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It was 30 years ago…

It was 30 years ago…

Kinda sounds like the intro to a Beatles song doesn’t it? You know the one. Sadly it was 10 years longer, I don’t remember the exact date and has nothing to do with a Sergeant. Okay, maybe I’m reaching a bit here…or maybe a lot. It was worth a shot though! In any case, I just realized that something really significant happened to me all those years ago.

Hey kids, I’m finally back! I know, it’s been a really (really) long time, like almost three months long time. Can I say I’ve been busy? And maybe there’s some laziness and procrastination thrown in there too? Anyway, it’s good to be back. I’m sure you’ve all missed me right? Hopefully? There’s certainly a lot to update you on, so buckle up.

Well, it’s October, so that means we’re well into the new school year. There was obviously a lot of discussion and consternation regarding the start of the year, particularly how it was going to work and what it was going to look like. It took a long time for the government to figure out exactly how things would look (which I won’t comment on) and even then there were some differences across the province. Our board adopted a hybrid quadmester system for high school, which allows us to meet the government criteria for student cohorts. Instead of 90 day semesters with 4 classes, students take 2 classes for 44 days. This means teachers are teaching all day for 2 quadmesters, and half day for the other 2. 

So I’m one of the lucky people starting off with 2 classes, Grade 10 history and Grade 9 geography. I haven’t taught geography in 14 years, so it’s like I’m teaching something brand new. We teach one class in the morning in person and the other online in the afternoon. The next week the schedule flips. In the school, we have to wear level one medical masks at all times, and wear eye protection when we’re within 6 feet of the students. We can only remove the masks when we’re in our rooms by ourselves.

No sugar coating here…it’s exhausting! The online part is brutal. It is so hard trying to teach virtually as you get zero clues if the students are actually learning anything. I certainly don’t blame them though, as it’s a terrible way to learn and there’s not much we can do to make it any better. All we can do is our best and hope that things get better soon.

With all the safety measures and precautions in place, one big victim of the Covid situation has been football. This is the first time since 2000 that I have not had high school football and it certainly feels weird. I do have to say that there is no way I could manage coaching with my current teaching schedule…I’d be losing my mind! I do feel bad for the kids, particularly my oldest, Ethan, who potentially loses a year of ball because of this. There is football running, flag football, which my other son Noah is participating in. It is definitely not the same, but at least it is something for the kids to do and get them out of the house.

I would be remiss without saying something about the weather, which is one of my usual things to rant about. I actually cannot complain, as we had an absolutely beautiful spring, summer and fall. It was hot, sunny and dry. That was up until two weeks ago. I think we got more rain in a couple of days than we got all summer and the temperatures have just bottomed out. As I write this, I’m sitting here looking at the patches of snow on the ground. It’s October! I was hoping to squeeze in another hike this season, but this might have dashed those hopes. I’ll have to see what things are like in the next week or so, but I have a feeling I am done for 2020. I hope this weather isn’t a foreshadowing of things to come this winter.

Early snowfall, October 2020.

Early snowfall, October 2020.

Speaking of hiking, there is a lot to talk about. Boy have I done a lot of hiking this year! I definitely exceeded my own expectations by a mile and I have done so many hikes (or more appropriately hike and bikes) since my last post, I don’t think I can talk about them individually. I did 14 separate hikes since the 20th of July, covering most of the former Canadian Northern/CN Kinghorn line from Macdiarmid to Pass Lake, some 52 miles in total. That’s a lot of miles! And that’s only one way too, so you need to double that number for the true picture. As well, I needed to get to these places, so I put 4600 kilometres (yes, you read that right) on my truck doing it. 

Over all those miles, I saw a lot of great and interesting things, and certainly learned a ton about the line and railroading. So see, it’s not just exercise, it’s educational too! One of the best parts was the scenery. If you read this regularly you’ll know I love the outdoors and I was totally in awe of some of the amazing sights I witnessed. Places such as Orient Bay are gems that I didn’t even know existed; it’s like I’ve been introduced to a whole new world. The only sad thing is that I wish I could have seen it by train, especially in the early years when it was just opened up.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

Nipigon Lodge, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, August 2020.

Cash Creek Trestle, August 2020.

Cash Creek Trestle, August 2020.

Cronyn/MacAskill Station, August 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, August 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, August 2020.

Nipigon River Bridge, September 2020.

Nipigon River Bridge, September 2020.

Nipigon River, September 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, September 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, September 2020.

Black Sturgeon River Bridge, September 2020.

Black Sturgeon River Bridge, September 2020.

In any case, I have now totally committed myself to covering all 147 miles of the line from Jellicoe to Thunder Bay. Why am I doing this you ask? You’re first guess is that I’m crazy. Possibly true, but no. Actually, I’m worried it will go the way of the PAD&W. Canadian National will hang to on the grade until all the infrastructure is gone and it will no longer be usable as a trail. It is a daunting task however; I have divided the line into 42 separate hikes, of which I was able to complete 17 so far this year. I figure it will take me 3 years to complete. My main emphasis is to record on video the entire length and so far I’ve made 64 4K videos, amounting to 12 hours of footage. Just so you’re aware, every minute of 4K video is about 1 gigabyte of data, so these files tend to be huge.

I can’t wait to explore more of this line…I feel like a giddy little kid! Maybe it’s just because this line is what the PAD&W used to be in the past, but I never had a chance to experience it. I’ve definitely immersed myself in its history, and as with the scenery, have found it quite fascinating. As such, I’ve created (or rather updated) an information packed page on this website about the line and the places along its length. Click on the CNoR/GTP tab to take a look at it.

The last hike I want to talk about is probably the most important. In late September, the boys and I took a ride to North Lake to do a little bird hunting, but there was (obviously) an ulterior motive; I guess it’s the proverbial two birds with one stone analogy. The boys wanted to go hunting, and I figured why not in a spot where I know there are birds and where I could walk a little bit of the railway. Any excuse to get out on the PD is a good excuse!

As we walked the old grade I was hit by a bit of nostalgia; it was almost 30 years ago that I was first introduced to the PAD&W. It was Thanksgiving weekend in 1990 and I was all of 16 years old. It was going to be my first foray into moose hunting and my dad asked if I could tag along with some family friends to their newly acquired camp at North Lake. I had never been to the area before, or even had a clue where it was. It was a strange new world for me. Right from the moment we drove in to the camp, I began hearing about the old railway that use to run through the area and saw some of the remnants for myself. Over the next few days, I had a chance to explore more of the old grade, particularly around where North Lake Station was located. When I returned the next year the local snowmobile club had opened up the rest of the grade right to the end of Gunflint Lake. You could now walk all the way to Trestle Bay, and with a short boat ride, even explore the line west of the former 1000-foot trestle site.

That was the beginning. I never would have imagined that one chance trip 30 years ago would ignite a lifetime passion. It just amazes me how things in our lives begin and play out. Had I not begged my dad to go moose hunting, I likely would have never been drawn into all of this great history. Good thing for moose hunting huh?

PAD&W Grade, September 2020.

PAD&W Grade, September 2020.

PAD&W Grade, September 2020.

Trestle Bay, September 2020.

Well, I better move along. With the change in the quadmester soon, I should have more time to write, so I won’t take so long to write another post…hopefully. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Man, that bridge was sketchy!

Man, that bridge was sketchy!

Have you ever done something you thought was a good idea at the time and then regretted it immediately? How about days later, when you watched it on video? Yes, no, maybe? I think we’ve all been there, whether in that exact scenario or not. So, you’re probably wondering what I got myself into now, right? Well, I do have a story to tell you. And I won’t say that it was a good idea or that I “regretted” the situation…more like I found it unsettling afterwards. I never get to the point, so you know to keep reading!

Hey kids, it’s almost summer! Time continues to fly by at an unbelievable pace. My last post was two weeks ago and seems like yesterday; we’re already midway through June. Craziness! What that all means is that the school year is almost over. Didn’t this whole pandemic just start the other day? How does 3 months fly by so fast being stuck at home? In any case, the next few weeks are going to be busy marking and preparing reports for the end of the year. And after that, it’s “vacation” time, whatever that will look like.

