here in Canada. In my profession, it also means that summer vacation is right around the corner. And it could not come soon enough! Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but at this time of the year everyone is a little burnt out and is in need of a refresher. I read somewhere this week (might have been on Twitter) that the old debate of re-vamping the school year is back in the spotlight. For those of you who don’t know, the school calendar was originally designed to accommodate a farming society with the months of July and August off. Yes times have changed, but the need for those two months has not.

As I already mentioned, after nine months of school (including several breaks), teachers and students are in need of a disengagement from the stress and routine of the learning environment. Time to re-charge the batteries if you like. That doesn’t mean however that all is forgotten; my gears are always turning about the next year, football, etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m not really on vacation. Weeks before the return I’m already working on things, so I don’t think I ever fully relax. So be it I guess.

So the long weekend usually means my first real hike of the season. I had been anticipating this for some time, and I was hoping that the weather would cooperate. My first order of business was to make a trip to my in-laws camp to grab the boat and motor. The camp is located about 65km east of home, and I wasn’t relishing the drive in my old truck. When I bought a new truck last year, I decided to keep the old one for trips into the bush. However, I have become a bit spoiled with the crew cab interior and leather seats!

The boys were very excited about the visit to camp; too bad the water is too cold at this time of the year! After our delicious Subway dinner (the boys would rather go to Subway than McD’s), I proceeded to load up the boat. In a precursor to the next day’s hike, I was assaulted by swarms of black flies. They made my life miserable as I tried to strap down the boat…gotta love May in the north!

Narrows between North and Little North Lakes, with Ontario on the right and Minnesota on the left.

The drive to North Lake is about 105km, of which only just over two-thirds is paved. The drive becomes rather bumpy after leaving Highway 588 for the final 9km into the lake directly on the old grade. After unloading the boat, we began our ride to Little North Lake. Since I was only working with a 6hp motor, it took about 40 minutes to reach our destination.

This part of the railway is only accessible by boat from Canada. Mile 75 of the railway at North Lake was the location of a 1000 foot trestle that burned in 1909. The bay was originally called Goose Bay, but it is referred to as Trestle Bay in more recent times. I first visited the area west of Trestle Bay back in 1991-1992 (I can’t remember which year) after the rail bed was cleared all the way to the end of Gunflint by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs. I guess the old grade made a perfect trail for them and all it needed was the removal of the forest growth. It was such a pristine area, as no one had been on that part of the railway in a very long time.

Besides spending some time with the boys, my main objective for this hike was to locate some old telegraph poles along the grade. These poles were put up in 1903, even after the railway (owned by Canadian Northern at the time) had decided to stop running passenger trains to Gunflint Lake. The only business past North Lake was the Pigeon River Lumber Company logging camp at the east end of Gunflint. They built their own line, the Gunflint and Lake Superior, 4.5 miles from the PAD&W at Little Gunflint Lake across the border to Crab Lake to haul logs to Port Arthur. The operation lasted until the trestle burned in 1909. The only reason to put up the telegraph line this far must have been the importance of the logging business; I wanted to confirm that it had indeed been done.

If memory serves me, I located the first pole back in 1995. I returned in 1997 to photograph and record this and another pole I located. They were in fairly decent shape. Last year I found a large coil of telegraph wire along North Lake near Trestle Bay and re-discovered the second pole on Little North, but unfortunately the cross beam had fallen off. I was determined to find that first pole, as well as a pile of discarded rails that had been left near the same spot.

Rail, Little North Lake.

Immediately after starting the hike, my son Ethan found a pile of rails north of the grade in the bush. I`d never seen these before (if I remember correctly) since they would have been obscured by the summer growth. Another short distance ahead I located a small pile of coal that had been dropped by a passing train sometime before 1909. Then five minutes later I found the rails I was looking for, but no pole (the rails are stamped M.B.H.I & S Co. 1890). The pole had obviously disintegrated in the last 12 years.

