RSS

Category Archives: Travel

I want to fly away…

Well, not physically, because that’s impossible, but you get the idea. I would certainly love to go anywhere I please, at any time, but I’ll guess we’ll just have to leave that to Lenny. In any case, I am thankful I will be able to get away for a little while.

Hey, it’s March kids! That means we’re weeks away from “spring,” that is if it ever shows up. It obviously will, I’m just being facetious, but the point is that it can’t come soon enough. March also means that we’re on the downward slide in the school year, and before we know it, it will be June. Things are going well in that respect, just as usual, I’m quite busy.

Since I brought it up, I might as well talk about the weather, especially as I never do that! The weather has been, you know, not great. Better than it was in the last post, but still not what it should be. It’s still cold outside, but you can see that the seasons are changing. The days are getting longer, and even when it’s crisp, you can feel the warmth of the sun. According to the meteorologists, the temperature should start moderating this weekend and be above zero by next week. The only concern is that if it warms too quick, with all the snow we have, it might get a bit soggy .

Late winter snow, March 2019.

So I’m still plugging away on the railway front. Progress is slow but steady, and I am now approaching 50,000 words in the book. Chapter 13 is mostly complete, save for a few tweaks, so that just leaves 1, 10 and 14 that require some work. I should be able to finish Chapter 14 this spring, so with any luck I’ll be done everything by next winter. As I’ve described before, everything depends on when I can get to Toronto and get more detailed information on Camp 8.

Alright, so let’s fly away shall we? I am mere days away from another adventure in Europe. I described our journey in my last post, but now a few days out, it all seems very real. I know the kids are super excited, and they should be. I’ve been to most of these places before, save for Berlin and some parts of the Netherlands, but likely most have never been overseas. As a teacher, this is the best part for me, to see them experience the history and culture of another part of the world. The only thing that concerns me is the weather (ya, I know, shocker). Looking ahead, it seems that in contrast to some of our previous trips, the weather is not going to be 100% cooperative. Most days call for cloudy/showery conditions, which is not ideal, but we’ll have to make the best of it. Showers aren’t too bad, but if it decides to rain all day that will put a damper on things.

We now for the most part have our detailed itinerary. The one thing that amazes me is that even though I’ve been to some of places before, we always stay in a different town or part of the city. It gives you a different perspective on things and keeps it fresh. Also, after the last tour in 2017, which coincided with the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, it will be nice with a lot less Canadian tourists running around. Many of the places we visited we quite busy, which made it hard to linger and get a real good look around. That was case with Vimy; while the ceremony was great to be a part of, we really didn’t have a chance to see the memorial or the park. I know my fellow chaperones are looking forward to the opportunity.

St. Pats group, April 2017.

If you’d like to follow us around (well, other than this blog), you can do so on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Anyway, I better get going as there is still a ton to do before we leave. Right now I need to set up all the blog posts for the trip, so it’s easier to get everything going once the time comes. I’ll be back in a few days with the first post from the trip. Until then…

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 7, 2019 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve been here a long time!

I’ve been here a long time!

It amazes me how fast time goes by. Do you ever pause and go “it’s been that long?” You know, when you feel you just started something the other day, whatever it is, and it’s actually been years or decades? It definitely has a way of making you feel old, especially when you add up all the years.

Hey kids, it’s only February…ugh! Ya, it’s not a particularly optimistic start, but it’s been a long few months. Since it is the second month of 2019, it means that we’ve started the new semester. That puts us that much closer to end of the school year, which is great, but I’m really tired. I can’t muster the enthusiasm right now. It’s not that there anything particularly wrong, just a general malaise. The classes are good, but there’s seems to be a lot on my plate right now. I’m sure it will look up soon enough.