So, in my last post I commented on how at least the weather had been good and how Mother Nature was trying to cut us some slack. Funny how a few weeks can change things quick. Now, let me temper this by saying it hasn’t been terrible, just not what it should be. Inconsistent would be the correct word. I mean we have had days that it was 30 Celsius and one day where it felt like 2. Places northwest of the city got snow for god sakes…in June!  I seriously want to punch climate change deniers in the face. Not literally, as this is a family-friendly blog.

Okay, so I’m back sooner than usual as I have a lot to report on the railway front. As I have mentioned several times recently, I have a long list of hikes that I want to complete while I have the opportunity. I have done a lot in the past few months, but there are many more left to go. I’ve been able to get out twice since my last post.

The first hike took me somewhere I’ve been and haven’t been. Confused? Well, this spot is a hub of activity and I’ve seen some stuff and not others. The area I am speaking about is near Sistonen’s Corners, which is about 35km northwest of the city. Here, three railway lines passed close by, two of which are still active: Canadian Pacific (active), Canadian Northern (later CN-active) and Grand Trunk Pacific (later CN-inactive). My particular interest was parts of the former GTP line.

My first exploration of the day involved a 1 kilometre section of the GTP that was part of the 26 miles of line that was opened in 1908 and abandoned in 1924. I had been by this section several times, but never actually walked it. It starts at milepost 166 of the GTP and goes east until it becomes part of Forbes Road. It was a very beautiful section to walk, almost picture perfect. There were many cuts and even some ties still in their place. Gives a real sense of what it used to be like travelling this railway as it made it’s way alongside the Matawin River.

GTP Grade, May 2020.

GTP Grade, May 2020.

GTP Grade, May 2020.

When Grand Trunk and Canadian Northern were merged to form Canadian National in the early 1920s, CN had some decisions to make in terms of its lines. In this case, they had two lines running in the same direction from Thunder Bay to this point. So, they decided to abandon 26 miles of the old GTP line, and had all westward trains use the Canadian Northern line to this point, which became known as Conmee Junction. The tracks to that point were doubled, and a new bridge built across the Matawin River. Some traffic would continue west on the Canadian Northern line, now known as the CN-Kashabowie Subdivision. The other would veer off the northwest, cross the new bridge and proceed to Sioux Lookout on the GTP line, which was now the Graham Subdivision. The Graham line stayed in operation until 1994 when was it was abandoned by CN.

I had been over the Matawin River bridge once before, shortly after the line was abandoned, around 1996. Fast forward 24 years and I found myself crossing the river again on that bridge. Let me preface this with the fact that I’m not good with heights, and walking across railway bridges isn’t easy as there’s not a solid deck, but rather large timbers spaced about 10 inches apart; it makes for an awkward walk. Plus, this bridge has been abandoned for 26 years, so the walkways on the sides are all rotten, so you need to walk down the middle of the bridge.

Anyway, ignoring the fact that I was 40 feet above the river, I walked across the 630-foot bridge to the other side. It didn’t really phase me at the time, maybe because I was so focused on taking pictures and video. The only time I really felt any fear was on my way back, video camera in hand and recording away, when one of those big bridge timbers wiggled a bit when I stepped on it. Talk about a disconcerting feeling! You are totally wrapped up in what you’re doing, one eye on the video camera and one eye on where your feet are going, when all of a sudden, your foot doesn’t plant properly. Now, it’s not like I was going to fall to my death or anything as the space between the timbers isn’t big enough to slip through. However, it does give you quite the mini heart attack! Other than that, maybe it was the adrenaline, I was fine, until I watched the video back. There were spots that made me feel nauseous and gave me a bit of vertigo. Maybe because I could see how high I was and that there were no railings. So weird!

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

After shooting some pictures and video of the sides of the bridge, I turned my attention to the railway grade from the bridge back to where we had come in from, a road known as Sunshine Crossroads. The starting point is rather interesting, as it features unique junction. Here, the line from the bridge joins the old GTP lines and as you look east, you can see two grades; the newer one built by CN in 1924 and the original 1908 one built by GTP. From this point, it’s about 2.3km to Sunshine Crossroads, which I covered, as I have been doing recently, on my bike. It’s a nice area, but it has been wrecked in my opinion by logging that is going on alongside the grade. It’s kind of a shame. Anyway, you can watch the videos here.

GTP/CN Grade, May 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, May 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, May 2020.

A week or so later I was back to the same spot, this time pushing myself further westward along the railway. I typically like to do my hike n’ bikes (as I call them) backwards, that is start at my destination, go backwards to the starting point and then forwards again to the destination. This allows me to do all the hard work on the backward portion, such as taking pictures and logging GPS data. This then allows me to just focus on doing the video on the return leg.

So, on this hike, I began my journey at milepost 161.3, where the grade crosses Ellis Road. I would then work my way to milepost 164.5, where I left off on the previous hike at Sunshine Crossroads. This section of the GTP is a fairly easy stretch, and also passes by one of the stations known as Ellis at milepost 162.2. My journey did begin on a sour note though, as I realized, halfway through my drive to the area, that I forgot my hiking vest at home. I therefore had to improvise how I would carry my gear, which did make it a bit inconvenient. I managed though!

The hike went smoothly, though it did take longer than I expected. I found what I believed to be the location of Ellis Station, complete with the remains of the water tower. The only real shock I got was when I located another concrete culvert. I never really thought I’d find one so far west, my thinking that they were only built closer to Thunder Bay. This one was within a few hundred metres of the turnaround point at the Sunshine Crossroads, atop a very high embankment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an embankment that high, as it was some 55 to 60 feet above the creek. I saw the creek and immediately my hopes went up and I quickly charged down the slope to investigate. From a distance I could make out the form of the concrete opening and instantly became giddy. The south side was okay, though I could not approach it closely as the water was very deep. The north side was a complete disaster; successive floods had pushed piles of debris in front of the opening and had exposed some twenty feet of the culvert by eroding the grade above it. It is beginning to come apart and crumble, but I guess it has been maintained in 26 years and was built in 1917. It’s to be expected.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

This discovery has made me excited for future hikes along this line, and I’ve already started pinpointing creeks and streams via Google Earth to load into my GPS. Hopefully this will facilitate me in locating more of these concrete structures when I get to those locations.

Okay, so I’ve saved my best news for last. If you read my last post I mentioned that I had something exciting coming in the mail; well, as you can imagine, it arrived last Thursday. Canada Post actually teased me a bit. Closely eyeing the tracking, Thursday morning it displayed that the package was “Out for Delivery.” Then suddenly, the message changed and the delivery was pushed back a day…so disappointing. However, at 4 o’clock I received a notification it was back out for delivery, which was weird to have something delivered that late in the day. Lo and behold, it showed up at 6:30!

Now, you’re probably wondering what the heck I got. Well, let me give you the whole story. I never go on ebay and I have not bought much off of that site in recent years. One day I was searching for railway timetables and I ended up there. What prompted me to search “Canadian Northern Railway” I’ll never know, but maybe it was fate. Anyway, this was one of the listings that came up: “You are bidding on almost two pounds’ worth of Canadian Northern Railway station paperwork circa 1912-1921. This assortment was salvaged in 1961 from behind an abandoned railroad station located on the Canadian-Minnesota boarder, not far from Gunflint Lake. (The paperwork had apparently been thrown out the back door and allowed to become humus after the rails were taken up.) This assortment includes shipping orders, Royal Mail reports, telegraph message blanks, custom manifests, collection deposit receipts, circular letters sent out by the passenger department, etc. The condition of these documents ranges from fair to something akin to the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, to the right person, they will be a treasure trove of historical railroad information from 100 years or so ago. We didn’t bother to count how many individual pieces are there, but it’s a lot. This assortment comes from a non-smoking household and will be shipped via USPS Retail Ground. It will undoubtedly be of interest to railroad museums and historians, authors, preservationists, and collectors of railroad paper. It’s been priced to sell so don’t let it get away from you because it slipped your mind to put in a bid. Our feedback rating speaks for itself so bid with confidence. Thanks for looking and GOOD LUCK BIDDING!”

