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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Saving a piece of history

So I’m breaking with my usual tradition of Tuesday night posts, but this is a special edition of my blog. I wasn’t going to write until next week since I just came back from vacation, but I was spurred to write because of something happening related to the railway.

The Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway officially began operations in June of 1893 and the last passenger train rolled over the tracks of the Canadian National Railways-North Lake Subdivision (as it was called at the time) in March 1938. It has been 75 years since the Iron Horse rolled through the Lakehead, along the banks of the Kaministiquia River and into the Whitefish Valley to Mackies (and beyond). Very few substantial pieces of the railway are left after all these years; only the bridge over the Kaministiquia between Stanley and Harstone and the Silver Mountain Station remain.

In the spring it was brought to my attention that plans were afoot to replace the bridge with a new structure. The current bridge is not the original 1889-1890 Howe Truss bridge (it was swept away by ice in 1893), but a 1922 concrete and steel replacement built by CN. That makes it 91 years old! Time and the elements have taken their toll however, and the structure does have some deficiencies. After making some inquiries, I was assured that it would be repaired, not replaced.

Things quickly changed this week however. I was told that the Municipality of Oliver-Paipoonge was again weighing the costs of replacement versus repair. As I understand the situation (to the best of my knowledge), replacing the bridge will cost upwards of $5 million dollars; repairing it will be half that amount. Obviously the trade-off is that repair work on the structure will again be required in 20 or so years.

In this day and age, fiscal prudence is of the utmost importance. Obviously spending the money now and replacing the bridge makes the most financial sense. However, as I outlined in a letter to the Municipal council, what price do we put on our cultural and historical landmarks? This bridge, and by extension the railway, represent an important link to our collective history; the railway was the main reason why many of the places southwest of Thunder Bay now exist.

Over the past 75 years, far too many traces of this railway have disappeared, overtaken by time and progress. Is this bridge to be the latest victim? As a history teacher and historian, I know that nothing is ever infinite. However I think we owe it to those intrepid railway builders and early pioneers and to our children, to do everything in our power to preserve pieces of history such as this. As is often said, without our history, who are we?

Kaministiquia Bridge, July 2010.

Kaministiquia Bridge, July 2010.

I have started an online petition, asking that the Mayor and Council of Oliver-Paipoonge make every effort to save the bridge and preserve this important piece of history. After reading this post, I would ask that you give serious consideration to signing the petition. Once history has been erased, we cannot get it back. https://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/municipality-of-oliver-paipoonge-save-the-harstone-pd-railway-bridge

I’ll be back next week with my usual Tuesday blog. Until then…

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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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Older, and unfortunately dumber!

Yep, that about sums it up! Older? Well, I am going to be 40 this year, but it is more of a reflection of the fact that I can’t do everything I once did effortlessly like I did in my 20’s. Dumber? How can you be dumber Dave? You are almost 40, right? With age comes experience and knowledge! Yes it does, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent me from being a bonehead. One can still be *gasp* middle-aged and still be astoundingly dumb…case in point. So, how were you a dummy Dave? Please, read on.

So summer is now in full swing, as we are now into the third week in July. The weather has been all over the place; one day hot, one day rainy…it just can’t make up its mind. Yesterday was just plain stupid hot. Stupid hot you say? Well, it hasn’t been anywhere close to that temperature all summer, then all of sudden it is 40+ Celsius with the humidity. Craziness! Hopefully this means things will start to settle down, especially with all the rain we’ve been receiving lately. The rivers and creeks are high, which makes my hikes a little more challenging (as mentioned later).

As I write this I am sitting in a hotel room in Sault Ste. Marie…Ontario. The family and I are on the first leg of our trip to Toronto and we’ll be in the centre of the universe by tomorrow afternoon. The boys are very excited for the trip; first to see their uncle, and second to experience all the cool things to see in the Toronto area. We’ve never come here as a family, and I have not been to southern Ontario since 2006.

Day One was fine, though eight hours behind the wheel was a bit tiring. I do love the drive though; the scenery is spectacular! What wasn’t exciting were the constant stops for construction. If you’ve never heard this one, the joke is that there are two seasons in Canada-winter and road construction! I’ll have more to say about our trip in my next post.

Things have been busy on the railway front. I did get out for a hike last week, which was much more successful than the previous week (which I’ll talk about shortly). We’re also slowly putting everything together for History Day, which is less than a month away. There are so many little things to plan and prepare. I’ll put up a copy of the poster once it’s ready.

