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Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Students honour sacrifices of war

St. Patrick Humanitas

This article originally appeared in the “School Days” column of the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal on Monday, April 7, 2014. We thank the author for graciously allowing us to re-post it here.

Sitting in the Thunder Bay Airport on March 6, 22 St. Patrick’s High School students and 19 St. Ignatius students anxiously awaited their boarding call. Their destination: Europe – to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, the 75th anniversary of the Second World War, and the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The students were joined by Mr. Cappello, Mr. Battistel, and Ms. Borgo of St. Pat’s along with Mr. McWhirter, Ms. Papich, and Ms. Vidotto of St. Ignatius.

During their ten day journey, the students travelled through the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. All of the sites were selected to be part of the tour for their historical significance. Highlights of the trip included visits…

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Posted by on April 8, 2014 in Miscellaneous

 

Oh, December…

Yep, December…what a fickle mistress you are! You can be warm and inviting, or frigid and heartless. Which one will you be this year? Sometimes you can’t make up your mind (though it seems like you are leaning a particular way), much like your name. Even though you are the last month of the year, we really know your name means otherwise. Despite all of this, I still do appreciate you; well, maybe without the double-digit negative temperatures! You bring with you a season of giving, happiness and holidays. And beyond that, comes a new year, an opportunity for renewal and new hope. So here’s to you and what may come!

So here we are in December…and none too soon. As you can tell, I haven’t really gotten back into the routine of writing; things are still pretty busy. This is unfortunately only my third post since July! My schedule is a bit better than it was, so most of the explanation behind my lack of writing is laziness, though I can say there is a bit of burnout as well. A lot has gone on since my last rant, so I’ll attempt to fill in the blanks here with as much brevity as possible.

I guess for starters, football season has been over for a month. It was another very successful campaign for our team, though we wished it would have ended differently. We finished third in the regular season, and upset the number two team in the semi-finals. So for the second time in three years, we advanced to the SSSAA (Superior Secondary Schools Athletic Association) Junior Football championship. Our competition would be our sister school, the St. Ignatius Falcons. The boys played hard, but unfortunately our season-long injury situation caught up with us (5 starters were out) and we fell 7-0.

Now you may be asking what I’m doing with all the extra time I have. Well, obviously it’s not writing! For the most part, the last several weeks have been about catching up on everything that had gone on the back-burner since September. It’s been a bit of a struggle, but I’m slowly making some headway, especially with my marking. I’m hoping to have pretty much all of my outstanding assignments cleared up before we break for Christmas.

One of the things that has been keeping me hopping is the preparations for our March break trip to Europe. We depart in 85 days! It’s hard to believe it’s coming up that quick. I know the kids are getting pretty excited, and though there’s some stress associated with the planning, I’m eager to go as well. I did manage to convince my wife to come along, even though she’s a very nervous flyer. It will be nice to share the experience with her.

The railway front has been fairly quiet as of late. With football and everything else going on, there hasn’t been a lot of time to devote to it. I did fit in a presentation a few weeks back to one of the local Gyro clubs, but that’s about it. Probably the biggest news is the forthcoming publication of my first article on the town of Leeblain. It just went to print last week, so hopefully I’ll have copies in my hands by the end of the month. Obviously I’m pretty excited to see the culmination of a lot of hard work!

I would imagine that the next few weeks will be about catching up on posting some of the pictures and video that I shot over the summer and fall and never was able to post on the net. I can’t believe that I’ve fallen that far behind. I did however receive some great photos via email. J.T. (James Thomas) Greer was a logging contractor that established a cutting operation along the railway during the winter of 1915-1916. His work along North and Gunflint Lakes during this period is an interesting chapter in the history of the railway. Several famous photos were taken of the train stuck in the snow on Iron Range Hill (the steepest grade on the line-2%) on its way to North Lake. I was sent two photos of this event from a relative of J.T. Greer; they make an awesome addition to my collection.