After looking at the pictures, I was flabbergasted; it was unbelievable! It was an auction, but I knew I could not let this slip away. I immediately contacted the seller, told him my story and asked if I could make an offer on the item to buy it right away. He accepted and completed the transaction. It cost me a few bucks (the shipping was more than the papers) and my wife thought I was nuts, but you cannot put a price on this type of stuff (it was less than $100 Canadian). Afterwards, the seller contacted me and told me how he came to possess this paperwork. The story is just crazy and really makes me feel like I was destined to find this listing: “This paperwork was salvaged in the summer of 1961. We were on a Boy Scout canoe trip out of Gunflint Lake and happen to camp at the end of North Lake. Somehow, we stumbled upon the station which was then already hidden in the undergrowth. We discovered the paperwork in a heap behind the station. The top layers had probably already turned to humus, but we dug down and found some that was still reasonably intact. Without bothering to read through any of it, we scooped some of it up and packed it out with us. That was almost 60 years ago! After having it in storage for many years, I decided to list it on eBay. I’m DELIGHTED that you spotted it and that it will be going to someone who knows what it is and who can make some practical use of it.”

I was so excited to open the package and see what was inside. Turns out that about 60 to 65 percent of the material is useable historic documents, while the rest is just railway notices and forms. Some of the useable stuff is pure gold; there is one customs manifest of logs for the Pigeon River Lumber Company from 1908, while there are several customs reports of coal for the PRLC’s locomotives from 1906. There are many mail reports, as well as shipping forms for goods transported between Port Arthur and the various stations along the line. All told, the papers date from 1906 and 1922.

It took me several hours to separate the papers and photograph them all. Some are in good shape, while others, as the seller described, are like the Dead Sea Scrolls. There was a pile of dust and paper fragments left after I was done and certainly reinforced my belief that these documents now belong in a museum. I have reached out to the Thunder Bay Museum to have them take possession of them and see that they are properly preserved. I will keep you posted on how it goes.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

Anyway, it’s time to move on. With school winding down I’ll have more time for hikes amongst other things, so I’ll be back before you know it with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Well, at least Mother Nature is sympathetic!

“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” I think most people have heard that biblical quote, even if they are not particularly religious or Christian. I’m a practicing Catholic, but honestly, I had to look up where the quote came from, which by the way is in Book of Job if you care to know. Sorry, I’m not always up to speed to my Old Testament scripture. Anyway, the reason why I brought it up was that it encapsulates, at least for some of us, our current situation. I know, cryptic as always. I will get to the point if you read on.

Hey kids, it’s almost June! This whole pandemic has turned the calendar into a blur of dates. I generally know which day of the week it is, but I’m having a difficult time keeping track of the dates. This means we’re now two and half months into this COVID imposed quarantine, which has turned everyone’s lives upside down. I’m still teaching from home, and will continue to do so until the end of June as the province has announced that we will not be returning to the classroom until September at the earliest. It’s still a struggle, as these online lessons do not do the curriculum any justice, and the students have begun to shutdown. In a regular year this always happens, but the pandemic has made everything worse since they don’t have to actually be in a classroom. Hopefully I can make it through the next few weeks without losing my marbles!

So the one thing that has been helpful is the one thing I always gripe about…yup, the weather. It’s almost like Mother Nature feels sorry for us and has decided to cut us some slack with some warm temperatures and generally sunny days. After a cool start to the month, May has been fairly warm, with some hot days and mostly rain free. That lack of precipitation does have some drawbacks, mainly the imposing of a restricted fire zone because of the dry conditions. That sadly means no open fires in backyards or at camps. The good with the bad right? The Lord giveth…

Now speaking of camp, it is that time of the year. For anyone new, camp is the term we use here in northwestern Ontario to describe our cottage, cabin or lake property. My wife and I are lucky to have inherited her parents camp, which is really like a house, so we have another place to be during this time. Usually the Victoria Day long weekend (third weekend in May) is typically the start of camping season for most people around here and we were no exception. We’ve spent the last few weekends out there, which really helps break up the monotony of being at home all the time. We recently got internet at our place, which is only available in turtle-speed DSL, but it helps take some of the pressure off our cellular data. It also allows us to do some of our school work while we are there; as we move more into June, we might be working more from there than usual.

Camp sunset, May 2020.

Camp sunrise, May 2020.

As I mentioned in previous posts, all of this time at home and no activities for the kids has given me more time to get out and do many railway related hiking. I’ve pretty much shutdown all writing work on my book, but I did do a number of online presentations via YouTube during April and May. You can watch them here if you are interested.

Now, back to the hiking thing. In my last post I mentioned that I was going to do some exploring around North Lake Station for the first time in 9 years. I was very excited for the visit, as North Lake was the first place I encountered the railway. Unfortunately, I left there very disappointed for two reasons. The first, was the weather. I was actually hoping for more clouds than sun, since I would be filming in a very heavily treed area and the clouds help to even the light so you can see better. The second and more important let down, was what I found. The North Lake station was built in 1907 and abandoned in 1923. It was still standing in the 1970s but sadly time caught up to it and it fell into ruin. When I first saw the remains in 1990, the station wasn’t more than a pile of boards; however, the nearby coal bunker was decently preserved and still fairly full of coal. I was shocked by what I saw this time. The remains of the station are nearly gone, with only a small section of boards left, and the coal bunker has all but deteriorated. It such an inglorious end for such a beautiful area.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

To boost my spirits, I’ve done a few other hikes. I was invited to visit a section of the Grand Trunk Pacific that lies on private property just west of the city. The owner, Howard, uses one part of the grade for his driveway and the other as a recreational trail. Both are kept so well-maintained they appear as though they would have back before this portion of the line was abandoned in 1924.

Grand Trunk Pacific, May 2020.

Grand Trunk Pacific, May 2020.

Since I’ve been at camp the last few weekends, I’ve taken the opportunity to explore more of the former Canadian Northern/CN-Kinghorn grade in the area. I’ve really embraced the whole bike and hike concept on this line (and others). A couple of months ago I bought a new bike and I’ve been putting it to good use. The bike lets me cover ground a lot quicker, and its ideal for areas where the railway grade is easily passable. I have quite a number of these explorations planned for the summer when I’m already in the area.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Now I do have some exciting news to pass along. I mentioned how disappointed I was with my visit to North Lake, but I actually found something that made up for it and then some. I’m not going to give too many details other than I have something arriving in the mail in the next few weeks that is of great importance to my research on the railway. I’ll post all the details when it shows up.

Anyway, I need to be moving along. I have a hike scheduled for today along the Grand Trunk. It’s to a place I have not been to in along time. I’ll have pictures and info on all my explorations in my next post…and details about my “special” deilvery! Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Bad for life, great for history…

When life gives you lemons…you know the saying, right? And boy, we didn’t just get some lemons, we got a whole damn orchard! However, the reality is that in life, we can be consumed by our challenges, or adapt and make the best of them; I have chosen the latter. Somehow, I picture that being said by Christopher Lee playing Saruman in Lord of the Rings, you know, the White Wizard. My boys have been watching the trilogy and that popped into my head. But I digress.

Hey kids, it’s May! I can’t believe a month has flown by since my last post. This whole pandemic situation has caused me (and probably a whole lot of you too) to lose track of the days. It seems like those days and the weeks have just blurred together. On that note, I hope everyone is staying safe and making the best of the situation, as I am trying to do. It’s certainly a crazy time in the world and it has radically transformed all of our lives.

So, since it’s May, school is still in session, and just like the world, has devolved into something none of us have ever seen before. At the time of my last post, we were just starting back up after a three-week shutdown. Well, it’s now been a month of this distance, emergency learning situation and many of us in the education world are still struggling to manage this new reality. It is very strange…I really miss “teaching” a lot of this material. Posting information, video links and a few assignments is not the same; the explanation, the discussion and the personal contact is what makes it come alive. However, it’s the best we can do right now and hopefully the kids are getting something out of it. Maybe some semblance of “normality” will return in the fall.

