Tag Archives: History

I can feel it in the air…

It’s coming. It might not be completely discernible right now, but it’s on its way. I can’t wait. Not that I don’t like things right now, but it’s a much more preferable scenario. I’m sure I’m not the only one; there are many like me who are waiting. It’s even been foretold that its arrival is imminent.

Confused? If you’re not, you know I’m talking about spring. Yes, glorious spring. A time when the weather warms, the snow recedes and my yard smells like dog crap. As I gaze out the window I just know it won’t be long now. Even though it was a balmy -10C today (-19C with the wind), I know that soon enough we will be reaching positive temperatures on a consistent basis. The days are getting longer and the sun is getting warmer. It hasn’t been a particularly terrible winter (aside from the -38 a few weeks ago), but I’m just ready for it to be over. Over the last number of years February and March have been very warm, so I hope that trend continues.

So with the beginning of February comes the beginning of a new semester. New classes, new faces and a fresh start; this job is always about change. It’s only day two, but things are looking good so far. My Grade 11’s are a nice bunch and it will be a great way to start the day. My Gr.10 Applied has lots of rambunctious boys, so they will be a handful at times, but I’m sure the content will keep them interested.

I have been spending a lot of time preparing for my Gr.12 World Issues eLearning course in the last few days. I certainly have a much better handle on what I want to do, but it still is a big challenge wrapping my head around this new medium. The course material is all online, but as the teacher I need to decide how much of each unit/topic to cover and what assignments the students will complete. As they say preparation is 90% of the battle, but in this case there is going to be a lot of “on the fly” learning.

Even though work is a little less hectic, as usual there are still a ton of things going on. Next Thursday we leave for the Glazier coaching clinic in Minneapolis and there are many things still left to take care of. It will be a nice diversion though, a little football to get my mind off school and railway stuff. Looking forward to it as well; it is a great coaching development opportunity. On the Friday morning there are 3 back-to-back sessions on the 3-5 defence, which is the scheme that our team runs. I should get a lot of good stuff from that. This clinic is also a nice program builder, as we have a chance to learn together as a staff.

Tomorrow I have an executive meeting of the Silver Mountain Historical Society. We will be ratifying the new constitution for the society, which is the next step in the process to becoming officially incorporated. Unfortunately I’ve hit a bit of a slow patch with the whole Leeblain thing, as I am waiting on some action from the Ontario government. I’ve never worked with any type of bureaucracy, so I guess I need to understand that all of this takes time and things don’t happen overnight. However my plan is to be persistent, as keeping the pressure on will remind people that this is an important issue.

Now speaking of Leeblain, my biggest railway news of the week is the upcoming presentation at Gunflint Lodge on Saturday. I spent most of my free time in the past week preparing for this event and I really hope I am ready to go. It’s always tough figuring out what to include and what to leave out; I want to stick to one hour so I hope I don’t go overboard.

In the morning I have an on-air interview with WTIP radio in Grand Marais to talk about the presentation. This is the second interview I’ve done with these wonderful folks; the first was this past summer when I did the talk at the Chik-Wauk Museum. It’s such a great way to promote the event and my work, but just like Saturday I will be a bit nervous when the time comes.

I certainly wish I could spend more time at Gunflint than the one night that I will have. I could have stayed Friday as well, but with the trip to Minneapolis the following week I didn’t want to be away from the family for two weekends in a row. However I know I will make the most of the time and take in everything that I can. If I’m lucky I will be able to do this again at some point in the future and maybe I’ll be able to stay longer. I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures in any event!

Gunflint Lake, May 2011.

Gunflint Lake, May 2011.

Well, I do need to get rolling. I will definitely have a lot to say next week. Until then…


Posted by on February 5, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Research, Writing


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

The Tale of Two…Locomotives?

Writing a blog on a weekly basis isn’t as easy as it may outwardly appear (or maybe it is and I’m just not that talented). Though I may struggle a bit with the content, by far the most difficult part is trying to come up with a witty, clever title. Sometimes I hit and sometimes I miss (I’d like to more of the former, but in reality it’s probably more of the latter). This week was no exception. I had no idea what to call this week’s post, and then it hit me; I think it is very reflective of the week I’ve had. Besides, if Dickens can create something so popular why can’t I do likewise?

Obviously it has been a very busy week once again…but what’s new. We are down to our final full week of classes before the start of exams and there is so much to do. I’m slowing chipping away at my backlog of marking and I hope to be cleared up by next Monday. My exams are in and the students have been given their exam reviews. Most of the teaching is now complete and we will be focussing on exam prep. Where has the semester gone?

