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Monthly Archives: January 2013

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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The Tale of Two…Locomotives?

Writing a blog on a weekly basis isn’t as easy as it may outwardly appear (or maybe it is and I’m just not that talented). Though I may struggle a bit with the content, by far the most difficult part is trying to come up with a witty, clever title. Sometimes I hit and sometimes I miss (I’d like to more of the former, but in reality it’s probably more of the latter). This week was no exception. I had no idea what to call this week’s post, and then it hit me; I think it is very reflective of the week I’ve had. Besides, if Dickens can create something so popular why can’t I do likewise?

Obviously it has been a very busy week once again…but what’s new. We are down to our final full week of classes before the start of exams and there is so much to do. I’m slowing chipping away at my backlog of marking and I hope to be cleared up by next Monday. My exams are in and the students have been given their exam reviews. Most of the teaching is now complete and we will be focussing on exam prep. Where has the semester gone?

Things have been extra hectic as this Friday some of our students will be travelling to our feeder school Pope John Paul II to speak to them about coming to St. Patrick. Normally we send a contingent of football players to plug the program and hopefully do some recruiting. I’ve always sent along a highlight video of the previous season to show; problem is that it is not ready yet. I was supposed to work on it over the break, but as I mentioned it took a backseat to my Leeblain article. I’ve only got a few days to finish putting everything together! I should be working on it right now, but you know…

So, what’s been going on with the railway? Well, there are quite a number of things on the go. Last week I mentioned that my Leeblain article may have earned me another speaking gig, this time at the Thunder Bay Museum. There is nothing confirmed right now, but I may have the privilege to kick-off the 2013-2014 lecture season this coming September. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak at the museum, so I am really hoping that this goes through. It will certainly go a long way to promoting my work on the railway and our efforts to preserve the remains at Leeblain.

On the topic of lectures, I need to get cracking on preparations for my February 9th presentation at Gunflint Lodge. I am looking forward to this event, as the lodge is a beautiful place and it’s located in one of my favourite areas. I have not visited Gunflint Lake in the winter, and so it should be a great experience. Hopefully we get more snow; this past week has been another wild temperature ride. On Friday it was +3C with rain, and Monday dawned at a crisp -19C. We lost a lot of snow with the rain and it would be nice to get more before my visit.

Alright, so what’s with the locomotive thing? Well, it has actually been an ongoing situation for quite a while now; I even wrote about it last June (ironically in that post I was complaining about how hot it was). The story involves the most famous locomotive on the PAD&W, affectionately known as the “Black Auntie.” Her nickname stemmed from the fact that there was reputedly the image of a woman on her firebox door which apparently resembled a local Madame by the name of Julia Ann Roy.

So the issue lies with the fact that accounts of the type and appearance of the Black Auntie do not jive with historic information. Traditionally the Black Auntie was describe as a 0-4-0 locomotive; however documents suggest that rather it was a 4-4-0 “Rogers” type engine. There is a photo that purportedly shows the Black Auntie on an excursion in 1890-1891. However it lacks the necessary detail to make a thorough analysis. So I sent for an image of PAD&W #1 from Library and Archives Canada and what I received completely baffled me (unfortunately I cannot post the image as it is property of LAC).

Black Auntie, 1890/1891.

Black Auntie, 1890/1891.

The engine in the photo is appears to fit the historic description of a 4-4-0. There are some similarities with the excursion photo, but the archives engine looks longer and newer. The Black Auntie was heavily damaged in a January 14, 1891 engine house fire and needed extensive repairs. Could this account for the differences between the two? A plausible explanation. Compounding the whole issue is that there is another photo floating around that may also be the Black Auntie, but it looks nothing like the other two (and the front of the engine is not visible to see if there are leading trucks-the small wheels at the front).

Unknown PAD&W engine, unknown date.

Unknown PAD&W engine, unknown date.

I have ordered some additional images from the Archives that will hopefully aid in this investigation. This mystery has been absolutely frustrating; the more I dig, the more confusing it gets. I can certainly appreciate how challenging it can be for others who are doing similar types of research. I hope that I will discover some information that will help solve the curious saga of the enigmatic iron horse.

Anyway, time to run. More enlightening news and facts next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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The next Hemingway?

Dave, are you suggesting that you are on the same literary plane as the great Ernest Hemingway? Surely you jest! Yes, I am kidding. I am certainly no Hemingway…he wrote fiction. Come on, I’m more like Pierre Berton, probing the depths of 19th century Canadiana. I have the same hairdo…now I just my own T.V. mini-series!

Back to the reality that is my life, unfortunately the Christmas holidays are over. Yes, I have returned to work. Sigh. All good things must come to end right? It isn’t so bad, though it is a bit of a struggle to get into the routine of things. Isn’t that funny; when you go on vacation you’re tired from working, and when you come back you’re tired from being on vacation. Can’t ever win can you?

Anyway, things are rather busy and chaotic as there are only two and a half weeks before exams start. I still have a pile of marking to get through, marking that I did not get to on the break (because I was busy writing). There are exams to look at, and lessons to finish. I think I’m gonna need another break after I’m done all of this!

Unfortunately school is not the only thing that is keeping me busy for the foreseeable future. There are some projects around the house that need attention, swimming lessons have begun again and hopefully we can get some skating in there too. On top of that, I have a presentation on the railway at the beginning February to get ready for and I have some football related stuff to get to. Yikes!