Thankfully, the weather right now has made things a little more bearable. It hasn’t always been super warm, but almost all of the snow is gone (it is May for God sakes) and it’s only going to get better. At the moment our temperatures are below normal as part of the dreaded “Polar Vortex” has settled over Ontario, bringing with it cooler temperatures (there were some snowflakes coming down yesterday). However, I’m happier that it’s been dry, which makes it easier to get out of the house…I can always put on a jacket. I’ve been trying to get as much fresh air as I can with walks, bike rides and hikes.

On the railway front, things have been rather busy. I did as much writing and research as I could on my book, so I turned my attention to other things, including this site. Have you ever explored some of the tabs at the top? There are more now, and all of them work! Many have sub-sections to them, particularly “Stations” under the “Line” tab. It has involved quite a bit work, but its finally becoming the hub of information I want it to be.

Since we were speaking of hikes earlier, it’s the one thing that I’ve been able to take some solace in. Here in Ontario we had been asked to restrict unnecessary travel, so I’ve been limiting myself to the local area, but there’s still lots to see. I’ve gone out to visit places I had not seen in years, or had been planning to get back to but had not had the time. I actually have a list (go figure, me with a list) that has 20 places I want to visit, and I’ve been able to cross off 4 so far.

So, where have I been? Well, I’ve been on six separate “hikes” this past month, ranging from a few hundred feet from the road to ones lasting several hours. As much as it can be strenuous and exhausting, I am in my happy place when I’m hiking an old railway line. Even if I’ve been there before, I still have the same giddy exhilaration of being in the outdoors and seeing all of these efforts that were done a long time ago. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?

Alright, so I did one rather close to my house, and it involved a still functioning railway structure. If I was going to work, I would pass over a swing bridge on the Kaministiquia River twice a day. This bridge was built by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1907-1908 for their Lake Superior Branch, and via an agreement with the then City of Fort William, it also carries vehicular traffic. It’s less than a 20-minute bike ride from my house, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone…railway and exercise. I felt a little odd standing around taking pictures and video, but it was a nice trip.

GTP Swing bridge over the Kaministiquia River, date unknown. (G. Spence)

CN Swing bridge over the Kaministiquia River, April 2020.

Around that same time, I decided stop in Rosslyn while I was out on an errand. Here, just east of the village, could be found the last remaining rails of the PAD&W. Unfortunately, I was in for a big and depressing shock. When the line was abandoned in 1938 and the rails removed, 1.74 miles of track was left from Twin City Junction to the Rosslyn Brick Plant. In 1989, most of those rails were removed, except for a small 2000-foot section used as a spur. I last stopped there in 2012 to photograph and record those rails; to my dismay, at some point last year, most of those last rails were ripped out. What is left no longer connects to the CN mainline, so sadly, the last vestige of the PAD&W is now gone after 130 years. I know it was inevitable, but it does make me a bit sad.

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

Another one of my trips took me further west from Rosslyn to Stanley. It was one of the original stops on the PAD&W, but it took on more importance after 1899. That year, Canadian Northern began construction on their line to Winnipeg, and Stanley would become the junction for the two lines. It remained the junction until 1911, when a new line from Twin City to Kakabeka was opened, which bypassed Stanley. The section from Stanley to Kakabeka had bad grades, and it became known as “High Track.” Places like Stanley are interesting as they have reverted, instead of growing. It is really neat to compare old photos of the village and what it looks like today.

Stanley, circa 1900. (Duke Hunt Museum)

Stanley, April 2020.

Stanley, April 2020.

Stanley, April 2020.

Speaking of High Track, I had not been to that area in a long time, like mid-90s long time. There have been a few little, quick excursions, like I did in March, but I really want to trace the line as far as I could. It would give me an opportunity to gather GPS data and take video as well. It started off a little challenging, since I could not find the grade for a bit. A good chunk of the grade in this area has been over taken by gravel pit operations, so I had to spend some time looking around. It certainly is well defined at a spot known as “The Oaks,” which features a large stand of Bur Oaks which are not native to this area. Beyond there, it is fairly easy to follow. Eventually it gets into an area where there are several long embankments, one of which is well-preserved, and the others have suffered washout damage. Then it was on to spot that I remember well from my hike way back in the 90s; a stretch with ties still in their place. It’s really too bad this line was abandoned, as it goes through some very nice terrain alongside the Kaministiquia River. There is still another piece I’d like to follow, but that one will take me through what is likely private property, so that will have to wait.

High Track 1928 (GSC)

High Track, May 2020.

High Track, May 2020.

High Track, May 2020.

The last hike I did was actually two separate hikes in an area known as the “Moose’s Nose.” It’s rather interesting nickname for a section of railway, but the name certainly fits. It was formerly part of the GTP, which had very strict requirements regarding its grade. In order to negotiate the grade west of Thunder Bay, the engineers built several big sweeping loops which would allow the railway to climb and keep the grades in check. This area near Mapleward Road in modern Thunder Bay, acquired the nickname because of its appearance; it’s also referred to as the “Devil’s Elbow.” So the explorations I did were hikes n’ bikes, walking part of the grade and biking back. Besides its layout, the grade here goes through a very pretty area and also contains some neat structures, particularly a number of concrete culverts that were built in 1917. Unfortunately, only two of the original three remain, as one was removed and replaced with a steel culvert…sad.

Moose’s Nose 1925 (GSC)

Moose’s Nose, April 2020.

Moose’s Nose, April 2020.

Moose’s Nose, April 2020.

Moose’s Nose, May 2020.

Moose’s Nose, May 2020.

Moose’s Nose, May 2020.

Now remember I still have 16 other hikes on my list, and I’m hoping I can get to most of them before winter. If the weather holds, I’ll be back out tomorrow, heading down to one of my favourite places, North Lake. I was there several times in the fall, but on the west end of the lake. This visit will be centred around the station, and exploring a spot I have not been around since 2011. Next week is also the Victoria Day weekend here in Canada, so that’s means my weekends moving forward will be spent more often out at camp, so there will be further explorations of the CN grade to the east. So much history…so little time!

Anyway, it’s time to move along. I’ll probably be back in a few weeks with the latest updates and photos. I can’t wait to share what I’ve found on all these hikes. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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It’s spring, but I’m stuck inside…

It’s spring, but I’m stuck inside…

Honestly, I really struggled on how to start this post. As a history teacher, I always talk to my students about those dramatic events that occur during our lifetime, the ones where we always remember where we were when they happened, or have the visuals ingrained in our minds. I have several of my own; 1986 Challenger tragedy, the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. Well, it’s 2020 and here we are again. I know years from now I’ll remember exactly where I was, just where I am right now…sitting on my couch!

Well kids, I’m back…I wish it was under better circumstances. It is a very challenging time in the world, and I find it difficult to manage the tone of this post. I want to try and keep things upbeat though, as there is enough negative news around. The last few week have been a bizarre and surreal whirlwind of events that no one saw coming. Just before school shutdown, one of the last things I taught my Grade 10 class was about the Spanish Flu, the last time the world experienced a pandemic on this scale. The irony is not lost on me.

It’s now April and I’ve been away from school since the 13th of March. It seemed as though one-minute things were fine and the next we were told the schools would remain closed for two weeks after the March break. Now, that closure has been extended until May. And during that time the COVID-19 exploded across parts of the world. Since schools have been closed for the foreseeable future, we have been thrust into this crazy situation of trying to teach everything online. I taught a geography course online for a few years, but this is nothing anywhere close to the same thing. It is going to be a very interesting few months as we figure out how to salvage some semblance of the school year.

So here I sit, parked on my couch like millions of other people around the world. I, like many of you out there, really struggle to make sense of all of this. As I described earlier, the world has not seen a health situation like this in 100 years, and such uncertainty since World War II. There’s not much we can do, but follow the advice of the medical professionals, including staying at home and watch our physical distancing. I guess it gives some of us time to spend with our families, work on projects and pray for those experiencing the worst of this pandemic.