Things have been extra hectic as this Friday some of our students will be travelling to our feeder school Pope John Paul II to speak to them about coming to St. Patrick. Normally we send a contingent of football players to plug the program and hopefully do some recruiting. I’ve always sent along a highlight video of the previous season to show; problem is that it is not ready yet. I was supposed to work on it over the break, but as I mentioned it took a backseat to my Leeblain article. I’ve only got a few days to finish putting everything together! I should be working on it right now, but you know…

So, what’s been going on with the railway? Well, there are quite a number of things on the go. Last week I mentioned that my Leeblain article may have earned me another speaking gig, this time at the Thunder Bay Museum. There is nothing confirmed right now, but I may have the privilege to kick-off the 2013-2014 lecture season this coming September. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak at the museum, so I am really hoping that this goes through. It will certainly go a long way to promoting my work on the railway and our efforts to preserve the remains at Leeblain.

On the topic of lectures, I need to get cracking on preparations for my February 9th presentation at Gunflint Lodge. I am looking forward to this event, as the lodge is a beautiful place and it’s located in one of my favourite areas. I have not visited Gunflint Lake in the winter, and so it should be a great experience. Hopefully we get more snow; this past week has been another wild temperature ride. On Friday it was +3C with rain, and Monday dawned at a crisp -19C. We lost a lot of snow with the rain and it would be nice to get more before my visit.

Alright, so what’s with the locomotive thing? Well, it has actually been an ongoing situation for quite a while now; I even wrote about it last June (ironically in that post I was complaining about how hot it was). The story involves the most famous locomotive on the PAD&W, affectionately known as the “Black Auntie.” Her nickname stemmed from the fact that there was reputedly the image of a woman on her firebox door which apparently resembled a local Madame by the name of Julia Ann Roy.

So the issue lies with the fact that accounts of the type and appearance of the Black Auntie do not jive with historic information. Traditionally the Black Auntie was describe as a 0-4-0 locomotive; however documents suggest that rather it was a 4-4-0 “Rogers” type engine. There is a photo that purportedly shows the Black Auntie on an excursion in 1890-1891. However it lacks the necessary detail to make a thorough analysis. So I sent for an image of PAD&W #1 from Library and Archives Canada and what I received completely baffled me (unfortunately I cannot post the image as it is property of LAC).

Black Auntie, 1890/1891.

Black Auntie, 1890/1891.

The engine in the photo is appears to fit the historic description of a 4-4-0. There are some similarities with the excursion photo, but the archives engine looks longer and newer. The Black Auntie was heavily damaged in a January 14, 1891 engine house fire and needed extensive repairs. Could this account for the differences between the two? A plausible explanation. Compounding the whole issue is that there is another photo floating around that may also be the Black Auntie, but it looks nothing like the other two (and the front of the engine is not visible to see if there are leading trucks-the small wheels at the front).

Unknown PAD&W engine, unknown date.

Unknown PAD&W engine, unknown date.

I have ordered some additional images from the Archives that will hopefully aid in this investigation. This mystery has been absolutely frustrating; the more I dig, the more confusing it gets. I can certainly appreciate how challenging it can be for others who are doing similar types of research. I hope that I will discover some information that will help solve the curious saga of the enigmatic iron horse.

Anyway, time to run. More enlightening news and facts next week. Until then…

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 15, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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

Who came up with that one?

So I actually Googled Auld Lang Syne as for years I’ve always wondered what the heck it meant. “Old long since” or “long, long ago”…who would have thunk it? I didn’t know it was based on a Robbie Burns poem either. Then again I’m not up on my 18th century Scottish literature; I should get on that. While I’m at it, I’ll finish all those books on my reading list and write a bunch of history articles!

All kidding aside, it is a new year. Welcome to 2013! Let’s hope that the thirteenth year of this new millennium is a good one. I know that I have a lot to be thankful for and I really want this to be another great year. However, like everyone else out there, my first big challenge for the next few weeks is going to be not writing the date “2012” on everything!

Once again my New Years was low-key, but that’s to be expected with young kids in the house. We had some friends and their kids over, ate the traditional Chinese food dinner and let the kids stay up to 10 o’clock. Certainly makes for some nicely wired children! It’s all good though; I can barely make it to midnight, let alone party the night away like when I was 21. After just celebrating my (ugh) 39th birthday, I’ll have to content myself with little victories!

The past week has been very relaxing and enjoyable. I forgot how nice it is not to go to work! Christmas Day was a bit chaotic, but that’s to be expected. The kids tried to wake up at 5am, so we had to remind them that 7:00 was the approved time; too bad I couldn’t fall back asleep after that. My wife and I usually don’t exchange gifts for Christmas, but fortunately the boys had some things that I could play with too. We decided to buy them an Xbox Kinect this year as we thought it was a system that would get them moving and was family friendly. It is funny how sore you can get playing interactive boxing against a 5 year old!