Obviously the highlight of the past week was my hike at Leeper (mile 31 of the railway). Where is Leeper you ask? Well, it doesn’t really exist anymore, other than a road that runs off Highway 588. It is located about halfway between Hymers (mile 28) and Nolalu (mile 34). It is marked by several crossings of the Whitefish River, the remains of which are still very visible. I was last there in 2009, but I didn’t shoot any video, which was the reason for my re-visit.

The trick for this hike was going to be where to start. Leeper was located on the south side of the Whitefish River, just east of a crossing of the river. It has rained quite a bit lately, so I figured it would be a challenge to get across without getting wet (I hate walking with wet boots). So I decided to park north of the river, near the old highway crossing (the new bridge is about 85m east of the old one). From there I would walk to where the first bridge was located; what I didn’t take into account was how far away that bridge was. Thankfully there was an old road that brought me right to that spot after a 430m walk.

Finding bridge remains is always a challenge due to the shifting course of the Whitefish. It has moved quite a bit since the railway was built through the area in 1890, obliterating some sections of the railway. The crossing at Leeper is no exception. There are pilings and parts of the abutment in the west bank, but I cannot even find where the eastern side might have been. I have looked around on several occasions, but have come up empty. Right now the bridge looks to be about 60m long, but in actuality it was probably shorter than that.

Bridge crossing, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge crossing, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge remains, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge remains, Leeper, July 2013.

Immediately west of the western abutment (about 50m), I encountered the first effects of the river erosion. The river has shifted again, but at some point after 1938 it washed out a 75m stretch of the rail bed. These detours make hiking a bit challenging, as picking up the grade on the other side isn’t always easy.

It was at this point that I realized that I had not calibrated my GPS for the altitude of Leeper station (I like to try to plot the rise in elevation of the grade). I didn’t have the number on me (it’s about 1000ft), so I thought I’d be smart and call my wife for it. Her reaction was quite interesting; after explaining what I wanted her to do, she answered with “why don’t you look it up yourself?” She did give me the data, and as I hung up I stared blankly at my iPhone in my hand. It took a few seconds to realize that I called my wife on a device that has a connection to the internet. I thought, “man, you’re a dummy!’

The major feature of the grade in this area (other than the bridges), are the near constant cuttings that are present. The railway skirts along the south side of a large ridge and the grade is cut into the side of that ridge. It makes for a very well defined, picturesque area.

Rail bed, Leeper, July 2013.

Rail bed, Leeper, July 2013.

Almost 500m past the previous washout, I arrived at yet another area of erosion, this one for about 90m. This area had fallen victim to the hydraulic effects of the river, but it was very evident that the railway engineers were concerned about this along the whole section. I passed several areas where rock fill had been placed at the bottom of embankments and it was clear that the river had once passed alongside.

Erosion, Leeper, July 2013.

Erosion, Leeper, July 2013.

One hundred and eighty metres past the erosion I encountered an approximately 20ft creek that appeared to have been ravaged repeatedly by torrents of water; what remained of the bridge or culvert was displaced and pushed downstream several feet. Again I had to fuddle around trying to pick up the grade on the west side.

From here the railway continues another kilometre to the second river crossing, dominated by very long cuttings and embankments. In many places the grade opens up and is very easy to walk along. In my head I thought about how it would have looked when the trains were running and how pretty it must have been alongside the river. It would make an awesome hiking trail!

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

One of the other reasons why I wanted to return to this section was that it contains a few well-preserved telegraph poles. I had found two on my previous hikes and I was hoping to find more. Locating them is a bit of a challenge, especially given their age (it’s been 75 years since the line was abandoned). I found the remains of a few more, but they were both in very bad shape.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

My original intention for the hike was to push about 500m past the second river crossing to the third crossing, but my efforts were thwarted by the river. It was much higher than I expected (higher than it was in 2009 and that was high) and would make any attempt to ford very dangerous. I’ll have to cover this section when I do part two of the hike, this time coming in west from Nolalu…I can’t wait!

1960 Ontario Geological Survey.

1960 Ontario Geological Survey.

Anyway, time to wrap up. I have another long day tomorrow and I need my rest. I’ll be skipping a post due to the trip, so I’ll be back in a few weeks. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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That’s why the train was always late!

So I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to start this post. Obviously I need to fold in the title somehow, but I have no idea how I should do it. Oh to be a literary genius like Shakespeare or Wordsworth or Shelley. Wait, I don’t think I want to be in the same category as those guys…I hated English. Why the hell do I want to be like them? Okay, how about Pierre Berton? Yes, good ole’ Pierre Berton, Canadiana author extraordinaire! That’s more like it. So there I have it; eight sentences later I have an introduction to this week’s post. Does it make any sense, or have any relevance to the title, nope. But hey, if you’ve read this far…

So, how’s your week been Dave? Well, do you really want to know? To be honest it wasn’t the start of summer holidays I was expecting. Things were okay at the start of the week, as recounted in last week’s blog, but it kinda went downhill from there. How bad you ask? Well, I should be posting this from my brother’s house in Toronto as part of the first leg of our vacation, but I’m still at home. That bad!