While the boys snacked on their lunch in the boat, I quickly recorded the first rails and then ran back to the

Insulator, Little North Lake.

second rails to take one last look for the pole. When I got there, I just happened to glance up from where the rails were lying and noticed something green in the background. My first thought was “no way!” Making my way over, my assumption was correct; I had found a glass insulator from a telegraph pole! In all my years of hiking I had only seen maybe a dozen poles and only found 3 insulators. The wire was still attached and examining closely I could see remains of the pole. After removing the insulator, I tried following the wire in both directions but came up empty.

Holding telegraph pole cross beam, Little North Lake.

Our second stop was a short 900m boat ride west to a second telegraph site. I saw it on two occasions last year, but I just wanted to take a quick poke around to see if I could find anything else. Unfortunately there was nothing else to see, but I did get some good pictures!

From Little North, we headed back 5km to North Lake and a visit to the Height of Land Portage. This strip of land separates North and South Lakes, as well-being the border and the Laurentian Divide (water from North flows into Hudson Bay and South flows to Lake Superior). I’ve been there many times, and there’s something to be said about wandering back and forth across the Canada-US border. In case you’re wondering, the Webster–Ashburton Treaty that finalized the imaginary delineation allows people to cross the border on the portages. So I even visited another country this weekend…all in a day’s work!

Boundary Monument. US on left, Canada on right.

Anyway, I babbled on way too long. I guess there’s a lot to say when you actually get out and do something fun. And we all look like we have chicken pox as a momento!Until then…

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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Did I say how much I hate yardwork?

I guess it is Karma. Growing up I lived in my parent’s three-bedroom bungalow in the Westfort area of Thunder Bay. My parents were both immigrants from Italy, and they retained many of the Old World traditions when they came here. As such, our city sized yard only had grass in front of the house; the backyard consisted of patio and garden. Lots of garden. So, where I am I going with this? Well, despite the pathetically small amount of grass that we actually had, I hated cutting the grass. My dad would always yell at me for not cutting it, even though it took about 10 minutes to do it.

When my (at the time) fiancée and I were deciding where to live, we decided we wanted a bit more space than a city lot offered. So we bought property in South Neebing, and our house now sits on 1.5 acres of land. Although some of it is still treed and not landscaped, it still takes me over 3 hours to cut all the grass in the yard. I often curse at how much time it takes to cut the grass, edge, rake, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live, but I swear I can hear my Dad looking down at me and laughing. The 10 minute job doesn’t seem so bad now. So Karma has bitten me in the posterior!

We’ve now reached the midway point of May and the time is flying by! This weekend is the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada, which usually marks the beginning of the summer season. We might make a trip to my in-laws camp for the day, which is located about 65 km east of our home. Speaking of camp, it is interesting how people in Canada refer to “camp” by many different names. I have cousins in Toronto, and their first reaction to the word camp was “what?” Isn’t camp like summer camp? You see, people in southern Ontario refer to it as the “cottage.” Sounds too citified for us up here in the north; camp is so much more outdoorsy. I’ve heard that in Manitoba they call it the “lake.” Anyway, whatever you call it, enjoy this weekend in the outdoors!

Since we’re on the topic of the outdoors, I’m getting even more excited about the hiking season. This week I decided it was time to post more videos from my archives to YouTube. It was really a response to a request on the Facebook page for information about communication on the railway, such as telegraph lines, etc. I had footage from my 1997 trip to North-Gunflint Lakes that contained a few old telegraph poles that I found on Little North Lake, so I decided to upload a video. While I was at it, I put together a bunch of other videos from that ’97 footage; I will be posting them over the next few weeks, but I did put a second video up. This one is of the “Gunflint Cross.”

The Gunflint Cross is one of the most interesting legacies of the railway. It is a small cross, approximately 18

Gunflint Cross, 2008.

inches high, carved into the south side of a rock cut along Gunflint Lake near the 84 mile marker. The cross was created in 1892 as a memorial to a tragic accident that occurred during the construction of the railway. On October 8th, crews were blasting rock for the right of way when one of the charges failed to detonate. After waiting about 20 minutes, workers began removing rock to investigate the cause of the “hang fire” when the explosives went off; Joseph Montegia was struck and killed by the force of the blast. He would be buried in Port Arthur at St. Andrew’s Cemetery and some of his fellow workers carved the cross in his memory. So after 120 years it still remains in its spot, a mute testimonial to the men who built the railway.