For now, anyway, the only saving grace has been the weather. The weather? Ya, I know, I’m actually saying something positive about it for a change. February was pretty good, though the first part of March was rather crappy. However, surprisingly, since we’ve been told to stay home, the weather has mostly been pleasant. I’ve been trying to take advantage of it, going for hikes (which I’ll talk about later), daily walks and bike rides; I guess I’m not really stuck inside am I? In any case, I went out and bought a new bike, which was inspired by buying one for Ethan’s birthday. I guess I was rather due, since my old bike was purchased in 1996! We’ve also gone to camp, which we will be doing more of as the snow receeds.

Spring thaw, March 2020.

Spring thaw, April 2020.

Camp, March 2020.

Camp, March 2020.

Mount McRae, March 2020.

Mount McRae, March 2020.

Since I have extra time now (well, in between doing schoolwork and projects around the house), I’ve been trying to do as much as I can on my book. The only bad thing is that COVID-19 likely will throw some of my plans for a huge loop. I was supposed to head down to Gunflint for field work in early May with the archaeologists from the US Forest Service, work we were originally to start on in October, but it snowed. Now the border is closed, and we’re told to stay home. Ugh! It’s like the history gods don’t want me to finish this off. Hopefully things clear up by the summer and we can set something up for then.

I’m also supposed to be in Toronto in early July to visit my brother and his wife, and at the same time do research at the Archives of Ontario. That might also be in jeopardy too; it’s all going to depend on how this pandemic plays out. In the meantime, I’ve been trying do little tweaks and edits where I can. I did get some documents from the Minnesota Secretary of State, but my requests with the Wisconsin Historical Society and Library and Archives Canada will need to be followed up on once this mess is all over. I did take some time to sort through and re-file most of the documents I used on the book. Boy did I kill a lot of trees!

Book files, March 2020.

Book files, March 2020.

Book files, March 2020.

While I am waiting to finish off the last parts of the book, I’ve started in on a new project. I know, colour you shocked! We’ll, it all started very innocuously. Back in February I got an email from the Cook County Historical Society regarding an inquiry someone made on the Palatine Mining and Development Company. This outfit was from Chicago and made up of Polish-American businessmen who wanted to open up the old Paulson Mine in the early 1920s. I passed along some of what I knew, but the request piqued my interest. So, next thing I know I’m scouring the internet for more information on the company and the people that ran it. Then I’m sending emails to the Illinois and Arizona Secretaries of State for documents. No, this won’t be another book, but likely an article for the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society.

To help pass the time and also practice physical distancing, I decided that I should do some early spring hiking. I don’t really go out during the winter, since it isn’t easy to get around in the snow and things that I want to see are generally obscured. However, I figured what else do I have do and it might brighten someone’s day who can’t get out. So, the first hike I did was a few weeks back and I went to Stanley, where the PAD&W crossed the Kaministiquia River at Milepost 20 and the 1920s era bridge is still there. There was still a lot of snow, but it felt good to get out and look around. You can watch the video I shot here.

Stanley, Ontario, March 2020.

Harstone Railway Bridge, March 2020.

Harstone Railway Bridge, March 2020.

Last week I travelled much further out, to Milepost 59 and a place called Iron Range Hill. About seven years ago I was sent some pictures that were taken of the railway during the winter of 1915-1916. It shows a train stuck in the snow on the hill, which probably has the heaviest grade on the line at over two percent. The railway had to climb from 1541 feet above sea level at Sandstone Lake to 1690 feet at the top of the hill in just over a mile; the incline in the grade is very noticeable. Thankfully people use part of the old grade as a snowmobile trail, which made it much easier to get around. Otherwise, the snow was past my knees! You can watch the video I shot here.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Yesterday I went out in that same area, just a little more to the east at Gravel Lake Station, Milepost 52. It wasn’t a very long hike, but I knew it would be a challenge since there would be no snowmobile trail. There was a pretty solid crust of snow, but I still needed my snowshoes to get around. Gravel Lake Station lies at the end of a chain of four lakes known as the Gravel Lakes. This stretch of the railway is very bad, with the grade having sunk down in the swampy, muskeg terrain. I’ve been through there a few times in the past, the last time in 2010, so I thought I’d take a look in the winter. I hopefully plan to get back there in the fall and walk the entire 2.5km section. Anyway, you can watch the video I shot here.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Unfortunately, I’ve decided to shutdown the hikes for a few weeks. The Government of Ontario has asked people to limit non-essential travel to help flatten the COVID-19 curve; I know I’m not going anywhere with any people, but I still feel I should adhere to what we are being asked to do. Besides, soon the bush will be wet and not pleasant to hike through until it dries out. To help fill the time, I decided to try putting some of the lectures I do online. The first one will take place on Tuesday, April 7 at 7pm Eastern time. The talk will be on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad, the subject of my book. Just click on the link below and it will take you to the live video:

Gunflint & Lake Superior: Ontario’s Private American Railroad

Anyway, I better move along; there are a ton of things to do around here. Please stay safe during this challenging time. I’ll try to be back in a month, hopefully when I can start hiking again. I already have a bunch planned in my head! Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2020 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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I didn’t know it would take this long!

I didn’t know it would take this long!

Have you ever started on something and thought “this is a piece of cake; I’ll be done in no time”? We’ve all be there before, right? Sometimes the task is small, you know, like making dinner or cleaning the house; other times, it’s a big, complex project like renovating a room or say writing a book. Wait, what? Writing a book? Who casually writes a book? Haha, I guess the percentages of people doing renos is much higher than people writing a book. Are there bonus points for doing both? Asking for a friend.

Hey kids, I’m (finally) back. I know I said in my last post I’d be back before Christmas and well, it’s now the end of January. My bad? I guess it’s the difference between aspirations and reality. I really did intend to post before Christmas and then, as usual, life gets in the way. Hey, I’m busy guy…I’m writing a book and doing some renovations. Okay, I’ll be honest, there isn’t a ton of work with the renos, but I have been doing a lot of work on the book. That’s a topic for later though.

So, if it’s the end of January, that means I’m in a bit of a down time. What does that mean? Well, it means that the first semester is almost over and we’re gearing up for the second half of the year. The good news is that, as JBJ would say, “we’re halfway there;” bad news is that there is still half a year to go. Oh well, we’re on what I call the downward slide. Second semester always goes faster, the days are getting longer, and winter will, eventually, be over. Yay!

Speaking of the weather, no post would be complete without some mention (or rant) about it. Funny thing is that there isn’t too much to complain about. The winter so far, fingers crossed, hasn’t been too bad. We haven’t had very many cold days, and it’s been fairly mild at times. The only issue is that we’ve had quite a bit of snow; according to the data there is officially 35cm of snow on the ground, but some areas are reporting upwards of 80cm. I’d say my house is somewhere in between, probably around 60cm. I’m getting rather tired of cleaning snow, but I decided to live here right?

Winter snowfall, January 2020.

Winter snowfall, January 2020.

Winter snowfall, January 2020.

Alright, so what’s going on with this book Dave? Well, a lot actually…thanks for asking. When we last left off, I mentioned that I would be starting to write again soon. And write I did, maybe not necessarily by word count, but certainly in reorganization and revising. When I started this project back in 2014, never in a million years did I think I’d be at it 6 years later (and counting). This was supposed to be a short paper, like my first published work on the ghost town of Leeblain. Boy did it ever blow up! The scary thing is that I’m just supposed to be writing, not digging up new information. However, since I’ve never done this before, I have no idea of how it works.

If you’re wondering why I’m still gleaning the interwebs for information, it has come out of the fact that I’ve had to re-jiggle my chapters slightly and add to what I wanted to discuss in the book. I must admit I’m not really sad or upset about this; I love doing research. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt and testing my ability to find new material. It can be very frustrating, tedious and expensive. I’ve requested documents from the Minnesota Historical Society, and Library and Archives Canada, plus from the Wisconsin Historical Society if they can turn anything up. I have no idea what I’ve spent on this project in these six years, but it’s now in the thousands. Ya, I know, I’m crazy.

Piles of documents, January 2020.

Now speaking of expenses, I still have two trips (or more) that I need to undertake to finish this odyssey. The first is to Toronto, where I will need to visit the Archives of Ontario to find information about timber licenses and the incorporation of a company, the Arrow River & Tributaries Boom & Slide. My wife has bought tickets to see Bon Jovi on July 10th, so it will be somewhere around that time. Thankfully my brother lives in Toronto, so we have a place to stay while we’re there. Hopefully I can find all the material I need.