The only sour note has been the weather. It was so mild before Christmas that this little cold snap we’ve been experiencing is a bit disconcerting. I must be getting soft though, because it wasn’t even that cold; minus 20 is not really that cold! The biggest problem is that the cold temperatures, coupled with the lack of snow, really takes away a lot of outdoor options. We wanted to go tobogganing yesterday afternoon, but it was just way too cold with the wind chill. Things are supposed to warm up a bit (-6ish) in the next few days and we’re supposed to get some more snow. I really hope it happens so we can start doing our traditional weekend walks up the mountain.

Trail, Norwester Mountains, December 2012.

Trail, Norwester Mountains, December 2012.

With all the free time I’ve had over the break I was able to get a lot of railway related work done. I even did some research! I can’t remember what I was looking for, but I happened to come across an old map which has been a great source of information. I written on many occasions how the digitization of information has transformed historical research and I cannot say enough good things about it.

The information on the website stated it was from 1926, but on the date on the map was 1917. It shows the area of Lake and Cook Counties in northeastern Minnesota, as well as portions of the Canadian border area, so it is of huge value to me. I was able get some great information from it, both for my research and for my efforts with the Silver Mountain Historical Society.

This map is part of the collection held at the Cook County Historical Museum in Grand Marais, Minnesota. The museum is one of the institutions that has been very helpful to me over the years. My first contact with the CCHM was back in 1997 and then director Pat Zankman. Pat and I spent a lot of time pouring over old documents and sharing information. I had not been to the museum in over ten years when I met Pat there this past July; it was great to catch up with her and see what was new in their collections and displays. I would certainly recommend a visit next time you’re through Grand Marais.

Cook County Museum, July 2012.

Cook County Museum, July 2012.

Most of my railway time however was devoted to work on my Leeblain article. I actually was able to do a lot of writing…I’ve very proud of myself. Even though I still have quite a bit to go, I added another four and a half pages of information and I’m up to about 3400 words! The biggest challenge by far has been to decide what to include and what to leave out, as this is just an essay and not a book. It is very tough though, as you want to make sure everything makes sense. In any case I am getting a ton of experience with writing, formatting and documenting historic papers; it will certainly serve me well in the future. Now I have to figure out how to make a cool looking homemade map!

Anyway, I think it’s time to wrap things up…I have an article to finish! I’m going to try and enjoy the rest of the week before its back to work next week. Until then…Happy New Years!

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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

Lazy Mayans, burnt tongues and Christmas chaos.

Well, since you’re currently reading this post, you too have survived the most recent end of the world-apocalyptic prediction. Yup, those Mayans were sure on the ball; maybe they were procrastinators and ran out of time (ha-ha) to finish their calendar? Could be a plausible explanation. Not like anyone else has ever put things off until the last minute and turned out a crappy final product. So there, the Mayans were not wrong, they were just lazy…the world according to Dave!

Anyway, it is the night before Christmas and the house is finally quiet. I guess it could be worse as I could have been at work today. Yes, I am officially on holidays, though the craziness of the last few days doesn’t make it seem like it. I was very glad when Friday rolled around last week as it meant the end of a very long haul that started in September. It is typically a very fun day for obvious reasons; we teachers probably like it more than the kids!

In the last number of years it has become tradition for me to cook pancakes for my period one class to reward them for their efforts with the city Christmas cheer campaign. Although it is a bit of work on my part, I know they appreciate it (I normally make pancakes from scratch, but that’s not possible in this case). Hopefully I can keep this up for the next 15 years!

Now the only black spot on that day was another food related incident with my Grade 12’s. They got me again! As we prepared to leave the class for the annual Christmas assembly, one my students casually offered me a jelly bean. I really had to try it. I thought, “It’s a jelly bean, it can’t be that bad!” As I bit into it, I was immediately greeted by the taste of…orange. Perfect right? Unfortunately that was suddenly replaced by a searing sensation on my tongue. I had just eaten an Ass Kickin’ jelly bean, wonderfully flavoured with habanero peppers. My God! Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice…

So as I’ve already mentioned, the last few days have been a bit hectic, but since tomorrow is Christmas, I’m hoping that things will slow down in a few days. Today we had the family over for dinner and of course it was non-stop excitement. My wonderfully wife did a big chunk of the heavy lifting so it could have been worse for me. The boys are tucked in for the night and Santa is on his way. Time to relax a bit!

Once things settle down, I hope to spend time working on some railway stuff. I’ve decided to put the Historical Society on the back-burner for a week or two so I can get to a few things that I’ve neglected for a while. One of my principle tasks is to get some writing done on the Leeblain article.