On a related note, this month I am celebrating my 20th anniversary as a full-time teacher. Yup, I was hired back in February 1999…I just can’t believe how quickly those years have flown by! Twenty years is a long time, a quarter of most people’s lives; I guess I am officially old. What makes it even more incredible, is that I work at the same high school I attended. I started there in 1988 (my Grade 9 year was at the same school, just in a different building…long story) and continued for the next 4 years. I did a placement there while in teachers college, and then returned on a contract in the fall of 1998. So what it all means, which I pointed out to my students, was that I’ve spent nearly 25 of the past 30 years in the same building. I’ve literally never left high school!

One of the things that has contributed to my sour mood is the weather. Yup, I’m back on the weather train again. If you read my last post, things were decent until the end of December. We had a big storm that I detailed in that post, and then things seemed to be okay for a week or so. That’s when things went off the proverbial rails (pardon the pun). The temperatures plunged to into the ridiculous range, where it was even difficult to leave the house. Then it got warmer, but the snows returned, resulting in copious amounts of the white stuff on the ground. I don’t think we’ve had this much snow in five years. At camp, there is even more snow, more than I remember in 2014. Shovelling a path to the house left something resembling the front-line trenches of WWI. Stupid Polar Vortex and climate change!

Winter snowfall, February 2019.

Polar Vortex temperatures, January 2019.

Camp snow, February 2019.

So in less than a month I will be able to hopefully escape this situation with another trip to Europe. This will be my fourth trip with students from the school and I am really looking forward to it. Right now it might not appear that way, as I am struggling to get all the last little details taken care of. This excursion, known as From Vimy to Juno: History of Canada in the World Wars, will take our group to similar places that we’ve been in the past, such as Amsterdam, Ypres, Vimy, Juno Beach and Paris. The exception this time will be a couple days in Berlin, including a visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and the eastern part of the Netherlands. We will be paying tribute to fallen soldiers at the Groesbeek and Beny sur Mer Canadian War Cemeteries. As I the past, I will be hijacking the blog to chronicle our journey.

Despite all the craziness, I have been very busy on the railway front (though I have been on a little break for the past week). Working diligently for the past two months, I’m trying to get as much of my book done as possible, which has gone in fits and starts. Writing is not always easy; sometimes the biggest challenge is not the actual words themselves, but organizing all the information, especially when you realize you’re missing some information. I’ve had to do some additional research, and I’m also going to have to go to Toronto to look through some files at the Archives of Ontario…again. This is on top of further archaeological efforts at the site of Camp 8 in Minnesota, hopefully with the assistance of the US Forest Service.

In any case, I’m now over 46,000 words organized into 14 chapters. Most chapters are done, save for some minor tweaks, while 1, 10, 13 and 14 still need varying degrees of work. The last two should be done in the coming months, while the first requires the material from the archives and ten is the chapter on Camp 8. With any luck it will be completed at this time next year, but that hinges on what happens with the field work. I am quite adamant about including detailed information about one of the best preserved logging camps in Minnesota, but obtaining assistance from the USFS is out of my hands and might require me to wait until they have the time and funds.

Book work, February 2019.

Well, it’s time to move along. I’ll be back in early March, right before I leave for Europe, hopefully in a better mood. Until then…

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 17, 2019 in History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , ,

How can I be tired already?

The simple answer is yes, yes you can be tired Dave. But after only 4 days back at work? Yup, you sure can…it doesn’t matter if it’s 4 days, 4 weeks or 4 months. However, you know what would make the fatigue more epic? How about throwing a cold on top of it? Ya, that sounds like a great idea, because nothing makes the situation better like a stuffy, snotty nose, a sore, burning throat and horking up phlegm. Yes folks, the last few days have been absolutely fantastic!

It’s September and I’m back kids! It may seem that it has started as well as a train wreck, but in reality, it’s pretty good. It’s just hard to go from being on vacation for two months to extreme craziness in a few days. The worst part is that it has just become even worse as the boys’ football season has started up. I know, poor hard done by teacher complaining about how busy things are after a summer off. I get it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I really feel like poop.

If it’s September, it means that summer is over; well, not officially but close enough. I wrote in my previous post back in July that the weather had been good and that is how it continued. This summer was one of the best we’ve seen in recent memory. We didn’t spend as much time at camp in August as we did in July, as the boys had football practices 3 days a week. Nonetheless, we were able to make the most of the time we were there.