My second trip is one that I’ve discussed several times in the past and was actually supposed to happen in October. If you read my last post, I always travel to Gunflint for Canadian Thanksgiving with the boys. One of the big goals for the trip, one which I was very excited for, was the planned visit to Camp 8 with USFS archaeologist Greg Heide. Unfortunately, it snowed that weekend, which forced us to postpone until this spring. May cannot come soon enough! It is so important to the book to get some professional exploration of the site, which has already and might continue to provide a treasure trove of information. Hopefully the weather cooperates this time!

Anyway, I better get moving; there are always a million things to do around here. I’ll be back as soon as I can with the latest updates. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2020 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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‘Tis the Season

Huh, are you sure you have the right season Dave? It’s September, not December! Well, as a matter of fact, I know exactly what I’m talking about and I do have the right season. Who ever said that saying was reserved for one particular time of year? It’s all about context…for me, it’s that time of the year!

Welcome to fall kids! If you read this blog regularly you’ll know that means it’s the crazy time of the year for me; back to work, football, family and a million other things. Good thing I love fall! Obviously the thing keeping me busiest is work. This school year, after 18 years in the same room, I decided to relocate myself in the school. I’m just 70 feet or so away, but switching rooms after all that time is a huge deal. I moved because the new room is much bigger and right next to my office, but it also means a lot of time and work to get it the way I want it, time I don’t have.

Fall for me also means that it’s football season. I’m starting my 20th year coaching high school ball, and this one is very special. No, it’s not because I’ve been doing this for a long time, but rather because of one of the Grade 9 players joining the team. My oldest, Ethan, started high school this year and has also begun this part of his football career. It makes me very proud that he is a Fighting Saint, though it does make for some awkwardness. Thankfully he plays offense, so I don’t have to deal with him very much. I’m also back coaching Noah in minor, though he’s down to his last couple of years before he too moves up to the high school ranks.

In my last post, way back in early August, I wrote how decent the weather had been. Well, I can’t say the same now-from the middle part of August until now it can be best described as crappy. Unfortunately we’ve been plagued with a lot of unsettled conditions, with temperatures yo-yoing and a lot more rain. This is in line with last year, but certainly not like some of the fall’s we had in year’s past. Hopefully things don’t get too bad so I can get out and do some hiking!

Speaking of hiking, I’ve been trying to keep things going on the railway front despite how busy I have become. In my last post I wrote about how I was going to do some other abandoned railway exploring during the summer when I could not get on the PAD&W. With that in mind, I decided to formalize these non-PAD&W hikes into a photo/video series known as “PAD&W Railway-Offbeat Adventures.” This includes both the CN-Kinghorn Subdivision and the Grand Trunk Pacific. I explored parts of the old GTP back in the late 90s and this has re-invigorated me to do more. 

So I did several more hikes along the Kinghorn during the summer east of Pass Lake near Pearl and beyond. There were many more great sights to see and that has inspired me to plan many more hikes for next summer. By far the most interesting hike was near the actual station at Pearl, as beavers built a dam and flooded a 300-metre section of the grade. I rode my bike that day, pedalling the 5km from my start point north to where I would stop and walk back. I had to cross this flooded area twice; I wrongly assumed it would be easy to cross and not that deep. As it turns out, the gravel ballast made it extremely difficult to pedal and the water came up past my boots, soaking my feet. It was quite the ordeal, which if you’re interested, I recorded and you can watch here.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Now that I mention recording, I decided to do a major technology upgrade over the summer. It’s something I’d been planning for a while, but I took me some time to pull the trigger. For the past 9 years I’ve been using a standard video camera to record my railway explorations. Last fall and into the summer I did some experimentation with Ethan’s Gopro camera; I was so impressed that I bought the newest model, the Hero 7. It is an amazing piece of gear! The stabilization is remarkable and the wide angle view is much better than a traditional camera. It also records in 4K60 resolution, which produces amazing results.

My first 4K video was taken at the site of an impressive piece of local history. Many moons ago (well, in the late 90s if truth be told), I explored pieces of an old railway grade in the area known as the Lake Superior Branch of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. Part of another transcontinental line across the country, construction began on this section in 1905 which would provide it with access to Lake Superior. When the Grand Trunk was merged with Canadian Northern to form Canadian National, 24 miles of this line was abandoned while the rest became the CN-Graham Subdivision. It remained in service until 1994 when it too was abandoned.

There are some amazing structures to be found on that original line abandoned back in 1924. I had visited a few back in those late 90s hikes, but there was one that I had not been to. Located at milepost 169 (measured from Superior Junction, where it joined the mainline), just south of the former station of Dona and near the modern village of Kaministiquia lies a unique bridge over the Strawberry Creek. Built in 1919, just 5 years before it was abandoned, is a 105-foot long, 35-foot high structure made out of concrete. I’d never seen anything like it and was completely awestruck! I will be visiting the remains of the station at Dona soon and I hope to continue visiting more in the future.

Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Another railway event on the horizon is coming up this week. I’ve been invited to speak at public lecture hosted by the Lakehead Social History Institute on Saturday, October 3rd. I’m one of several speakers on tap that day and I am a bit nervous to present. Though I’m speaking about about life on the railway, this topic is something that I’ve never spoken about in public. I’m sure I’ll be fine…I think it’s more of a fear of the unknown than anything else.

Finally, with October just around the corner, it means that my annual trip to Gunflint is coming up soon. I am very much looking forward to the mini-vacation given the insanity this time of year brings. It’s always good to break away for a few days and recharge the batteries for the second of the football season. I’ll be out and about in the woods again, looking at some things associated with the Gunflint & Lake Superior. I’ll also be doing a presentation at the Cross River Lodge on Friday, October 11 on the G&LS, something I’ve been doing for the past few years. It should be a nice weekend with the boys and nature…let’s hope the weather cooperates.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. Noah has football this afternoon and there’s tons of things to do beforehand. I’ll be back after the trip with a full breakdown of what went on. Until then…

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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What a crazy time!

What a crazy time!

Crazy? Yup, super crazy. Now, before you jump to conclusions, I haven’t fallen off the proverbial rocker, though some days it feels like it. No, by crazy I mean intensely busy, but thanks for the concern. It’s good to know people out there are looking out for my well being. By all means though, keep reading to experience this masterpiece of prose that will tell you everything you need to know.

Hey, it’s summer kids…thank Jesus! If you somehow missed the introduction, summer vacation could not come soon enough. I am truly exhausted! The last couple of months have been a whirlwind of activity that has left me more drained than I’ve ever been. But aren’t you always tired Dave? Ya, ya, I know. However, in my defence, every year seems like it gets busier and I unfortunately get older. Not a good formula from my perspective.

So, what’s been keeping me going like “crazy” you ask? Well, what hasn’t? I’d say the usual trifecta; work, kids and life in general. Honestly, I don’t think that work has been any busier, but again it might have a lot to do with the mileage on the tires, if you get my drift. Additionally, for someone not known for changing my routine very often, I’ve embarked on a fairly major switch. After 18 years residing in Room 237 at the ole’ bricks and mortar on Selkirk Street, I’ve decided to change (classroom) addresses. It’s amazing how much stuff you accumulate in that time, so moving was not an easy proposition. However, I’m looking forward to starting September just down the hall in 227 and making it my home for the next 9 years.

Number two on the list are the boys. Wow, have they had a lot of things on the go. Ethan’s U16 football continued until June 8th, when they finally played their long-awaited game against the Manitoba Selects team. I thought the game would be close, but instead it was a 51-6 pasting by the Knights. Ethan played the whole second half, recording 5 tackles, which was a nice accomplishment since he didn’t have a lot of time to transition to the linebacker position. That same day, he also did his confirmation, for which my brother flew in from Toronto to be his sponsor.

Ethan U16 football, June 2019.

Ethan U16 football, June 2019.

Meanwhile, Noah spent the last two months playing baseball, his last year of major. He had a great season, especially considering he tore the ligaments in his throwing arm elbow in January. For someone who didn’t really want to pitch, he really came around by the last game. Now, we just need to work on that batting. Anyway, between both boys, we were going almost every day of the week to games and practices…it made for frenetic pace!