I did spend quite a bit of time last night working on it last night. It actually felt really good to immerse myself into some research and writing again. Leeblain is one of those great what if’s in the story of the railway. Over the last few years I’ve spent quite a bit of time there and I often find myself looking around trying to envision what that spot would have looked like had the railway succeeded and the town grown into the metropolis that it was supposed to be. Certainly it would have transformed the Gunflint Lake area.

Tonight I read my son Ethan the “Polar Express” as his bedtime story. I wrote about this topic a year ago and I can remember my words regarding trains rolling along the line in winter. Tonight my thoughts were of Leeblain, and what it would have looked like nearly 120 years ago. What was Christmas like there in 1893? The optimism for great things must have been palpable. The experience of celebrating this event at a station/hotel in such a remote location must have been memorable, although if it was as cold as it is right now (-22C with the wind) it would not have been very toasty.

Leeblain, August 2012.

Leeblain, August 2012.

Anyway, I’m pretty pooped so I think it’s time to wrap it up. Big day tomorrow…can’t wait to see what Santa brought me! More great thoughts next week. Until then…Merry Christmas!

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 24, 2012 in History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Hip history and chocolate potato chips!

So last week as I entered my Grade 12 history class I was greeted by one of my students who presented me with a Pringles potato chip. Hiding the can from me, she told me to “taste it!” I’m usually very leery about requests to taste or smell unknown things for obvious reasons, but I decided to trust her judgement as I’ve never met a potato chip I didn’t like (well, with the exception of dill pickle). Taking the plunge, I was immediately greeted by the strangest combination of flavours I’ve ever experienced. I thought I tasted what seemed like peppermint and chocolate…weird. Turns out that Pringles has released some new flavours for the holidays, including white chocolate and peppermint; not something I’ll be running to the store for!

Anyway, the special edition chips tell us that Christmas is rapidly approaching. The man in the big red suit arrives in exactly one week! It’s hard to believe that it is almost here. It seems like yesterday that it was September and the school year was just starting. Where does the time go? Maybe the saying is true, “time flies when you’re having fun!” I wouldn’t necessarily say it was all fun, but certainly it was memorable.

It has once again been a very busy week on all fronts, especially with work. I am desperately trying to clear up as much marking as I can before we head into the break. My main priority is to finish marking the Gr.12 Independent Studies that I promised would be back by Friday. I also have a bunch of other things that I doubt will be done before Friday and on Thursday all three of my classes are writing tests. So I guess I’ll have a pile of marking to do over the break that I probably won’t get all through.

Speaking of work to do over the holidays, I know I’ll be spending some time going through clips and putting together our annual football highlight video. Come January players from this year’s team will be visiting our feeder school Pope John Paul II to do some recruiting. I guess I’ll have my work cut out for me!

It is also a very busy time for our boys with all the pre-Christmas activities. I spent the afternoon today with my youngest Noah at one of the local farms, Gammondale. They do a real good job making things fun and exciting for these young kids. Too bad they were not able to do the sleigh ride because of the lack of snow. Yes, once again pretty much all of the snow has disappeared due to warm temperatures! Unless we get some snowfall in the next few days (which is not in the forecast), we will have that brown Christmas I spoke of a few weeks ago.

Now with the approach of that much anticipated two weeks off, one of my primary goals (on top of all the other things I just wrote about and then some) is to do some work on my Leeblain article. It seems like eons since I last looked at it (November 4th according to my computer). I really want to get it done so I can have my contact at the Thunder Bay Historical Society take a look at it and give me some feedback. With Christmas close to the beginning of the break, I should be able to squeeze in some time here and there.

Handcar on the PAD&W, date unknown (Shelley Simon).

Handcar on the PAD&W, date unknown (Shelley Simon).

Work is continuing to progress on the Silver Mountain Historical Society. The last week has been filled with many little projects associated with the start-up and incorporation of this organization. We are hoping to have an executive meeting early in the New Year to complete and file the incorporation papers.

Ready for the incorporaton meeting, December 2012.

Ready for the incorporaton meeting, December 2012.

Yesterday I posted the first of what will be many blog entries describing the latest news from the society on our WordPress site. It seems if I am rapidly becoming a social media junky. Between the two blogs, several Facebook groups and pages, as well as four Twitter accounts, I feel as if this is like a fulltime job. However in this electronic age, it is absolutely critical to tap every medium possible. One of our goals is to reach out to our youth, and as a teacher I know that you need to speak their language and utilize all the latest technology. Welcome to a new era, where history can be hip and cool!

Shelley Simon and myself speaking at the SMHS, December 2012.

Shelley Simon and I speaking at the SMHS, December 2012.