Sunset at camp, August 2018.

Calm morning at camp, August 2018.

Last camp sunset, August 2018.

So as I mentioned, I began football early this year. The boys wanted to play summer ball again, especially Noah who missed the tournament last year and the entire fall season after suffering a very unfortunate concussion in practice. The only issue this time around was the format of the tournament, which changed venues from last year. On the Saturday, the teams were supposed to play some squads from Orono, MN, which is just west of the Twin Cities. A week or so before we left, we were informed that things had changed for a third time. Orono had been invited to play in a jamboree style exhibition and they stipulated that the organizers had to invite the Thunder Bay Minor teams too. The best part, the games would be played at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. The players (and the coaches too) were beyond excited as it is not very often that you get a chance to play in an NFL stadium.

The games were to be played on August 25th and 26th, so we left Thunder Bay on the 22nd. Our journey began with a one day detour to La Crosse, Wisconsin (which I’ll discuss later). I really enjoy La Crosse as it is a beautiful city, though we didn’t really see too much of it. The next day we headed to Minneapolis and I decided that instead of taking the interstate, we would take the more scenic Highway 61 along the banks of the Mississippi. It was worth the extra 20-25 minutes it added to the trip, as the views along the river were fantastic! Once in Minnie, we were able to spend a couple days shopping and relaxing before the boys had to play.

Scenery near Arcadia, WI, August 2018.

Mississippi sunset, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

Lake Pepin, MN, August 2018.

On Friday night, the Vikings were hosting the Seattle Seahawks for a pre-season game, so we decided to take it in. Neither myself nor the boys had ever been to an NFL game, so it was going to be a very exciting experience. Our seats were in row 3 in the endzone, which gave us a fantastic view of parts of the game. You can view some of the great video I shot here.

US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Seahawks vs. VIkings, August 2018.

The experience at US Bank Stadium was awesome. The stadium is both huge and small at the same time, if that makes sense (the stadiums look so much bigger on TV). The kids had a blast and I’m sure they won’t soon forget this opportunity. The only downside was that it was a warm day and there was no air moving inside the stadium; by late afternoon it was like a sauna inside there.

US Bank Football Jamboree, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

Field level at US Bank Stadium, August 2018.

So unlike my last post, there has been a bit of movement on the railway front. In early August I paid a visit to the Lakehead University Library to do some research. I first had to find a few books that would help me fill in some missing areas in my book. I later had an appointment at the university archives, which held some files related to the Pigeon River Lumber Company (PRLC). These documents were from a much later period than I am working on, but I thought there might be a few tibits that might help me out. I didn’t find anything explosive (which I did in the States), but there were a few useful things.

PRLC fonds at the Lakehead University Archives, August 2018.

As I mentioned earlier, our trip to the States included a brief visit to La Crosse, WI. Now you might be wondering what is in La Crosse, but if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I’ve been there before. La Crosse was the hometown of PRLC vice-president Frank Hixon, and the Murphy Library at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse holds his very extensive personal records. During my June 2016 trip I compiled a veritable gold mine of information, but I inadvertently missed records from the fall of 1905. Hence the return.

Murphy Library, August 2018.

Working very quickly in the limited time I had, I was able to gather all the documents I required from the fall of 1905. I had decided, before I left, that I would look at some other records if there was time. I wanted to review those from 1909, when logging operations concluded at Gunflint, to see if I missed anything. I also wanted to look and see if I could find anything important from the 1897 to 1899 periods, before the PRLC was formed. In the end, my discoveries were extremely important.

Hixon Papers at the Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, August 2018.

One letter from 1905 helped affix a date to the construction of the wood trestle alongside the Crab River. Others pointed to some internal turmoil in the company following Herman Finger’s departure from the board. Some of the 1909 records helped clarify and confuse what I already knew about the Gunflint operation. And finally, pre-1900 records gave me a better understanding of how the company was formed and where I should look for additional sources of information. In the end, the materials I uncovered were all critical pieces for my research.