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Stuck in the snow, Iron Range Hill, 1915-1916. (M. Wilson)

Anyway, it’s time to get rolling. As I mentioned in my intro, it seems as though December has made up its mind as to which way it is going. In the last week we’ve received a few big dumps of snow and now the temperature has dropped considerably (-40C with the wind at night). It certainly makes for an interesting start to winter. I’ll have more updates in the coming weeks. Until then…

Early winter snow, December 2013.

Early winter snow, December 2013.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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It’s like riding a bike…right?

I’m sure we’ve all heard this saying at one point or another in our lives. If you’ve done it once before, then it should be simple to pick it up again later on…in theory. I’m sure life has taught us that it isn’t as simple as that. Sometimes things don’t come back to us as easily as we would like, and at times it can be very difficult, or even downright frustrating. That’s what I feel like right now. How and why do you ask? Please, read on.

So I’m back! Yes, I’ve made my epic return to the keyboard after an extended absence. If you’re keeping track, this is my first post since July 31st and my first regular post since July 17th. So it’s been a while. I had a very busy summer, especially with travelling, so it didn’t leave me a lot of time to write and this fall has been just utterly insane! But I hope to reverse that trend starting today. It has been tough however to get back into the “saddle” per se. It’s almost like I lost a little bit of my mojo by not writing in so long. Hence the title of the post; you’d figure it would be very easy to get back into the swing of writing, but it really has been a struggle to resume my ramblings. I guess this is a start in the right direction. We’ll see how it goes!

As I mentioned earlier, this fall has been extremely hectic; well, maybe the previous metaphor of insanity is better suited to describe the situation. I had hoped that when the summer of travel was over, I would be able to resume my blogging, but that hasn’t been the case. I just haven’t been able to find the time. Between work, family and three football teams (school, Ethan and Noah), I just don’t have the time or energy to write. So what’s different about now you ask? Well, I shall tell you.

I guess first of all I’m on Gunflint Lake as I write this post. I know that it is Thanksgiving, and what the heck am I doing down here right? Well, I’d been planning this trip for over a year now and it’s coming at a very fitting time. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to swing it, but my good friend John Schloot at Cross River Lodge found me a place to stay and I jumped at the chance. I needed the break, and it’s given me the opportunity to spend a little time writing.  I’m here to do some field work on the railway (go figure), but also to spend a little time with the boys…mom gets the weekend to herself! Don’t worry, we’ll be back for Monday dinner, but it lets me have some bonding time with the boys for a change. It’s rather fitting since we just passed what would have been my dad’s 85th birthday, and certainly fall makes me think of the time we spent together. I know he’s right there with us in spirit.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

I really don’t have the time to fill in all the blanks with what has gone on in the last few months…I’d need to be much better at typing! Football has certainly kept me very busy over the last month, especially since I’m also helping out with Ethan and Noah’s teams as well. Our junior team is doing well, though we only sit at 1-2. We’re getting better every week and hope to even our record with our final regular season game this week. It’s been very tough shuttling between practices, as Ethan usually practices right after the high school team. It leaves me pretty pooped once I get home. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to make it to very many of Noah’s practices because of the conflicting schedules, but I’ve been there for the games. Both their seasons are wrapping up soon, so there is some respite on the horizon.

As you can image, with all of these things going on, I haven’t had a lot of free time to devote to the railway, but I’ve done my best. I have managed to go on a few hikes since my last post; one kinda railway related at Gunflint Lake, and the other along the grade west of Mackies at Sun Hill. Obviously I’m excited to get out this weekend, since this will probably be my last hikes of the year. Hopefully I’ll be able to accomplish my objectives!

Rock oven, Leeblain, August 2013.

Rock oven, Leeblain, August 2013.

Cutting, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Cutting, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Embankment, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Embankment, Sun Hill, September 2013.