On top of all of that, we were trying to spend some time at camp. There are always jobs to do there, particularly following the winter close-up. Having spent most of my youth with my parents on Lake Shebandowan, I feel very comfortable being at camp…almost at peace. I find I sleep better and am more relaxed. Maybe just the simple act of being away from home puts me at ease. The funny thing is that I don’t spend a lot of time “relaxing,” since it’s like having another house. Well, if anything, it keeps me busy and it’s good exercise.

Camp, June 2019.

Speaking of camp, it’s ironic that I’m writing this at the lake, with the whistles from the trains rumbling over the Nipigon Sub-Division of the Canadian Pacific echoing through the area. That makes a great segue into the railway section of this blog, which is really the reason why I write it in the first place. Sadly, I haven’t been up to much lately, which shouldn’t be a huge shock if you’ve read the entirety of this post. I did spend some time over the last few weeks going through the chapters of the books, mostly doing proofreading and making sure they all fit together. However, I did do some major field work back in May, which I obviously didn’t have time to write about until now.

I last left you shortly before I was heading to Gunflint to do my usual spring field work. The plan was to hike in to Camp 8 again and spend some time exploring the area in more detail, and hopefully mark some important spots for further examination. I did have some company this time, as Ethan decided to join me (I think more so he could have a day off school).

We left immediately after school on Thursday and drove the roughly 2.5 hours to Gunflint. It was a beautiful day, and I was amazed how calm the lake was. Gunflint, which is 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, runs east west and is surrounded by high ridges, which channels the wind right down its length. That makes for some nasty conditions when the wind gets up. Anyway, after catching up with John and Rose at the lodge, we headed over to the Gunflint Bistro for some dinner, which is always a treat.

Gunflint Lake, May 2019.

The next morning was equally nice, and we left early to maximize our time at the logging camp (plus we would have to drive that 2.5 hours home when we were done). It takes about an hour and a quarter to walk the 5km into the camp, the most difficult being the last part where you are required to bushwhack through the thick growth and deadfall. The great thing about spring hiking is that while it might be slightly wetter, the bugs haven’t really come out (including the ticks) and it is a lot easier to see with the grass pushed down and the trees without leaves.

Gunflint Lake, May 2019.

Crab Lake, May 2019.

Crab Lake, May 2019.

Crab Lake Spur, May 2019.

Crab Lake Spur, May 2019.

Once we arrived at the camp, my first task was to try and mark some spots in a debris field located around the railroad grade just south of the camp. I am hoping to get the archaeologists from the Superior National Forest to help me examine the site and that wouldn’t happen until the summer or fall, by which time the grass would obscure any objects. As it was, I found it a challenge, since the grass was higher than I remember when I first found the camp back in 2017.

The next order of business was to try and exactly pinpoint the location of the 8 buildings that make up the camp. Since I don’t own or have access to a sub-metre accurate GPS, I tried to do it the old-fashioned way. Using some spots I could see on Google Earth, I attempted to triangulate the location of the southwest and southeast corners of two structures with a measuring tape and compass. It was a bit of a challenge, and the results were okay, but I figured that I’m farther ahead than without doing it.

While Ethan relaxed in the warm sunshine, my next order of business was to explore a few of the structures in a bit more detail. Over my several visits, I’ve been able to roughly guesstimate the purpose of each of the buildings, helped immensely by historical information of what a typical logging camp looked like. Some are easy, such as the outhouse, while others are a bit more challenging.

Last fall I found what turned out to be a bridle bit in one of the two eastern-most structures, which added more evidence to my assertion that these two were the stables. Exploring the second, I found a harness piece and a log dog, which was used to secure logs so they could be dragged by horses, which pretty much proved my theory correct.

Camp 8, May 2019.

Camp 8, May 2019.

Next, I moved on to one of the northern-most structures, which I deduced by the debris field around it, was the blacksmith shop. This was one of the most important places in any logging camp, since the blacksmith was responsible for undertaking repairs to the logging equipment and keeping the critical horses going. I was hoping to find some tools that would confirm my assertion, but instead I turned up a plethora of objects, such as horseshoes, axe blades and bolts. Not the evidence I was looking for, but I might be right in any case.

Camp 8, May 2019.

Camp 8, May 2019.

My last stop was the eastern-most structure, which I believe to be the cookhouse. It sits in a row with the bunkhouse and van (office), so its location makes sense. I was hoping to find things like cutlery or metal cups/bowls, but it was not to be. There was a lot of metal inside the confines of the berm line, but I am not an archaeologist, so I am not allowed to do any type of excavation besides brushing away leaves and deadfall and everything was several inches in the ground. There were however a ton of barrel hoops, which certainly provides a lot of proof to my theory.

After this, it was time to head back. On the way, I decided to follow part of the railroad grade westward. There was a section where I did not locate any traces of the line for nearly 300 metres back in 2017 and I wanted to try and fill in that gap. As I’ve written about before, this is never easy, since you have no idea where the grade is located (it’s not well-defined like a traditionally constructed railway). You’re essentially restricted to sweeping in a zig-zag pattern (like a 50-metre swath in the thick brush) with the metal detector hoping you find something, anything. The only good part is that when you get a beep, you’re pretty much assured it something significant since there couldn’t be anything else in the area. Happily, I did make two finds; the first was a couple of fishplates and the second a length of telegraph wire. Not bad!

Fishplates, May 2019.

Whisker Lake, May 2019.

I plan on heading back to Camp 8 in the fall to do more searching. Hopefully I can get some of the Forest Service folks to join me, especially since they are the ones who can really poke around and move things. This information is huge for my book and if we can get some work done in October, I can finish off that chapter over the winter. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, I need to move along since I have a busy few days ahead of me. Our summer is starting off with quite the bang, as we’re heading to California in a few days. My wife has family in the LA area, which she hasn’t seen in a long time, so we will be making the trip along with some of our friends. It should be an amazing experience, especially since the boys and I have never been there before. I’ll be back when I return, I promise! Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Wow, a quarter century?

Dedication-the act of being dedicated-to devote wholly and earnestly, as to some person or purpose. Passion-a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. If I was to pick two words to describe my history work related to this blog, these are the two I’d chose. Why? Well, there are no other words that better illustrate something that has been part of my life for 25 years. Twenty-five years? Really? Yup, you heard that right, 25 years. I’ve been at this for more than half of my life, which means: a) I’m old, and b) I might some new hobbies.

I’m back kids and it’s spring! Well, maybe on the calendar it is, but Mother Nature is not playing nice. I’d like to elaborate further, but this is a family-friendly blog, so I’ll keep my comments to myself. The transition into the season was progressing well, albeit slowly, until the other day. Last Thursday it was almost 20C, and then Monday we got a massive dump of snow. There was what I figured almost 20cm of wet, sloppy white stuff on the ground at my house. Grrrrrr…just go away already! The temperatures are supposed to rebound this weekend to near-normal values, however since this has happened now every year for the last bunch, it is clear evidence that climate change is at work.

April 28, 2019.

April 29, 2019.

April 30, 2019.

So now that we’re into May, it means that we are are in the last throes of the school year. Thank Jesus…or whatever deity you pray to! An atheist? Well you’ll just have to figure it out yourself. Anyway, the end can’t come soon enough. I’m tired. Yes, I know, colour you surprised. Don’t you always complain about being tired Dave? Yes, I certainly do…I don’t lie about these things. There’s just so many things going on right now and on top of it, I’m sick. Yup, it seems like this time every year, with the change in temperatures, I get sick and it sucks!

One of the things keeping me hopping right now if football. Football in May? Ya, why not? Everything else runs all year-long, why not football? In any case, my oldest, Ethan, has been been involved with the Under-16 rep team since February, and a few weeks back flag football started for my youngest, Noah. While I don’t coach Ethan, I get to play chauffeur and I am helping to coach Noah’s team. On top of that, thoughts are already beginning to wander to spring camps here at high school, which seem like a long way away in June, but will creep up fast!