The cross makes me think about Gunflint, and today I came across a reminder that I will make my first presentation in years this summer. I’ve mentioned this event in previous posts, but today I found a reference to it on the net. I’m excited about this lecture, I titled it “The Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway and the Paulson Mine: Hopes and Failures in a Border Wilderness.” It is going to be very different from anything I’ve done in the past as it will be outdoors. From my experience as a teacher, I’m sort of used to an indoor environment with a projector and a Smartboard. I guess I will have to explain things very thoroughly since I have no visuals to accompany my information. Let’s hope it is a nice day and a good turn out!

Anyway, enough for this week. Until then…

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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Dreaming of Summer

So why am I dreaming of summer you ask? You may reply that it is May, which is close to the northern solstice, and that means we’re pretty much there aren’t we? Well, reality is that we’re not quite there, and I really want it to be. Yes, this is very selfish of me, totally blowing off the month of May and we’ve just started it. I did write last week that I needed a break; the end of the year burnout is starting to set in and I’m getting tired. But truth be told, I really want to be on vacation so I can do all the things I enjoy doing…not that don’t like my job. However in a contest of what brings me more satisfaction, going to camp, hanging out with the family and hiking the railway is so much more fun! So let the countdown begin…only 38 more school days left!

Unfortunately my reality is that there is so much left to do before the end of June…I shudder a bit just thinking about it. Soon it will be time to start the process of timetabling teachers for next year, which is always good for a few headaches. And this year my term is up for my Curriculum Chair appointment, so I will have to undertake the somewhat stressful process of re-applying and re-interviewing for this job. I sent out an email this morning regarding our spring football camp, which will take up time and energy alike. Throw into the mix graduation, exams and all the little things that go on at this time, I will certainly need the vacation!

Well, I guess I should talk about some happy things instead of complaining and being so depressing. I was in Europe when this happened, so I never did mention that I was approved for my deferred salary leave in 2016. Yay me! So my wife and I will be off from February to June of that year…I am so pumped. In case you’re wondering, this is not at the taxpayer’s expense; my school board will be garnering 12% of my salary for the next 3.5 years which will be my pay while I am on leave. It means a bit less pay over the next few years, but that semester is going to be sooooo nice!

Library and Archives Canada.

What am I going to do you ask? Travel, hang out, go back to school…actually I’m going to do some research. I think I mentioned this fact way back when I applied for the leave in January, but in case you’ve forgotten or have not read that post, here is my rationale. My main goal is to finish all this railway research that I have been doing for the past 18 years so I can complete the book that I started writing many moons ago. I need to travel to Ottawa to visit the National Archives as there are a ton of files that I need to peruse related to the railway. I also need to pay a return visit to the Archives of Ontario in Toronto as they have a file related to the sale of the railway in 1899 that requires more intense scrutiny that I gave it the first time around. Once that is complete, I will have to spend some time at the Brodie Branch of the Thunder Bay Public Library going through about 30 years’ worth of microfilm. So to answer the question, I will be very busy on my semester off!

Chik-Wauk Museum.

Another reason why I am anxious for summer is that it means hiking season. I do manage to get in some walks during May and June, but unfortunately I’m restricted to the weekends. I like being able to go whenever, especially whenever the weather is most conducive. I started tentatively hashing out my big hiking trip for the summer, which involves spending several days on Gunflint Lake to complete some of the field work left over from last year. I have the presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum on August 5th; the plan is to try to complete the field work in the days immediately following. Hopefully the weather cooperates; last year it was heat exhaustion one day and a monsoon another.

I’ll probably get some good images; they’ll make a good addition to the new Facebook page I set up. It was a bit of an impulse decision to create the page, but I’m glad I did. Getting “likes” on the page has been more challenging than I expected, but it’s only been a week I guess. One of things that I am groping with is what content to include on the page; what do I put on there without repeating what is on my website? Maybe this will make a good question for the page.

Anyway, need to run. Until then…

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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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