On a final note, work is progressing on my personal project to preserve the railway in the North-Gunflint Lake area. Today I received an email from my contact in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Apparently gears are turning at the government level and hopefully everyone involved will be able to sit down and discuss where to proceed next. This certainly gives me reason for some optimism. I know that things like this take time, but at least we are moving in the right direction.

Anyway, it’s time to go…marking beckons! Next week’s blog will be a day early due to Christmas. Until then…

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 18, 2012 in History, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I had to open my big mouth didn’t I?

Remember last week how I wrote about being so sick I felt like crap? Yup, I had to say to say it and now karma has bitten me in the ass. I have not been this sick in a long, long time. I was actually starting to feel better as the week progressed, but then I got hammered on Saturday. My back was a bit sore all day (for no apparent reason); by the evening I was lying on the couch completely chilled to the bone. Sunday wasn’t too bad, but I woke up on Monday morning at 4 freezing once again. I went to work for the morning, but went home at lunch. My temperature was a lovely 103F!

Needless to say I am feeling marginally better today, but my head is still plugged up and I cannot breathe properly. Talk about the perfect storm of colds…head, chest and fever. I managed to get through the day at work with only a few shivers and sweats. Hopefully I’m feeling better by tomorrow as I’m out of the classroom for an e-Learning workshop.

So Sunday marked the one year anniversary of this blog; where has the time gone? It’s sort of interesting to look back and see what I had to say a year ago. It’s also amazing where this rant has taken me and the topics I’ve written about every week. I’m very thankful for the 4000+ views in the last year and the 49 people who’ve decided to follow me. We’ll see what the next year brings!

Anyway, the railway front has been very busy, mostly regarding the Silver Mountain Historical Society again. Last week I wrote about the launch of the society website, which went public on Friday. Personally, I feel it could be a bit better, but I guess it’s okay for now. Hopefully it will bring more publicity to our efforts and there’s always room for improvements in the future. Be sure to check it out!

On Saturday I “stopped by” the Silver Mountain Station to borrow some old photos so I could scan them (I say “stopped by” in jest as it is a 54km drive along twisty-turny Highway 588 to get there). I did grab the photos I was looking for, but I also had a chance to chat with proprietress and fellow society co-chair Shelley Simon. She was kind enough to give me a tour of the old station, especially the upstairs part which one does not normally see. The station has seen a few additions over the years, but it still retains much of its historic style.

After our walkabout, our conversation turned to the old station on North Lake. Shelley had some great photos of the original station from the 1970’s; it really made me wish I could have seen it.  It made me think of the replica station that was built on Addie Lake which I did have a chance to visit on many occasions. I kinda miss that building…it made me go digging through my old videos to find some footage that I had of it from 1997. Unfortunately it’s not a lot of footage, but I decided to post it to YouTube anyway.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

North Lake Station, circa 1970’s.

Tomorrow I have my meeting with the Regional Advisor from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. I think I’m ready for this, but I have no idea where the discussion will take us and what will come of it. I am trying to be positive though, as any little thing will be a step in the right direction. I’ll report all the news next week.

Anyway, time to wrap things up as I’m still not 100%, but you know that already. Hopefully I’ll be back to snuff by next week. Until then…

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 20, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Here we go again…

Yep, I am officially sick again. I feel like a big pile of poop! Who came up with that analogy by the way? Did someone do a scientific study comparing the feeling you have when you’re sick and fecal matter? Gee, too bad I wasn’t part of that! All kidding aside though, I do feel quite lousy, but I did suck it up and dragged my butt into work. Hopefully I get better soon as I hate this feeling.

Now one of the reasons I’m praying for a quick recovery is that I’m going to have to play a bit of football on Thursday. Since both the junior and senior teams are done for the season, it is time for our annual wrap-up. This means that we’ll be playing a little two-hand touch football and eating some pizza. It’s bad enough that I’m out of shape, but it will kill me when I’m less than one hundred percent. Let’s hope I don’t break anything important!

So this week I did have a bit more time to devote to railway matters, but certainly less than I hoped. I had wanted to at least get in a bit of writing on the Leeblain article, but things just didn’t pan out that way. Maybe this week?

On Saturday I took some time to tidy up my office and file a lot of information that had piled over the summer and fall. While I was at it, I decided to convert the last segments of old video that I had of my railway field work. This particular footage was shot in the summer of 1997, and was taken around Nolalu, Wolfe Siding and Mackies. I put the first video on YouTube on Sunday, and I hope to get the others up in the next few weeks.

The subject of this video is the area between Leeper (mile 31) and Nolalu (mile 34), which is one of the most unique from a historical perspective. It contains many telegraph poles and the remains of four bridges over the Whitefish River.  The most amazing of all is the third crossing, as it is the only bridge on the entire railway which has concrete abutments. Why this was done for this and this only bridge remains a mystery. I was last there in 2009 and I’m anxious to get back as soon as I can as I did not shoot any video on that hike; I’m sure much has changed it that time.