The most important railway related news I have is regarding Leeblain. On September 24th I gave my first ever lecture at the Thunder Bay Museum on the ghost town, which was very successful. There was a good turnout, and I even had people asking if I recorded it since they were not able to attend. With the blessing of the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, I put it up on YouTube for the general public to view.

On a similar note, my article on Leeblain has been submitted to the TBHMS for publication. I literally had one weekend to make the necessary revisions to it based on the reviews that were done, but I pushed through and hopefully everything was okay. I have not heard back since it was sent it, so I’m taking that as a good sign. I’m really excited to see it published and have some of my “blood, sweat and tears” make it into print. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, I gotta wrap up since I’m off exploring very soon. I’ll post again tonight with some thoughts about the day’s adventure. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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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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The Ghost Town of Gunflint

Very mysterious. Murder? Intrigue? Failed dreams? Sounds like it would be the title of a cool book huh? Maybe something you would have found in the Hardy Boys collection. But this is no work of fiction. Many do not know it even existed, partly because its tenure was so brief. Much of what was there is veiled in a cloak of mystery and it does not give up its secrets easily. Historical and archeological investigation has offered a few glimpses into life at this remote frontier village that was poised to become a metropolis in the wilderness. Its story has certainly captivated me and will continue to do so for some time.

So here we are; we have just passed the halfway point of June. Summer is just around the corner and so is vacation. There are only 2 more days of classes before exams and the end is in sight. I still have a bit of marking to finish, but once that happens I am in the clear. It will be nice to not have to worry about assignments, marks and or even getting up early. It has been a long semester and I really need to recharge the battery.

Now speaking of vacation, I am very excited about our upcoming plans for the month of July. For many years my brother, who lives in Toronto, has been bugging my wife and I to bring the boys for a visit. The boys are also getting older (8 and 6), and the window is rapidly closing for us to do “kid” things with them. So we made the decision that we would “kill two birds with one stone” and do Toronto and Disney in one shot. We’ll be driving to Toronto, head to Disney for 12 days and then spend some time in Toronto before returning home. Should be an awesome time!

So what’s the ghost town stuff? Did you go to the old west or something? Well, as you probably guessed from the title, the ghost town is a real place on Gunflint Lake. Leeblain…you may have heard me mention it a few times in the past (just a few). Anyway, though I’ve been to the site of this former “town” on many occasions in the past, I had never really explored where many of the “buildings” were located (mostly because I didn’t know where they were). What I found was very exciting and makes me want to go back as soon as possible.

I was up bright and early on Friday morning, which was very tough considering I had a late night on Thursday (we had our school convocation ceremonies and then it was out for a drink and some conversation). I didn’t get to bed until 1:00, so I was pretty tired when I rolled out of bed a 6:00. Why was I going hiking on Friday you ask? Well, I had the day off; I get one free day off per year (personal day) and I usually take it on this day since the kids have a PD day at their school.

After loading up my stuff and the dog in the truck, I had to zip over to my mom’s where the boys had spent the night (mom and dad were both at grad). From there it was supposed to be a 2 hour drive to Gunflint, which ended up taking me 20 extra minutes since the road is so rough. I was in a bit of a hurry since I was supposed to meet up with Bruce and Sue Kerfoot at the site. Bruce grew up on the lake, and is very familiar with the historic locations in the area. It was Bruce, through his own explorations and those of his mother Justine and the local natives, who told me about the other buildings at the site.

I arrived just after 10:00, very apologetic to Bruce and Sue who were waiting for me. The road in is so rough that one must drive slow, but it is also very picturesque. I always like to stop just north of Magnetic Lake, where the road begins a long decent from the surrounding ridges down to the lake. Here, at an elevation of nearly 1800ft, you are afforded a spectacular view of the lakes and area; it makes for some great photos. Definitely God’s Country for sure!

Gunflint Road above Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Gunflint Road above Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Gunflint Lake, June 2013.

Gunflint Lake, June 2013.

Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Once I got to the lake we began our explorations. Unfortunately for everyone, the area we were exploring was not as pristine as it once was. I was at Leeblain in 1997, but I did not know to look for remains in this particular spot. Two years later, in 1999, the Boundary Waters was hit by a large storm called the Boundary Waters-Canadian Derecho (derecho means straight line wind). The storm caused massive blowdowns throughout the area, including Leeblain. The Canadian side of Gunflint was then logged to remove the deadfall lest it provide dry tinder for a forest fire. The falling trees and then the logging disturbed much of the site, so finding things wouldn’t be as easy as it once was.

Bruce and I were going to look for the most obvious remains, which were those of a two-storey “hotel/trading post” located along the beach, some 120 metres southeast of the railway grade. Just a couple of metres off the beach, Bruce showed me two large depressions in the ground, oriented north to south. They were about a metre deep and separated from each other by about a metre and a half. Bruce had deduced that these were the cold storage cellars below the hotel. Some of the “walls” of the hotel could be made out (mostly small mounds now), and they were littered with nails. This building would have had quite a breathtaking view of the lake!

Beach north of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Beach north of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Beach south of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Beach south of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cold cellar, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cold cellar, Leeblain, June 2013.

Nails at the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Nails at the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Several metres west of the hotel one finds a small trough or ditch in the ground. A few metres in length, it deepens as it runs west and ends in another depression surrounded by mound walls. Bruce had suspected that this was a root cellar, with the trough being the ramp into it and a wood structure above it. I found a few items in it, but most appeared to be more recent additions to the area.

The hotel is the subject of most of the mystery at Leeblain; as a two-storey structure, it must have been quite a large building. However, it is not shown on the best map we have of the area done in 1911; in fact only one of the 9 buildings at Leeblain is on that map, presumably what is the station near the railway siding. The evidence that Bruce provided me with (both his own discoveries and what was told to him by local natives) and what I saw with my own eyes clearly indicates that the structure was there…so what happened to it? That same 1911 map reveals a collection of structures at Gunflint Narrows near Magnetic Lake. An article written by Bruce’s mother Justine in the 1960’s mentions a station, hotel and customs house at the Narrows. My theory is that the structure was abandoned or moved to that location sometime between 1893 and 1911.

Western Gunflint Lake, International Boundary Map 1931 (1911).

Western Gunflint Lake, International Boundary Map 1931 (1911).

Bruce and I looked around unsuccessfully for some of the other structures in the vicinity, but that search may have to wait until the fall when the leaves are down. We were joined on our exploration by friend and amateur archeologist Harold Alanen who has spent a lot of time on the lake. After Bruce and Sue left to return to Gunflint Lodge, Harold and I began the next phase of our search with the metal detector. Our previous visit to the area last August turned up some very fascinating items under the ground and this time was no exception. Tons of nails, cups, pots, a pry bar and the big prize, a skate blade, all reveal glimpses of life in this turn of the century settlement. Maybe the video I shot does everything more justice.

Pot?, Leeblain, June 2013.

Pot?, Leeblain, June 2013.

Skate blade, Leeblain, June 2013.

Skate blade, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cup, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cup, Leeblain, June 2013.

Pry bar, Leeblain, June 2013.

Pry bar, Leeblain, June 2013.

It was another very successful visit and our discoveries make me eager to return and find more. I obviously cannot turn back the clock and repair the past damage, but I am quite determined to preserve and protect this very important piece of our history. I am working both through the Historical Society and on my own to accomplish this goal. I know that it is a slow and tedious process but one that needs to be done. Maybe awareness is part of the battle; maybe my words, images and video are making a difference. Only time will tell.

Anyway, it’s time to move on…marking to finish! It will be a quiet couple of weeks as I won’t be able to get out hiking for a few weeks (I need to catch up on some stuff around the house). However, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Soaring eagles and killer blackflies!