So with all this other excitement going on, you’d figure I wouldn’t have railway time. Wrong! In reality I managed to get quite a bit done, more than I expected. Most of my efforts had been directed to writing, but I did get a little research in too. I managed to come across a few new railway time cards, one from 1906 and the other from 1910. I also landed myself an original railway document from eBay and was unfortunately outbid on another three. I was smart enough however to save the images for the ones I missed so I could use them as references!

Duluth Section Timecard, November 1906.

Duluth Section Timecard, November 1906.

North Lake Branch Timecard, June 1910.

North Lake Branch Timecard, June 1910.

Canadian Northern Railway map, 1906.

Canadian Northern Railway map, 1906.

I have been writing over the past few weeks about my attempts to finish my article on Leeblain. It was a tough slug, but I am done! Five thousand eight hundred and eighty-two words…by far the longest thing I’ve ever written! I am very proud of myself. Immersing myself in the history of the railway and this ghost town was a very gratifying experience. Certainly gives me a lot of confidence to move forward to bigger and better things.

I’ve submitted the article to the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society for inclusion in their annual Papers and Records publication. I am hoping that it is accepted. My work may have earned me another presentation date, this time at the Thunder Bay Museum. We’ll see what happens.

On a final note, last week saw some very important anniversaries in the history of the railway. January 4th 1893 was a special day; on that day the railway was completed all the way to Paulson Mine, Minnesota and toured by a train full of dignitaries. It also saw the incorporation of the aforementioned town of Leeblain on the shores of Gunflint Lake. I wonder what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall 120 years ago and witness those events! I really wish there were photos of the events, or better yet, I wish we could find them if there are.

Arthur B. Lee and Hugh Blain.

Arthur B. Lee and Hugh Blain.

Anyway, time to wrap things up. I have all that marking to get to! Until next week…

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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Who came up with that one?

So I actually Googled Auld Lang Syne as for years I’ve always wondered what the heck it meant. “Old long since” or “long, long ago”…who would have thunk it? I didn’t know it was based on a Robbie Burns poem either. Then again I’m not up on my 18th century Scottish literature; I should get on that. While I’m at it, I’ll finish all those books on my reading list and write a bunch of history articles!

All kidding aside, it is a new year. Welcome to 2013! Let’s hope that the thirteenth year of this new millennium is a good one. I know that I have a lot to be thankful for and I really want this to be another great year. However, like everyone else out there, my first big challenge for the next few weeks is going to be not writing the date “2012” on everything!

Once again my New Years was low-key, but that’s to be expected with young kids in the house. We had some friends and their kids over, ate the traditional Chinese food dinner and let the kids stay up to 10 o’clock. Certainly makes for some nicely wired children! It’s all good though; I can barely make it to midnight, let alone party the night away like when I was 21. After just celebrating my (ugh) 39th birthday, I’ll have to content myself with little victories!

The past week has been very relaxing and enjoyable. I forgot how nice it is not to go to work! Christmas Day was a bit chaotic, but that’s to be expected. The kids tried to wake up at 5am, so we had to remind them that 7:00 was the approved time; too bad I couldn’t fall back asleep after that. My wife and I usually don’t exchange gifts for Christmas, but fortunately the boys had some things that I could play with too. We decided to buy them an Xbox Kinect this year as we thought it was a system that would get them moving and was family friendly. It is funny how sore you can get playing interactive boxing against a 5 year old!

The only sour note has been the weather. It was so mild before Christmas that this little cold snap we’ve been experiencing is a bit disconcerting. I must be getting soft though, because it wasn’t even that cold; minus 20 is not really that cold! The biggest problem is that the cold temperatures, coupled with the lack of snow, really takes away a lot of outdoor options. We wanted to go tobogganing yesterday afternoon, but it was just way too cold with the wind chill. Things are supposed to warm up a bit (-6ish) in the next few days and we’re supposed to get some more snow. I really hope it happens so we can start doing our traditional weekend walks up the mountain.

Trail, Norwester Mountains, December 2012.

Trail, Norwester Mountains, December 2012.

With all the free time I’ve had over the break I was able to get a lot of railway related work done. I even did some research! I can’t remember what I was looking for, but I happened to come across an old map which has been a great source of information. I written on many occasions how the digitization of information has transformed historical research and I cannot say enough good things about it.

The information on the website stated it was from 1926, but on the date on the map was 1917. It shows the area of Lake and Cook Counties in northeastern Minnesota, as well as portions of the Canadian border area, so it is of huge value to me. I was able get some great information from it, both for my research and for my efforts with the Silver Mountain Historical Society.

This map is part of the collection held at the Cook County Historical Museum in Grand Marais, Minnesota. The museum is one of the institutions that has been very helpful to me over the years. My first contact with the CCHM was back in 1997 and then director Pat Zankman. Pat and I spent a lot of time pouring over old documents and sharing information. I had not been to the museum in over ten years when I met Pat there this past July; it was great to catch up with her and see what was new in their collections and displays. I would certainly recommend a visit next time you’re through Grand Marais.

Cook County Museum, July 2012.

Cook County Museum, July 2012.

Most of my railway time however was devoted to work on my Leeblain article. I actually was able to do a lot of writing…I’ve very proud of myself. Even though I still have quite a bit to go, I added another four and a half pages of information and I’m up to about 3400 words! The biggest challenge by far has been to decide what to include and what to leave out, as this is just an essay and not a book. It is very tough though, as you want to make sure everything makes sense. In any case I am getting a ton of experience with writing, formatting and documenting historic papers; it will certainly serve me well in the future. Now I have to figure out how to make a cool looking homemade map!

Anyway, I think it’s time to wrap things up…I have an article to finish! I’m going to try and enjoy the rest of the week before its back to work next week. Until then…Happy New Years!

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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