Anyway. it time to get going. I’ll be back in mid-October, as I have my usual field work scheduled for the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend at Gunflint. I’ll have all the information and news from that visit. Until then…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 11, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Tag, you’re it!

Who’s it? You’re it. Or is it me? I don’t know anymore, I think I lost track. I guess it doesn’t matter, since it’s not a real game of tag anyway. Well, why does someone need to be it if it’s not real? It complicated. Complicated? Yes, complicated. Just as complicated as pushing a small button on your steering wheel or column. Huh? You’re not making any sense Dave, you’re way too confusing. Exactly my point! This is how I felt on my recent road trip to Minneapolis, as I played the proverbial game of tag with people who refuse to use their cruise control. Speed up, slow down. I pass them, they pass me and then repeat. Why do people not want to use this piece of technology? Are they that enthralled with pushing the gas pedal continuously? It’s not like I haven’t complained about this before. I guess it’s all too logical.

Welcome to May kids…thank Jesus for that! Boy are things stupid busy right now. The last month was an absolute blur, which I’ll talk about a little later. I can’t believe there is only 8 weeks left of school. Not that it’s a bad thing, as I am quite looking forward to summer, but the pace of things is brutal. There is still so much to do and there is so little time left. I’m getting tired just thinking about it all.

One of the things keeping me hopping is football. Football? It’s May. Yup it is, but that doesn’t stop things though. This year, instead of the usual skills and drills, Thunder Bay Minor decided to run a flag football league. The one hour practices/games run Mondays and Wednesdays, and both of the boys are participating. I’m coaching Noah’s team and helping out with Ethan’s when they are short, so there’s no slacking. I’ve also had to take some certification classes, one of which is done and the other is coming up this weekend. No wonder April is flying by!

Thankfully, after a cold start to April, the weather has begun to turn. It now definitely feels like spring. Most of the snow is gone in town and things are starting to dry up. With all the cold weather we had, it will take some time for the frost to come out of the ground, but it’s just a matter of time. Many of the lakes are still frozen over, and a lot of people are hoping it goes before the fishing opener on the Victoria Day long weekend. As long as things stay relatively dry so I can get out hiking in a few weeks, I’ll be happy.

Spring, May 2018.

One of the reasons I’ve been so busy is that I’ve been out of town a lot. Our board decided to send me, our principal, vice-principal and a number of the teachers in my department to a conference in Vancouver. I’d never been there before, so Jo-Anne decided to join me and we left a few days early so we could see some of the sights of the city before the conference started. We left early on a Saturday morning, 5am to be exact, which was way too early, and arrived in Vancouver by 10:00 local time via Toronto.

Foothills of the Rockies, April 2018.

We had most of the day Saturday to explore, which took us from the downtown to Granville Island. It was an interesting place to visit and see some of the local shops and markets. On Sunday, we did a hop on, hop off bus tour with some of our colleagues. Our first stop was Gastown, which is one of the oldest parts of the city. It was neat to see some of the older buildings as well as the Steam Clock, which is one of the few operating steam clocks in the world.

False Creek, Vancouver, April 2018.

Setting out on our own, Jo-Anne and I jumped back on the bus to Stanley Park. We stepped off near HMCS Discovery and proceeded to walk over 6km around the perimeter of the park to Third Beach. What a beautiful place! I took a lot of pictures and it was amazing to experience this amazing part of Vancouver. At Third Beach we hopped back on the bus and rode all the way back to Gastown, which was only a short walk to our hotel.

Lions Gate Bridge, April 2018.

Siwash Rock, April 2018.

The conference ran Monday to Wednesday, though we had to leave early on Wednesday to catch our flights back home. The conference was on NPDL, which stands for New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, a global initiative that involves teachers in many countries such as Canada, the US and Australia. We began working on this concept in September, and it involved our school and several of our elementary schools. It is designed to enhance learning by providing more student voice, and co-constructing goals and activities. It was great to see what other schools and teachers are doing in their classrooms and to meet educators from all over the world.