So, what happened? Well, my hike last week did not go exactly as planned and then the coup d’grâce happened on Friday. The boys and I were supposed to go somewhere in the early afternoon and we had some time to kill, so we stopped by my mom’s. Pretty innocent right? The boys had a snack and my youngest Noah decided as he’s done a million times before to ride one of the bikes my mom has at her house around the back yard. Low and behold he falls off the bike. When I got to him he was complaining that his arm hurt and a quick examination gave me the bad news; his concave left forearm was broken!

We spent most of the rest of the day in the emergency and Noah is now sporting a cast on his arm. The orthopedic surgeon wanted to see him this week and next, so we were forced to postpone the trip. The main thing is for him to be okay and healthy, but it sure is a pain trying to re-schedule the trip and flights…quite the headache! We’re going to try to go to Toronto next week and then do our Disney trip in August when the cast is off.

So in other news, I’ve been quite busy with the Silver Mountain and Area Historical Society planning our next event. Last year my friend and co-president Shelley Simon organized the first ever History Day, held at the Silver Mountain Station. With the inception of the historical society, we have taken over the hosting of the event. We are trying to build on the success of the first annual edition, adding more historical content and speakers. It is kinda of exciting being part of the planning process, but it is also a bit scary as well. I’ll be the Master of Ceremonies, which gives me butterflies just thinking about it. Posters are currently being put together, but you can check out the Facebook post in the meantime.

Well, I guess I should get back to the title of the post right? My plan last week was to hike the railway west of Iron Range Lake, which was a place I last visited in 2010. My GPS data wasn’t super detailed and I didn’t shoot any video of the area. I also had an ulterior motive…finding one of the water tanks (or where it was) on the railway, which brings me back to the title.

According to old railway timecards, the PAD&W had three water tanks staggered along the line; Stanley, Sand (Sandstone) Lake and Addie Lake. The one at Stanley was quite well known, and I was shown the remains of the one at Sandstone in 2011. However, the tank at Addie Lake was a very interesting story. I tried looking for it back in the 90’s, but the only spot it could have been didn’t really make sense. After examining old timecards I figured out the problem; the tank at “Addie Lake” wasn’t really at Addie Lake.

So I took the 1901 Canadian Northern Railway timecards which show the distances on them and tried to calculate its location. Working backward from North Lake (mile 71), which is a known entity, 6 miles brings you to a point approximately 1100 metres west of Iron Range Lake (another maps puts the tank right by Iron Range). It then dawned on me that the distances on the card must have been out, as the measurement from Sand Lake (another known entity) was not working out right. By using the map, I was able to figure out that they messed up the distances between Whitefish (correct at mile 43) and Addie Lake (mile 65). That made me think of all the stories about the railway and how it was never on time…of course, they didn’t know how far it was from one place to another!

Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Ry timecard, October 1894.

Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Ry timecard, October 1894.

Canadian Northern Ry-Duluth Extension timecard, October 1901.

Canadian Northern Ry-Duluth Extension timecard, October 1901.

At this point I should mention something about the hike right? So I began my hike where the railway crosses Highway 588 just east of Addie Lake. The mosquitoes and biting flies were quite murderous and made life very unpleasant. About 400 metres into our journey east I got my first rude shock of the day. At this point the railway crossed through a swampy area for about 200 metres; much to my displeasure the beavers had built a series of dams that had inundated the grade. I tiptoed along the crest of the beaver dam for part of it, but then the course of the dam forced me into a long detour around the flooded ground.

Back on the railway, things were okay for the next 1.5km. However, when I arrived at the next swamp, I found it flooded as well, probably a combination of high water and beavers again. That basically stopped me in my tracks, still 1.5km from my destination. I turned back, figuring I could spend my time searching for the water tank.

Flooded grade, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Flooded grade, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

If you’ve ever done any type of historical/archeological investigation, you know how frustrating it can be. It’s like the proverbial “needle in a haystack.” I was just going with some rough measurements and guesstimations. I spent quite a bit of time poking around where I thought the tank could be, using the fact that it would need some sort of solid ground underneath and a water supply (the concrete pads of the tank at Sandstone are still there, along with the syphon pipe). However I could not find anything remotely resembling that; I did find some telegraph wire which led me on a fruitless wild goose chase.