Rail bed, Leeper, August 2009.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, August 2009.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, August 2009.

Bridge remains, Leeper, August 2009.

Bridge remains, Leeper, July 2012.

Most of my railway time however was once again taken up by the Silver Mountain Historical Society. Our incorporation meeting is coming up in less than a month, and there’s a lot to do in that short period of time. I have a presentation to put together and there’s also the matter of recruiting as many members as possible.

In conversation with my fellow co-chair Shelley Simon (who’s also the proprietress of the Silver Mountain Station), we decided it was time to look into a website. I’ve registered the domain name and started work on the site. Web design unfortunately is not among the many skills in my repertoire, so I had to resort to using the provided web builder. It looks decent, but it could be a bit better (I am somewhat of a perfectionist though, which does colour my opinion). I want to unveil the site by the end of the week, and hopefully this will lead to some increased publicity for the society. Fingers are crossed!

Anyway, I’m kinda out of gas, so it’s time to wrap things up…more to say next week as usual. Until then…


Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

On that disappointing note…

Ya, so I’m not my usual happy self, but the last few days have been a bit of a downer. The weather has been very blah, it’s November and oh ya, we lost our semi-final game! I’ll try to keep it cheery, as I now have a bit more time to do things I’ve put on hold for a while. But judging by the ideas floating around in my head right now, this week’s blog is going to be a bit more pensive than usual; I guess it fits in well with the time of year.

So yes, unfortunately, football is done for another year…hence the title for this week. While I appreciate the time to relax and catch my breath, it is never easy to conclude something you’ve invested so much time and effort into. After beating our opponent 30 to 7 in the regular season, we were confident we could once again beat Churchill. It was a bad omen when we lost our starting A back (and kicker/punter) on the second play of the game with an MCL injury.

The boys played hard, but it was clear there was no mojo at all…we just couldn’t string anything consistent together and lost 14 to 7. Despite the loss I’m still proud of the team, as we came a long way in a short period of time. This was especially true since so many of them had never played football before and nearly sixty percent of the team were grade 9’s. That certainly bodes well for next season, and gives us a lot of optimism.

One of the bright spots this week was the continued progress of the Europe trip. As I reported last time, all the available spots were filled in two days. Tomorrow is our first of many group meetings, and I will outline the student responsibilities for our journey. This is not only a trip, but also a pilgrimage (hence the name Canada’s Battlefields), and as such we want them to understand the importance of recognizing and remembering the sacrifice of previous generations.

On that note, this coming Sunday is Remembrance Day here in Canada. It is the day we take time to honour the more than 100,000 Canadians who have given their lives for our country. It is sad however that for many Canadians it is the only time each year that they remember our war dead. It is almost as if the young cadets and aged Legionnaires distributing poppies are a visual cue for our collective reflection. While I do tend to remember more than most, this time of year does make me think of my own efforts, both in the classroom and outside of it.

Stone of Remembrance, Brette-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery.

From an early age I had always wanted to serve my country in the armed forces. The plan was to attend Royal Military College, but my initial dream of becoming a pilot was sadly shattered in Grade 7 when I found out I had terrible vision and needed glasses. I shifted my focus to a career in the army, possibly even entering the ranks of the parachute infantry (which is extremely bizarre given my fear of heights). At age 17 I decided to join the Army Reserve to prepare for my future transition to regular force of the Canadian Army. I thus became a member of the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment (LSSR).

Pre-10 mile march, August 1991. I’m on the left with the C9 machine gun.

Change of Command parade, September 1991. Front row, second from left.

It is rather interesting how one’s life plays out, for at the time I joined the LSSR I never could have imagined that 21 years later I would be in a classroom teaching history to teenagers. While I certainly enjoyed my time in the reserves, I also came to realize that it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The constant relocation and deployment of our soldiers was a big influence on my decision to switch careers, but I am also convinced that I was called into my current profession. Maybe teaching sacrifice to our young people is my particular version of duty to my country.

Mother Canada weeping for her fallen sons, Vimy Memorial.

So this week I will do my part to remember. Yesterday was an important anniversary for my old unit, Zijpe Day. On November 5th, 1944, mortar and anti-tank units of the Lake Superior Regiment (LSR-predecessor to the LSSR), along with tanks of the British Columbia Regiment, attacked several German ships moored in the port of Zijpe, Netherlands. They would be the only Canadian Army units to score a naval victory during the Second World War. Some of the LSR dead from this theatre of the Northwest Europe Campaign are buried in the Canadian War Cemetery at Bergen-op-Zoom and we will have an opportunity to honour them during our visit next year.