High over the Border Lakes, April 2018.

A week after we returned, we were back on the road again, this time driving to Minneapolis (and playing tag with all the people who hate their cruise control). My wife is a huge Bon Jovi fan, so I promised to accompany her to the concert. I had been to 3 previous concerts with her, during one of which I got to shake Jon Bon Jovi’s hand…it was definitely more of a life moment for Jo-Anne than for me. Anyway, this time we would be sitting 4 rows back from the stage, which would be the closest either one of us have been. It was good, but I was certainly not emotionally spent like my wife, although I could not hear out of my right ear from her continual screaming during the concert. The things we do for our spouses!

Bon Jovi, Xcel Energy Center, April 2018.

Needless to say, with all of the things going on lately, I haven’t had much time to devote to railway work. I did manage to squeeze in a presentation on the railway last week at the Rosslyn Community Centre. It’s been quite a while since I did anything strictly related to the PAD&W (it’s all been Pigeon River Lumber lately), so it felt good to get back to talking about the railway. I played to a full house and the crowd was very interested to hear about the early history of the PAD&W. Soon enough I’ll be gearing up for the next presentation which will be in July at the Chik-Wauk Museum.

Since it’s May, it means that I’m only a few weeks away from my first field work of the year. I’ll be heading down to Gunflint right before the Victoria Day long weekend to complete my explorations of the Gunflint & Lake Superior and Camp 8. Hopefully the weather cooperates and I’ll be able to get everything I want to done. Fingers are crossed!

Anyway, I better get moving. I’ll be back in a few weeks with a full report of my hike. Until then…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 4, 2018 in History, Railway, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here comes the sun!

I bet right now the words to the Beatles’ song is running through your head. No? Well, maybe it’s a generational thing. In any case, that’s not what I’m talking about. So, what exactly am I referring to you ask? It’s a history reference, right? You know, history teacher, Dark Ages, Western Europe emerging from the “darkness” after the fall of the Roman Empire. That would be a big no; nice try though, and bonus points for making it about history. As usual, you’ll just have to keep going to get the real answer.

It’s spring kids! Well, on paper anyway. April is just around the corner, which means the school year is really flying by. This coming month is going to be crazy busy, which I am/am not looking forward to. Don’t get me wrong, there is going to be some great stuff, such as a conference in Vancouver, which I’ve never been to before, but that also means it’s going to be a struggle to keep up with things. The kids start some spring activities, flag football and baseball, which coupled with another trip out-of-town to Minneapolis, will make for some interesting times.

In my last post, I wrote about the next trip to Europe coming up in a year. After a lot of effort, we have been able to fill all the student spots on the trip, and even have a few on a waiting list. We have a good group of kids and I’m really looking forward to help them explore some of the sights, culture and history of a different continent. I’m sure before I know it, we’ll be on our way there!

So it is technically spring, which means some days it feels like it and others it doesn’t. For once I can’t really complain about the weather, as it has been relatively decent this past month after a really crappy February. The temperatures have been about average and the snow is disappearing slowly and steadily. I looks like we might have a bit chillier start to April, but the writing is on the wall and as long as we get some good dosages of sun, I’ll be happy.

Early spring at camp, March 2018.

March continued to be a busy month for railway work. I managed to get more writing done on the Gunflint & Lake Superior book, which definitely makes me happy. I have now completed the better part of the first 12 chapters and just have some additional information to add to them. I’ve started Chapter 13, which is the second last, which means I will not have too much to do next winter to finish it all up. The last time I totalled the word count I was over 36,000, an amazing amount for an amateur like me. As I described in my last post, I have some field work to complete this summer and need to review a few things in the archives to wrap up.