I was lucky to get out with my life. They were huge, and there were a lot of them…actually clouds of them. It was like a scene out of the Walking Dead; hordes of blood-thirsty man-eaters looking for blood. They were inescapable, around you wherever you went and did. And no matter how many you killed, there were always more swarming around you. My body bears the scars of my harrowing escape-scars that have not yet healed.

Facetious, always; funny, maybe; based on a true story; you betcha! Hope you like my attempt at literary wit. So I’m back kids! After a well-deserved week break, I’ve returned to the keyboard, more or less in one piece. Obviously I’ve been referring to the swarms of mosquitoes and black flies I encountered on my expedition this weekend (the bites of which I am still scratching while I type). The respite was nice; I was actually too busy to write more than anything else. But we’ll just say it was a vacation.

So speaking of vacation, there’s only 7 days left until exams…halleluiah!  I know, I know, poor teacher, two whole months of holidays to worry about. I need a break though. The last few weeks have been crazy and very stressful; I need to get away for a bit and recharge the battery. Even as I sit here and write my head is pounding and I’m thinking about the essays beside me I need to mark. I guess soon enough I’ll be able to clear my mind and just focus on my family and some me stuff for a while.

One of the things that kept me from writing last week was our annual spring football camp. I know it was only three days, but it does take up quite a bit of time in what is already a very hectic period. It was worth it though; 26 Grade 9’s and 8’s came out to prepare for next season. We did a couple of days of drills followed by a game of two-hand touch to wrap up the camp. I always love that last day as the coaches get involved as well…it’s nice to be out on the field for a change. I had a ton of fun-had a big stretch pass break-up and a pick six, but boy did my body hate me the next day! My hip flexors were so tight I could barely walk. Must be getting old! On a positive note, we have finally moved the program into the next arena of social media; you can now visit us on Facebook!

On Saturday I finally made it out to my second railway “hike” of the year. I use the term hike lightly, as there wasn’t a heck of a lot of walking done, mostly exploring you could say. This adventure took me and the boys back to the North Lake area, somewhere we hadn’t been since last spring. That trip took us to Little North Lake (west of North Lake) in search of telegraph poles and insulators. I made a big discovery of an intact insulator still attached to the wire beside the rotten remains of the pole; I was determined to find more.

The drive to North Lake is about 105km from my house, which normally takes about an hour and a half. However, since I was going to be towing my boat, I would need to drive a bit slower this time around. It was a beautiful morning and the lake was very calm and tranquil. By 10:30 we were heading west across the lake toward Trestle Bay. My newer, bigger boat made the 4.5km journey much quicker and in 10 minutes we had arrived at the site of the once mighty 1000 foot trestle that spanned the bay.

North Lake, June 2013.

North Lake, June 2013.

I always love visiting Trestle Bay, and while I’m there try to imagine what the trestle used to look like that spanned this long bay. The water is very clear and the depth is fairly shallow (9-15ft), so on a calm day you can clearly make out everything resting on the bottom. In addition to pilings and rails, there is a 1952 Pontiac sitting submerged on the side of a large rock bed (the chrome is still shiny). It’s a bit of a mystery as to how it got there.

Trestle Bay, June 2013.

Trestle Bay, June 2013.

Eastern abutment, Trestle Bay, June 2013.

Eastern abutment, Trestle Bay, June 2013.

1952 Pontiac, June 2013.

1952 Pontiac, June 2013.

Heading from the east side to the west is very neat, but also very freaky. There are still pilings that jut upward from the bottom, massive 12+ inch logs still in their place 121 years after being driven through the mud to the bed rock. It’s kinda fascinating to see. Last year I was sent an image that was taken from the air in 2007 when the lake level was very low (the rock bed that today is 3 feet under water was above the surface). It almost appears as if the trestle is still there, hiding below the water.

Piling, June 2013.

Piling, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Trestle Bay, July 2007 (B. Rushton).

Trestle Bay, July 2007 (B. Rushton).