Grave of Rifleman Janson, Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery.

Obviously with all of these things going on it has been a relatively quiet week on the railway front. I did spend a bit of time looking over my article on Leeblain, which I hope to get back to very soon. I also did a little bit of light research, but there were no earth-shattering revelations.

Most of my attention was directed toward the impending incorporation of the Silver Mountain Historical Society. Next week I meet with the Regional Advisor from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport to discuss preservation of some of the railway, so I guess it’s time to get this group rolling. We have our incorporation meeting scheduled for Sunday, December 9th, and I certainly hope it is well attended. We do have a good little group so far, but we are going to need more support and help from the local community.

Truth be told I am a bit nervous about the whole process, as there are a lot of legal and procedural requirements to this type of endeavour. I really hope more people step up to the plate and volunteer their time. Likewise, it would be nice to see some young blood get onboard too; at 38 I am the youngest person involved with the society. I know there are a lot folks out there that appreciate the history of our area and the history of the railway, but without some hard work and dedication there would be no history to enjoy for anyone. Please support the society!

Well on that note, I should wrap things up for now. As usual, there will be more insights and news next week. Until then…


Posted by on November 6, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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

Maybe the Mayans were right…

Dave, surely you jest! End of the world? Come on! Besides, didn’t the Mayan calendar end in December 2012? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time someone was off a bit. Do I seriously believe that the world is coming to an end? No, but the events of the past few days certainly make it seem like it. Earthquakes in BC, mega-hurricane on the US east coast…did I miss anything? Let just hope it’s pure coincidence.

As usual, it has been a very busy week. I am certainly looking forward to the return of a small bit of normalcy shortly. However, I am sure I will find more craziness to fill void.

So last Tuesday I had the parent meeting for the Europe 2014 trip. I mentioned in my previous blog that it was well attended and it appeared that there was some solid interest in this excursion. I could not have imagined how much interest there was; all 21 spots available were filled within 48 hours. We actually have a waiting list! I couldn’t be happier with this development and I can’t wait to see the sights of Europe with this group.

Saturday was the grand finale of another great Tyke football season. It is really something to work with these young kids, even as frustrating and exasperating as it can be. The day was unfortunately about as miserable as could be, with chilly temperatures and even a brief, blizzard-like snowfall. It sadly left a few youngsters freezing and crying on the bench. Despite this, the Argos took the championship 25-0. I am quite proud of the team and of my boys in particular for their growth over the season.

Speaking of football, this Saturday is semi-final day for our Fighting Saints junior team. Hard to believe that the last two months is now down to this. It has been a long season and the team has come a long way, especially with the number of kids we have that never played football. We’re taking on the Churchill Trojans, a team that we beat 30-7 in our first meeting. We’re not taking anything lightly though, as the playoffs are for keeps. Wish us luck!

So all of this excitement has left little time for railway related work, but I hope that will change in the next few weeks. Maybe I’ll actually be able to get back to my article on Leeblain and finally finish it; it’s only been two months! It would be nice to see it in the 2013 edition of the Thunder Bay Museum’s Paper and Records as it will be the 120th anniversary of the founding of the town (that is if they want to publish it). My first published paper would be awesome…then it would be Historian Dave Battistel!

In an interesting development, I did receive an email today from Bonnie McNulty with the Regional Services Office of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. We will be meeting shortly to discuss attempts to preserve portions of the railway and its history. That will in turn lead to some movement regarding the Silver Mountain Historical Society, which will be our vehicle to carry out these preservations.

It has been so many years since the railway stopped operating that many traces of it have long disappeared. Sadly few buildings remain along the line, just a few section houses and the Silver Mountain Station (built in 1907). The identical copy of Silver Mountain, North Lake, which was probably constructed in the same year, was around until the late 1970’s. I wish it was still around as it would have made for a beautiful attraction in such a beautiful location.

North Lake Station, circa 1918.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

I always wondered about its demise, and after many years of hearing different stories, I finally learned its fate at the founding meeting of the Historical Society. I spent some time in conversation with Gil Erickson, who had some intimate knowledge of the situation. Gil was involved with preservation of the railway when I was still a little kid. In the 1970’s, a group working out of Nolalu called the Localmotive Society attempted to renovate the derelict station to use as the focal point of some planned hiking trails. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) was not very cooperative at the time and would not allow any work on the old station (something about being too close to the border?).

The group then decided to build a replica station 3.5km east of the site on Addie Lake. They removed as much material from the original as possible before the MNR burned it down. Utilizing government grants and student labour, over two summers the group constructed a great copy of the station. I first saw this replica in the fall of 1990 and later visited it on many occasions over the next decade. Unfortunately I did not realize how much authentic material had been built into it or I would have spent more time taking in the history.