Speaking of field work, I am ready to start gearing up for another season of hiking and exploring. Right now I only have two trips planned; one coming up in May and my usual Thanksgiving weekend one in October. For the one coming up in May, the plan is to finish locating the grade of the G&LS, hopefully to definitely give it an exact length. This was something I was not able to do last year. Also, I want to spend some time exploring the logging camp I discovered last May, which I believe was Camp 8 (which I think was renumbered to Camp 11 at some point) of the Pigeon River Lumber Company. I am really hoping that some of the US Forest Service guys can join me for this one, for while I know the technical/historical stuff about logging camps, I am not a trained archaeologist and am not really sure of what I am looking at on the ground. Also, they have the authority to touch/dig/remove items from the ground, which I do not. I really need this information to help complete that section of my book and hopefully tell the story of this unique operation.

Building foundation, Camp 8?, May 2017.

This month marks a sad anniversary, for it was 10 years ago that this area lost one of its most important historic treasures. To climb the ridges south of Gunflint Lake, the G&LS had to build a structure that was both practical and inexpensive. The “corduroy trestle” they constructed was one of the most unique rail structures to be found and was legendary in the area. It was used for many years as part of hiking and recreational trails after rails were removed circa 1915. I first saw it in 1997 and was awestruck, which you can clearly hear in the video I made. In 1999, the trestle was damaged by a large windstorm that hit the Boundary Waters and then was burned by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire. The flames penetrated deep into the structure and continued to smolder for months afterwards. In March 2008, the US Forest Service was forced to use dynamite to extinguish the fire. It’s too bad it is gone, for it was an amazing piece of engineering, but I am glad I was able to save it on video for everyone to see. You can view the video here.

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

Corduroy Trestle, August 1997.

Article from the Cook County News-Herald on the trestle, March 2008.

Anyway, I better get going. I’ll try to get back before the end of April with the latest updates. Until then…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 30, 2018 in History, Railway, Research, Travel, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Watch what you wish for!

We’ve all heard of it. It’s the best way to describe how what goes around, comes around. And we all know how Karma has a tendency to be…you know. No, we don’t know Dave; please describe. Well, this is a family friendly blog, so I hope you understand what I’m referring to. How about a word that refers to things being unpleasant? Catch my drift now? In any case, you need to be careful what you wish for because not only can it come true, you can get something worse!

Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s almost March kids! It didn’t seem that long ago I was working on my last post. Time has just flown by! One semester finished, we had exams and are already a month into second semester. My new classes are good and that definitely helps. In a couple weeks it will be March break and things will pick up more speed from there. Before we know it, the year will be done!

So, the weather. Well, no post would be complete without a nice long gripe about that. The last time I wrote I was complaining about how cold it was; guess what? It’s warmed up, but in the last week, we’ve received three big dumps of snow. Yay, I love spending hours cleaning it all up! To make it all better, my mom was out of town during that time, so I had to go and clean her snow too. Ugh! Why do I have to open my big mouth? I know that’s a redundant question, but sometimes I think out loud (or on paper in the case). I guess as the saying goes, if we didn’t complain about the weather, we’d have nothing to complain about. In any case, today was +5C and the temperatures are supposed to be around the freezing mark for at least the next couple of weeks, so hopefully it will make a dent in all the snow we received.

Fresh snowfall, February 2018.

As we move into March, it means that we’re approaching the one-year mark until I lead another trip to Europe. We did some recruiting in the fall, and there is another parent meeting tomorrow. Hopefully we can fill out all the remaining spots we have available. I am really excited for this excursion, for while we are visiting some places I’ve already been to, there are a number of new spots to explore, including Berlin and parts of the Netherlands. You can read more about the trip here.

In the last couple of months, I’ve spent a lot of time working on railway related stuff. Most of it has been devoted to my book, but there have been a few other things that have come up. It looks like I’ve picked up a couple of speaking engagements, one in April locally and another at the Chik-Wauk Museum in July. Check the events page for more details. I’ve also begun plotting my adventures for when the snow is gone. I will be heading down to Gunflint in May, and I’m trying to decide if I want to do some work after my lecture in July. Two years ago, I was in La Crosse, Wisconsin to examine the files of Frank Hixon, vice-president of the PRLC. It now looks like I need to go back to look over a few things to fill out my research; I just need to figure out how I’m going to get there.