From Trestle Bay we headed west toward the end of the lake and into the narrows that leads to Little North Lake. That area of the boundary waters is always breathtaking and on Saturday it was no exception. As we neared Little North I could see eagles soaring through the sky, looking for a meal or roused from their perch by the sound of our boat. I even caught one is the distance as I snapped a picture of the lake. I always wish I could spend more time on the lakes to see and experience their natural beauty.

Little North Lake, June 2013.

Little North Lake, June 2013.

A few minutes later we arrived at the end of Little North, where the water spills westward through a small creek into Little Gunflint Lake. It was at this spot, presumably during the construction of the railway in 1892 (there is no definitive mention of it), that one of the most unique objects in the railway history was built. The creek itself is not very wide (and it looks as if its course was altered by the engineers), so they fashioned a marine railroad to move boats carrying supplies between the two lakes.

Small rails were laid across the spit of land between in the two lakes on the Minnesota side. A small cart with railway wheels was fashioned, attached to a manually operated capstan. This allowed the laden boats to be winched across to Little Gunflint, thus keeping the work crews far from the rail head well supplied.

I was hoping to get some good video of what is left of the tracks and capstan, as well as the creek itself. However the water was high from our recent rains and so I decided to postpone until later in the year when the lake levels are lower.

Marine Railroad, Little North Lake, June 2013.

Marine Railroad, Little North Lake, June 2013.

Creek between Little North and Little Gunflint Lakes, June 2013.

Creek between Little North and Little Gunflint Lakes, June 2013.

After poking around for a while, we made our way back east about 600m. Just off a small bay on Little North was a spot where I had previously found a telegraph pole and the map also indicated that there were at one time some buildings. I had found a very well preserved telegraph pole (they were put up in 1903) in this spot back in 1997. At that time, the crossbeam was still attached to the pole. When I saw it again in 2011, time had taken its toll and the crossbeam had fallen off. I don’t normally grab too much stuff when I hike the railway, but I decided that this object would soon fall apart and it might be worthwhile to save it and get it into a museum or something. God, I feel like Indiana Jones…”it belongs in a museum!”

Telegraph crossbeam, June 2013.

Telegraph crossbeam, June 2013.

I did poke around for some remains of buildings north of the grade. I figured that these buildings were the Ontario Forest Ranger cabins indicated on another old map. I didn’t see any foundations or anything, but it has been a long time. I did find some old cans, but it’s tough to spend a lot of time in one place, especially when you have young kids with you.

Back in the boat we went another 1000m back toward the east end of the lake. It was at this spot that I had found the intact insulator. My goal was to grab some of the wire (to preserve the authenticity of it) and maybe find more poles and insulators.

When we arrived at the spot, I grabbed the piece of attached wire and immediately began following the rest of the wire through the bush. It is rather tough, since the wire in many cases has been on the ground so long that trees have now grown over it. The initial piece led to a dead end, as did another piece I found a short distance away. About 150m to the east I found a shard of an insulator beside a round hole in the ground, which could have held the pole. The bush then became very grown in, so I decided to turn around and head west.

I walked about 150m west from the previous site until it once again became very dense growth. I was a bit disappointed, but I thought that I should retrace my steps, this time a little closer to the grade. My perseverance paid off, for lying next to a tree and previously hidden from my view was another intact insulator (the tree had grown on top of the wire). This time I snapped off the wire away from the insulator and coiled it around a tree branch for easier retrieval. I obviously was quite excited by the find and it makes me want to go back and look for even more. I need to get a metal detector so I can find the poles and wire in the ground!

Insulator, June 2013.

Insulator, June 2013.

After my great find I realized it was now getting close to 2 o’clock, so we needed to head back to the truck. Our decision was helped by swarms of black flies that had made walking around insufferable, despite an ample application of bug dope. It was also quite hot along the closed-in railway grade, so it felt good to get out on the open lake. Loading the boat also became quite the ordeal, as we were beset by more blackflies and mosquitoes. This is where I probably acquired most of my battlescars that I spoke so eloquently about earlier.

