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Tag Archives: Archeology

Digging for Treasure

So we’ve all done it, or at least imagined ourselves doing it. I guess it’s the allure of finding something exciting, or maybe it’s the whole process of discovery. Admit it, we’ve all fancied ourselves being like Indiana Jones, probably without all the people trying to kill us or all the gross snakes and bugs and stuff. Especially the spiders…I hate spiders! In any case, few of us get to actually do anything like that, and besides, archaeology is not anywhere near what it is portrayed in the movies. I’m not one, unless you could the railway archaeology I do, but I do have an idea of what goes on. It generally involves a lot of research and tons of careful, painstaking excavation in the hopes of finding some small artifacts…no Holy Grails or Arcs of the Covenant unfortunately! So where am I going with this? I guess you’ll have to read on.

I know that it’s been a while since I last wrote, but as usual, I’ve been rather busy. It wasn’t my intention to go this long between posts, but it kinda snuck up on me. We’re now just over a week into February and it’s amazing how quickly time is going by. Five more weeks and it will be March break…hopefully with some nice “spring” weather to go along with that, unlike the last few years.

With February comes a new semester and new kids. Things seem to be going well so far and it appears I have some nice kids in my classes. I have Grade 12U History again, along with the Grade 10 AP History and Grade 12U Geography online, which is a nice, little mix. As good as things are, I’m already looking ahead to next year at this time. Although not as bad as last year, this winter is really starting to drag and I need something to distract me from the monotony.

So what’s happening a year from now that’s so exciting? No work, that’s what! Yep, one year from now Jo-Anne and I will be on leave from teaching for the entire semester. Seven glorious months of doing whatever I want to do! As much as I love to teach, I have a life outside of the bricks and mortar on Selkirk Street and I plan to exercise it to the fullest. Although we do have a family trip in the works for February, the main reason for me taking this leave was to work on the railway.

Since I began researching the PAD&W way back in 1994, I realized that I would not be able to fully complete my work without a visit to the National Archives in Ottawa. The trick has always been trying to find first the money, and then the time to get there, so I figured that this would be one of the best ways to accomplish this task, and I’d also have time to do some writing and field work.

I’ve also got a couple of other side trips planned for next year. I’d really like to get a book done on the little Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which has become quite a fascination for me. The US National Archives repository in Chicago hopefully has some files pertaining to the customs operation at Gunflint I’d like to sift through since I cannot find that data anywhere else (unlike here in Canada). There are also some personal letters belonging to Pigeon River Lumber Company VP Frank Hixon located at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that might prove valuable. Should make for an interesting road trip, since I’ve been to neither place.

Speaking of the G&LS, I’ve been keeping myself busy of late with more research. I spent an afternoon before New Years at the Thunder Bay Museum looking through some of their files, which yielded a few valuable leads (one of which I’ll mention later). I’ve also spent a bit of time digging on the Internet, which as usual answers some questions and raises a whole pile more. However, this is why I love this type of work; the excitement of the hunt and the satisfaction of making discoveries!

Even though it’s only February, I’m already anticipating the arrival of spring so I can get into the field to do some hiking. I’ve got a lot planned for this year, so hopefully the weather cooperates. I’d like to get out to the G&LS in early May, but that will all depend of how quickly the lake ices out. The past few years it has been very late due to the cold winter, which doesn’t really help me out. I want to make as many day trips as I can during the summer, and I already have the fall trip on the Thanksgiving long weekend booked.

During my Christmas break research I came across some information in one of the files describing some “finds” that were made at the Camp 4 (logging camp of the PRLC) site in the 1970’s or before. I passed along that information to my contacts at the US Forest Service who I know had done a cursory examination of the camp a few years ago. I’ve looked around site a bit over the years, but I haven’t done anything detailed other than examining the Shay line shaft located on the beach. That will change however.

This past week I was invited by the USFS to be a bit of a “historical adviser” for some exploratory work that will take place there this July. The digging will be done by the USFS in conjunction with archaeology students from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I am very excited to be a part of this research, particularly since I am a historian and have never seen any type of archaeological work carried out. This is the reason why I’d like to get to Gunflint in early May so I can try and identify some potential sites for the experts. I’ll be sure (as usual) to report on everything that happens.

Camp 4 building site, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 building site, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 beach, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Camp 4 beach, Gunflint Lake, October 2014.

Anyway, I better run. Lots of things to do. I’ll be back soon enough with more news and updates. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, 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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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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