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Back in January, I reported that I had resumed writing my book on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. At the time, I had finished chapter six and begun chapter seven; after two months laborious work, I am now on chapter eleven of a planned fourteen. Some of the previous chapters are not 100 percent complete, as they require information from field work or the aforementioned research trip, but I think I’ve made good progress. The biggest challenge is the constant re-organization of information and chapters, so things flow properly and make sense to the reader. I have no idea if this book reads well or is even interesting; once I get most of it done next winter I’ll have some people look it over to get their thoughts. Fingers crossed that it all pans out!

Anyway, it’s time to move on. I need to get back to my writing. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest updates. Until then…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 27, 2018 in History, Research, Travel, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Vimy 2017-Reflections

The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present-David Thelen

Do you ever wonder how these quotes become famous quotes? Do people set out to generate them, or are there people sitting around waiting for them to be said? Is there a committee that decides what is or isn’t a good quote? Who votes on them…is there a quotes academy? Okay, okay, I’m obviously being very facetious. The whole point of the quote from Thelen, who is an American History professor (I had to Google it), is that teaching history is not easy. One of the best ways to do it, is to have people experience it firsthand.

Well, it’s hard to believe that it has already been a week and a half since we returned from the trip. But I guess time moves just as fast when you’re not on a trip as it does when you are. We were very busy on the trip and it’s been even crazier now trying to catch up on everything while we were away. I’ve never missed 7 days of work before and I sure paid for it. There was a whole stack of marking I needed to get through, especially since midterm marks were due. I’m mostly caught up now, but I’m glad I hopefully won’t be missing that much school again in the future.

My return to real life and work was made that much more challenging by how jet lagged and exhausted I felt when we returned. I know, I know, poor me! I did get the gears from a lot of people who read this blog during the trip and asked me about how tired I was. How tired were you Dave? Really tired? The reality is I was tired…that’s why I wrote it. Duh. I realize I was in Europe and not at work, but these excursions are not your run-of-the-mill let’s jump on a plane and see some stuff type of vacation. First, I am the group leader and ultimately responsible for the 23 students we had with us. That is a tad bit stressful; when you’re teaching, the kids go home to their parents at the end of the day and you’re not on duty 24/7. Secondly, these trips are very busy and they try to pack in as many things as they can. So ya, I was up some days at 0500 and getting to bed, albeit because I was working on this blog, after midnight. I did try to nap some on the bus, but I like to see some of the sights and don’t want to sleep it all away.

In any case, it was a great trip. The kids really enjoyed themselves and hopefully learned a lot more about the history and culture of the world. I can honestly say, even though this was my third trip, that I learned a lot too. Even though the three trips were relatively similar, and there were some repetitive things, you experience new stuff. Amsterdam and Paris are so big, that there is so much still to discover. Besides those two places, we’ve never stayed in the same city twice, which is amazing. I have now seen Rouen, Amiens, Valenciennes, Colombiers-sur-Seulles, Lille and Honfleur. Each has it’s unique features, architecture, history and culture. In my personal opinion, while Paris is an amazing city, I much prefer the those smaller cities for their distinct charm and character. Maybe someday I’ll be able to explore them at a much more leisurely pace.

The whole crew in Honfleur, April 2017.

One of the things people often ask me is what was my most memorable memory or moment from the trip. That is always a difficult question, as there are so many. If I have to pick something, I would have to say it’s not one thing in particular, but rather watching the reactions of the kids. I mentioned before it’s a huge step for many of them, and for most their first experience with European culture. It’s akin to what I’ve experienced with my own kids, just they’re not mine…that sense of awe and wonder. It’s heartening to hear them talk about coming back and exploring more of the great places we visited. I was also blessed to be able to travel with a great group of chaperones, who shared my excitement and my stresses. I’m already looking forward to our next adventure! Our EF Tour Director, Jason, was the icing on the cake. His professionalism, easy-going manner and silky-smooth commentary put everyone at ease. The kids loved him and still talk about how great he was.