Little North Lake (ON left, MN right), June 2013.

Little North Lake (ON left, MN right), June 2013.

Unlike the two previous hikes/adventures of this year, I have a very short turnaround between trips this week. I have the day off on Friday, so I will be driving down to Leeblain on Gunflint Lake to do some exploring of what remains of some of the buildings that made up that ghost town. I’m pretty excited to see what turns up, though the drive diminishes some of that zeal. The road into Leeblain is one of the worst ones I’ve ever experienced and I don’t relish my trips over it. The last 20 miles into the lake are particularly pleasant and enjoyable!

Anyway, time to go; lots of things to do. Of course I’ll have tons of news and pictures for next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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It’s about time!

Yes, yes it was. Talk about venting months of frustration. You know, when you can’t wait to do something and it finally happens you’re so giddy with excitement that you cannot contain yourself? That was me on Saturday. And no, I’m not talking about doing yard work, ‘cause we all know my feeling on that subject (besides, that was Sunday’s agenda). It wasn’t a stroll in the park and I was pretty beat afterwards, but it was well worth it. No, I’m not some addict getting my fix, but then again I could be since I can’t wait to do it again. Not making sense? Obviously you’re not visiting this blog on a regular basis…read up!

So we’ve arrived at the end of May. There are only 17 days left before exams…yikes! That’s not a lot of time kids! There is still so much to do, and to top it off, I’m out of the classroom for 6.5 days in these last few weeks. Talk about craziness. How I am going to get everything done? I guess I will manage like always, but I’m really finding it hard to plow through all of my marking. Besides, no teacher is ever caught up on their marking…ever!

One of the things that is going to keep me busy over the next week is our annual spring football camp. Yesterday I travelled to our feeder school Pope John Paul II (or PJP) along with another coach and a few players to plug the camp to prospective Grade 8’s. It should be a good three days of football skills and fun. Hopefully we will be joined by a couple former Fighting Saints alumni who are currently playing university ball here in Canada; I think these young athletes will really enjoy the experience.

Things have been both quiet and busy on the railway front. I worked on a few small items for the historical society, though I do need to get cracking on the poster and website. The website is of particular importance, as it will be one of our main means of providing information to the public. We’re also planning to have a page for society membership, which hopefully will attract more people to our organization.

So the biggest news of the past week and the obvious title of this post, involves the hike I did on Saturday in Minnesota. It was so good to get out and do some hiking on the railway (actually, it was great to get out period). I had been looking forward to this outing for quite a while, really since my visit to Gunflint Lake in March (I’ve written about it so many times over the past month or so). Unfortunately I left my usual hiking partner Loki behind, but I was joined by my oldest son Ethan, as well as my friend and Cross River Lodge owner John Schloot.

After an uneventful 2.5 hour or so drive from Thunder Bay to Gunflint Lake, I stopped at the lodge to pick up John. From there we proceeded the approximately 5km to the southern trailhead of the Centennial Trail. Once we were ready, we headed back up the Round Lake Road (County Road 47) to where it intersects with the Gunflint Trail. It was there that we picked up the old railway grade, and proceeded to follow it for about 200m to the east (it eventually disappears under the Trail).

Grade near the Gunflint Trail, May 2013.

Grade near the Gunflint Trail, May 2013.

We then headed back to the west, retracing our steps until we crossed back over the Round Lake Rd. From there the grade skirts a ridge as it makes a large arc through a swamp and begins to climb the opposite ridge. The engineers did this as the railway needed to climb about 200 feet as it leaves the valley of the Cross River and heads toward the Paulson Mine. It also required an elaborate double trestle switchback to make the grade sufficiently low enough for the trains to negotiate the climb. One can actually see a rock embankment almost 100 feet above the swamp on the southern ridge of the valley.