I’ve also started the planning and recruitment for our next EF tour of Europe, which will take place in March, 2021. This next trip will take us to Italy, the home of my ancestors, which I have not seen since 1992. Ironically, that last time happened on an EF tour, when I was a student in high school. We have 6 travellers enrolled, with more on the way; one of those travellers is Ethan. I am very excited to be able to share this travel experience with him where he can see new places, cultures and history.

As you can expect, with all the other craziness, I haven’t really had any time to devote to railway matters. I did do a little writing on the book here and there after I got back from Europe, but nothing substantial. My main focus has been preparing for the spring-summer season, which has several things on tap.

In a few weeks I’ll be heading down to Gunflint once again for some field work. With no USFS involvement this year, all I can do is more mapping and examination of the site of Camp 8. The plan is to mark important locations that are obscured in the summer and fall with high grass, as well as explore more of the site to see if there is anything I have yet to discover. With the way things have been going weather wise, my fingers are crossed that Mother Nature cooperates.

In July, I have another speaking engagement scheduled for the Chik-Wauk Museum. I guess they like me so much, they keep inviting me back every year. I am really excited about the opportunity, especially since I get to speak about something different than my current project. The subject of the talk is on the ghost town of Leeblain, which has certainly garnered a lot of interest on social media. By the looks of things, it might be the most attended presentation yet.

I want to end with a rather happy story regarding an email I received last week. Sometimes you wonder if what you do, in this case promoting railway and local history makes a difference…if you’re really reaching anyone. Do people care or am I just wasting my time? This is especially true since, as I indicated earlier, I am marking 25 years of researching the PAD&W and its associated history. I had no idea in April of 1994 that a trip to the library to find some information about this obscure railway would lead to a lifetime of work. After the thousands? of hours, substantial amounts of money and a lot of sweat (and some tears), it hard to believe I’m still at it. My wife thinks I’m crazy, and I very well may be, but it’s become part of who I am and there are no regrets. Well, maybe I wished I had done more years ago as time has not been kind to some of the places I have visited.

I was contacted, out of the blue, by a Ms. Edward, a librarian who runs a railroad history and beginner train modelling class for 9-13 year olds. She wanted to let me know that they found the links page on my old website (www.padwrr.ca/links) very useful for their last project. She did not say where they were from, but based on her email address, I want to say Salt Lake City? It is so impressive that people that far away first of all found one of my sites, and second, were able to do something with the information.

She went on to add that one of the youngest students, a boy named Avery, wanted to share with me a site where he first became interested in railroad history and trains. He wanted me to include in on my links page. I am so flattered, I thought I do one better and post it here plus give him a big shout out. Here’s his link: https://bit.ly/2VJDlNz Avery, thanks for putting a smile on an old history teacher’s face. Keep being passionate about railroads and trains and you’re never too old to appreciate some good history!

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll be back in a few weeks after my trip to Gunflint with a full report from that adventure and all the latest news. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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Europe 2019 Reflections

History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be-John Henrik Clarke

Every time I return from a school trip to Europe, I often like to reflect on the impact it has had on everyone involved, students and teachers alike. I cannot help but think it has changed all of our lives, like any experience such as this would. Most of it was good, but I’m sure the negatives have only served to make us better. Not everyone has the opportunity to visit the places we did, so I must count ourselves lucky.

Hey kids! I can’t believe it’s been a week since we’ve been back; man, does time ever fly by! I’m still a little tired, but this being my fourth trip I already know it takes a bit of time for your body to readjust. As you probably read, these aren’t leisurely, let’s sit on the beach and get some sun vacations. Oh, no. They are extremely hectic, and at times very stressful as we gallivanted across western Europe. When you think about it, we visited 4 countries in 8 days, covered more than 1600 kilometres and stayed in 5 different hotels. It’s exhausting just thinking about it!

All that being said, it was well worth it. You might think, “but you’ve already seen most of these places already Dave, doesn’t it get mundane?” Well, it could I guess. Obviously, we did visit a couple new cities, Berlin and Groesbeek, but the rest was the same. If it doesn’t sound weird, I don’t find it boring. I’ve been to Amsterdam three times now, and Ypres, Vimy, Normandy and Paris four, and everytime I manage to see something unique. I’ve never stayed in the same hotel and maybe because we’ve have different tour directors, I always manage to get a slightly perspective.

I think there’s more to it thought. These places have so much to offer and to see, that it’s impossible to do it all in a few short visits. Maybe I’m biased. I love some of these places so much…I can’t get enough of Amsterdam, Ypres and Normandy. I want to go back in the future, outside of an EF Tour, probably when I retire, so I can take my time and see things at a bit more leisurely pace. It was a conversation I had with my colleague, Clare, as we walked the streets of Ypres and Saint Aubin-sur-Mer. I suggested that we could go together if our spouses weren’t interested. Ironically, we travelled together many moons ago, back in 1992 on our school’s first EF tour to Europe.

Temple of Apollo in Dephi, Greece, March 1992.

I always get asked what is the most memorable moment of the trip, which I struggle to answer. That might seem like a cop out, but I truly have a hard time picking one thing that stands out; that is usually easier with the bad stuff. Anyway, get to the point Dave. So, memorable moment. Can I take two? Technically it is one, but it’s my blog, so I can do whatever I want. First I’d have to say the visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This is the first tour that included a visit to one of these stark reminders of the Holocaust and it was not a comfortable one. While not as well known as places such as Dachau or Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen was one of the earliest camps to be established and was home to many political prisoners. It was difficult seeing the gas chamber and the crematorium ovens. The miserable weather added to the sombre mood.

The other memorable moment was the train ride from Berlin to Apeldoorn. I, probably most of the group, have never been on a train ride that long. It was a great way to travel; few stops, quick and lots of room to move around. Besides the experience, I’ll remember it as the moment that the kids began to gel on the trip. It always takes a few days for the two groups to begin to mesh, and it’s great to see new friendships blossoming.

Alright, the bad. So what was bad Dave? Well, two things in particular if you’d like to know. The first is the most obvious; the weather. The fricken weather! I did write about it during the trip, but it’s worth repeating. Other than the pouring rain at Vimy 2012, this was by far the worst temperatures and conditions we’ve had to deal with. There’s not much we can do but roll with it, but it does generate a lot of frustration. In retrospect it could have been worse, like raining the whole time, but it was enough to dampen our spirits quite a bit.

The other big issue was the flights. I guess we were lucky in the past with no major problems, so maybe we were due. We were very tight with all of our connecting flights and had to run to the gate each time. Not only is that crazy, but it generates a lot of stress; if you haven’t noticed, I have no hair to lose and what is left is mostly gray. I already told EF we’d like more of a buffer at least between when we land in Toronto and our international departure, so that is one less thing to worry about.

One thing I did notice about this trip is that we did a bit less walking. On previous trips I remember more forced marches and put on a lot more miles. This time I did make a note to see how far we actually did walk. So thanks to the marvel of modern technology, I checked the health stats on my phone. Adding up the numbers, from March 10 to March 17, my phone recorded 86.4km of walking and 123,788 steps. The busiest day was on the 17th, with 17.1km and 24,629 steps. That’s a lot of walking! And if I feel we did less this time, I can’t imagine what we’ve done in the past.

So where do we go from here? Well, the planning has already started for Europe 2021. No rest for the wicked right? Either that or I’m a sucker for punishment. Whatever the case, we’re going back. Where to this time Dave? Since we’ve done northwest Europe the last four tours, I figure it’s time to go somewhere else. How’s sunny Italy sound? Works for me! EF has a couple history-themed Italy tours; we’re going to do WWII and the Liberation of Italy. It will take us first to Rome, where we’ll explore the Vatican, the Colosseum and the Spanish Steps. There’s a day trip to Anzio, followed by a journey to Ortona after stopping in Monte Cassino. We head north from there, to Rimini, San Marino and Florence before returning to Rome. We have just submitted the paperwork, but I’m already excited. In the meantime, you can check out a few of our videos from the trip posted below.

Alright, it’s time to go. I’ll be taking a break on the posts, so I won’t be back until sometime in April with my usual themed rantings. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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