St. Patrick crew, April 2017.

So what about the bad Dave? I guess I can say there was really only one bad experience that I had. I thought the whole Vimy commemoration was good, though as I already described, more festive than I anticipated, especially compared to the 95th anniversary. I guess that will happen when there’s 25,000 people and lots of VIPs there. I thought the early part of the day was well planned and went very smoothly, but not the second half. I don’t think they (they being Veterans Affairs Canada, who were in charge of the event) anticipated the impact of having so many people squished into such a small area would mean.

In retrospect, we did have it easier than some groups, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. It only took us about 1.5 hours to get through the line to the shuttle buses, but no one thought to put any facilities in the assembly areas (or at least ours in Lens) so people could go to the bathroom. The poor employees at the MacDonald’s beside the parking lot must have had a rough day. At the memorial, I thought there should have been people directing traffic and making sure some areas did not get too congested. The fenced in area on the front side of the monument became so packed you could not move, and there were nowhere enough toilets for all the people (I tried going at one point, but couldn’t find the end of the line). Many stopped drinking water, which was not a good thing on such a warm day, so they wouldn’t have to go (myself included).

The exfil (to use the military term for exfiltration) from the site was an absolute gong show. People near the front began streaming up and over the monument to get out, while those at the back, including us, were trapped because they would not open gate to the main entrance. It seems as though transporting some of the minor VIPs took precedence over the thousands of people who had been baking in the sun for hours. Someone or some people broke down a portion of the fence and there was a mad rush for the opening. It was utter pandemonium! It was fortunate no one was trampled, but it was a nightmare trying to keep the group together. The scary part was realizing, as we surged along with the crowd, that we were walking through a part of the site that is off-limits due to UXO. Yes, people (myself included) were walking through fields with unexploded munitions in them! They don’t even cut the grass in those areas, but rather use goats to keep the vegetation down due to their lower ground pressure.

Thankfully we had told the kids where to go to catch the shuttle back to the assembly areas. It was insane, but we managed to get most of the kids rounded up in one big group, with one chaperone and a few students slightly separated. Getting on the shuttle created a lot of anxiety and some tears, but by 2030 we were all on our bus, Big Green, and heading back to Lille. We didn’t find out until later that it took some groups until midnight to make it back to the assembly areas. That’s nuts! Anyway, we got everyone out and I don’t think we’ll be involved in an event like that again. But it will be something that we all remember for the rest of our lives. Alright, so that was only four paragraphs of ranting!

From a personal perspective, my only issue, as it always has been, is leaving my family behind. I know my boys missed me, and it does put a lot on my wife, especially since I was gone for 11 days. I certainly appreciate everything she did during that time. If there is one positive to my absence, it has generated a lot of interest in the boys to see these places as well. I have promised them I will take them on a tour when they get to St. Pats.

All griping aside, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. While the Vimy ceremony wasn’t as solemn as I anticipated, there were many opportunities for us to have an intimate view of history. The place that probably generated the most reflection and emotion was the Bretteville-sur-Laize Cemetery in Cintheaux, south of Caen. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were relatively alone there, as opposed to the tens or even hundreds of people at the other places we visited. When it touches close and becomes personal, the impact of the history is much greater.

Newfoundland Memorial, Beaumont Hamel, April 2017.

Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, April 2017.

Now speaking of which, we are planning to do it all again, hopefully in two years. We would like to change it up a bit, maybe see a few new places in the process. We’ve submitted our application to go during March break of 2019, but haven’t settled on an exact tour yet. One option would take us to Berlin, some different parts of the Netherlands and then Vimy, Normandy and Paris. The second is a complete break, focusing on the Italian battlefields. We’re leaning towards one, but we’ll make a final decision once the paperwork is (hopefully) approved. Wherever we go, it will be an amazing experience for the kids just like every other trip.

Anyway, it’s time to wrap this up. Now that things are getting back to normal, I’ll be back with my usual blog posts soon enough. Until then…

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 25, 2017 in History, Travel, Writing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,