Water tank area?, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Water tank area?, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

I finally gave up searching and headed back to my start point. On the way back, I had to cross through the flooded beaver dam area. Instead of detouring around it again, I decided to do like I would have done in the old days (when I was younger and more foolish, but a bit more agile) and plow straight through the water. I hate getting my feet wet, but the water was only up to mid-calf so it wasn’t completely horrible (you can watch it here). It made me think of the headaches the beavers must have caused the railway when it was running.

Flooded grade, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Flooded grade, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Beaver dam, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Beaver dam, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Rock cut, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

Rock cut, Iron Range Lake, July 2013.

I am by no means giving up in my quest; I’ll just have to go back to the drawing board and figure something out. The only map I have is from the 1911 boundary survey and it seems a bit off. Maybe the original profile drawing might have something on them, but I need to get to Toronto or Ottawa to take a look. I might have to re-visit the 1935 highway map I have, but I don’t recall anything on there. Ah, the thrill of a mystery!

1935 (1911) International Boundary Map.

1935 (1911) International Boundary Map.

Anyway, time to wrap things up. I have another hike planned for this week at Leeper, one that I know will yield some interesting discoveries (I’ve been there several times before). More to say and show next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Oh the irony!

Irony [ahy-ruh-nee]; the use of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of its literal meaning. Yes, everyone probably knows the dictionary definition of the word Captain Obvious. However, not everyone is aware of the cryptic insinuations that usually permeate my ramblings, and if you are a regular reader you are well aware of this. So what’s so ironic Dave? All in good time!

So I’m four days into my summer vacation…boy does it feel awesome. It’s like this huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I like waking up and not having to think about assignments that need to be marked or anything else. Not that I don’t love my job, I do, but it is a mentally and emotionally draining profession. Summer is a time to step back, relax and recharge the battery. I’m really looking forward to some time with the family and some time doing railway related stuff.

Now speaking of family stuff, I just got back from a couple days in Duluth, Minnesota with the wife and kids. And that brings me to the irony part of the blog, which is probably still not making sense to anyone. Yesterday was an important day…if you’re Canadian of course. Yes, it was Canada Day, the most patriotic holiday on our calendar and I spent our national birthday in the United States of America. Yup, God Save the Queen and Maple Leaf Forever. What kind of patriot am I? Well, one who tried to make his wife happy by going shopping with her that’s who!

Freighter Kaye E. Barker leaving Duluth, July 2013.

Freighter Kaye E. Barker leaving Duluth, July 2013.

Freighter Kaye E. Barker leaving Duluth, July 2013.

Freighter Kaye E. Barker leaving Duluth, July 2013.

We had a good time; the weather was nice and there are always things to do. The only unfortunate part about living in a place like Thunder Bay is that there are no large neighbouring Canadian cities within a reasonable distance (Winnipeg is 8 hours away), so the 3 hour drive to Duluth doesn’t seem so bad. The only part that bothers me is the highway itself. Huh? Do tell Dave.

Well, the road is very picturesque, a photographers paradise (one day I’ll have to do the drive slowly in the fall). However, Highway 61 from the Canadian border to Duluth lacks one thing-passing lanes. From the border to Grand Marais isn’t too bad, and from Two Harbors to Duluth is divided highway. The problem lies in the section between Grand Marais and let’s say Silver Bay. The road is very winding and makes it difficult to pass people. Of course this is the part where you get caught behind someone driving substantially below the posted speed limit and this brings me to another point.

Cruise control…my little rant for the week. Really? Yes, really. So I’ve done a bit of driving in various parts of northern and southern Ontario, northern New York state, Minnesota and Wisconsin over the past 10 years. I’m pretty positive that cruise control is a fairly standard feature on almost all vehicles these days. I’m very compulsive about using my cruise control; I love to set it, take my foot off the gas and just zoom along. The question I must ask is why don’t people use it? Studies tell us that it saves gas, but I’m constantly finding people who are obviously not using it. Speed up, slow down, speed up…you get the point. Drives me bananas! Nothing worse than having to jam on the brakes because the car in front of you is going below the speed limit, only to watch them speed off moments later (then catch up to them again). Please, people, press that little button on your steering column and save my sanity!

So I do have to wrap things up for today. I’m off to Iron Range Lake tomorrow for what will be my last hike until August. I have not seen this area for three years and did not shoot any video of it. I’m also on a quest to try and find the location of the Addie Lake siding and water tank (which was close to Iron Range Lake…go figure). I will definitely have some good pictures and info for next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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