Cutting, May 2013.

Cutting, May 2013.

Railway embankment on the ridge, May 2013.

Railway embankment on the ridge, May 2013.

It is rather interesting walking the round edge of the loop as it curves through the swamp. The grade has obviously settled into the ground, but beavers have conveniently used it as the base for a large dam. At the southern end of the curve, the line passes through what looks like a large hill, but what is in actuality an esker. From there the slope of the grade becomes very noticeable as the line ascends the ridge passing through several cuttings and rock cuts. The distance from the esker to the western side of the first trestle is 230m, while the rise is about 11.5m (38ft); that makes the slope near 5%. Craziness! I can’t image how the trains would get up that grade, but worse, how loaded ores cars could negotiate the decent and curve.

Swamp loop, May 2013.

Swamp loop, May 2013.

Esker cutting, May 2013.

Esker cutting, May 2013.

At the eastern end of the ridge, the engineers were confronted with a valley opening to the north directly in their path. The simple solution was to build a 150 foot trestle across the expanse, but they would have to cross this valley a second time. From the east side of the trestle, the railway skirted around to the south side of the ridge for 250m, passing through a very large rock cut. Previously overgrown, this area has now been cleared by the US Forest Service and will probably become part of the Centennial Trail. Eventually the grade merges with the Round Lake Rd next to the Cross River.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

Lower rock cut, May 2013.

At this point was located a switchback, which meant that the train now changed to another track and reversed its path along the ridge at a higher elevation. The grade continues for another 200m, through another large rock cut until it reaches the valley once again and crosses a second 150 foot trestle. Portions of this upper line have also been cleared and we made an interesting discovering. Previously obscured by the brush and part of what I assumed was the grade, was an immensely large pile of blasted rock lying between the upper and lower lines. Likely taken from the two rock cuts, it is a bit of a mystery as to why this pile was created and left in that spot. My best guess is that it would eventually have been used to replace the wooden trestles with rock embankments.

Rock pile, May 2013.

Rock pile, May 2013.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

Upper rock cut, May 2013.

One of my goals of the hike was to shoot some new video of the area, and in particular, with John’s help, film the double trestles from the far sides. It must have been something to see those wooden structures one on top of the other on the side of the ridge (I’d love to find someone who can do some sort of drawing or CGI of what it would have looked like). My attempt was partially successful; I sort of underestimated how much forest growth was in the area. The upper trestle turned out okay, but at the lower one I was obscured by the trees. I was able to get enough footage to create two videos which have already made it to YouTube (Part I & Part II).

Loop and switchback in Minnesota.

Loop and switchback in Minnesota.

After concluding our very enjoyable “walk” through the bush, we headed back to the lodge to drop John off. Ever the gracious host, John invited us in to share some lunch and conversation with him and his wife Rose. I know he really enjoyed the hike, and I hope to get to visit him in the summer. If I can wrangle it, I’d like to spend a few days at the lodge in the fall and hike the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. We’ll have to see how things play out at that time.

After saying goodbye to John and Rose, Ethan and I drove the 17km farther up the Gunflint Trail to the Chik-Wauk Museum. It’s a very beautiful old building (it used to be a lodge) and has some great historical displays. I did have an ulterior motive however, which was to drop off one of my railway posters to the museum director Ada. Gotta sell the website right? From there it was back to Grand Marais, dinner and then home. We rolled into the driveway at about 7:45, which made it almost a 12 hour round-trip. Boy was I pooped, and so was Ethan; he uncharacteristically slept in until 8:30 the next morning!

I’m really hoping to get out again this weekend. I’d like to go to North Lake with both of the boys and see if we can find ourselves more telegraph poles and maybe some insulators like we did last year. Right now Mother Nature doesn’t look like she’s going to cooperate however, but things seem to change very quickly around here. Let’s hope for the best.

Anyway, time to get rolling. With any luck I’ll have more adventures to talk about next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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