Replica North Lake Station, 1994.

Sadly the re-built station, sitting in a very remote and isolated area, was a frequent target of vandals. The lack of accessibility to the site also prevented the planned development of trails in the area. In the fall/winter of 2004, with no one willing to take on the maintenance of the structure, the MNR decided to burn it down. Therefore the few skeletal boards of the original station and coal bunker are all that remain of the once magnificent station. A very sad end to a wonderful piece of history; it things like this that drive my desire to preserve what is left.

North Lake Station, 1994.

North Lake Station, May 2010.

North Lake coal bunker, October 2011.

North Lake coal bunker, October 2011.

Anyway, it is probably time to wrap things up for now. As usual, there will be more to say next week (if we make it that far!). Until then…

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 30, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


Tags: , , , , , , ,

My head hurts!

Yup, my brain is sore. Why you ask? Well, I’ve reached the proverbial end of October I’m burnt out from everything point. No matter how much sleep I get I feel like I constantly need a nap. It is the culmination of two months of sheer insanity and stress. Thank God things are beginning to wind down as I don’t think I can keep this up much longer…but then again I say that every year and I keep taking on too many things. Anyway, enjoy the literary feast as I recount the events of the past week.

So today was the parent meeting for the 2014 Europe trip and it was very well attended. We are cleared to start signing up kids! Although we are still 500 days away from departure, I’m getting pretty excited about the journey. It was great even to describe the trip to the students and parents in attendance. Yes I have visited some of these places before, but I really want to see them in more detail and experience all the new sights as well. I guess I’ll just have to be patient!

Thursday was conclusion of our 2012 SSSAA (Superior Secondary Schools Athletic Association) Junior football regular season as we have a bye this week. We went out on a winning note, defeating the Westgate Tigers 34 to 7, our first victory over them in 3 years. The boys played well after a shaky start. So we finished at a respectable 3 and 1, good enough for second place and a spot in the semi-finals on November 3rd. I am very proud of the team, especially since we had only 8 returners from last year’s squad and more than 50% of the team are Grade 9’s.

Anyway, it was a very hectic week on the railway front again. We are still pushing forward with the Silver Mountain Historical Society; I spent some time looking into the formation of not-for-profit organizations and I thought my head was going to explode. Wow, talk about a lot to digest at one time! It seems very scary on the surface, but I hope that with the collective effort of our group we will work through it.

I did receive a response last week to an email I sent to the regional advisor with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. It was very positive and supportive, and I hope to be able to set up a meeting the near future. This is just a small step, but I am confident it will lead to the preservation of sections of the railway.

On Sunday I had the opportunity to do what will probably be my last hike of the year. I decided that with the leaves down and the bush fairly dry, it would be a good to go back to Mackies on Whitefish Lake. I was last there in June and again in July, but I purposefully avoided the section to the west of where the station had been. I had hiked portions of the railway there back in 1994 and again in 1998, but I really wanted to go over it again.

2-6-0 Engine 108 pulls a mixed train, presumably at Mackies circa 1918.

Mackies Station was located near the northwestern end of Whitefish Lake, approximately 46 miles from Port Arthur (there are two nearby roads named Mile 46 and Mileage 46 respectively). I would start the day’s hike at an unnamed road (sometimes called Tower Mountain Road) which runs north and bi-sects the railway about 100 metres from Highway 588. Immediately west of the road lies the remains of an approximately 250 foot trestle which spanned a small valley, and was burned in a forest fire around 1923.

The fallen leaves made locating and photographing the eastern abutment of the trestle very easy. My biggest concern was going to be crossing the valley and how wet was the ground in that expanse. Thankfully it hasn’t rained a lot in a while (except for the steady rain that has fallen today), so while I to detour a bit, it wasn’t really too bad. As I made my way across, I came across the remains of some of the bridge pilings next to the path of the small creek that flows through the valley. Really neat to see these things, especially after they were driven into the ground 121 years ago.

Eastern abutment, Mackies Trestle, Octiber 2012.

The slope up to the western abutment is quite sheer, making the climb rather interesting. According to my GPS, the grade sits some 18 feet above the valley, but it sure felt a lot higher than that. Following the railway from that point was fairly easy, as it was grown in but the tall trees eliminated a lot of the difficult underbrush. Really interesting to see how the line was cut into the side of a small hill and how in many spots you could still see the indentations from the ties.

Western abutment, Mackies Trestle, October 2012.

Rail bed, west of Mackies, October 2012.

The area was littered with evidence of telegraph poles, but I only found one spot where there might have been the remains of the actual pole. From my experience hiking east of Mackies this summer, I knew exactly how to find them-circular patterns of rock located about 15 feet south of the grade. I recorded 11 locations, but I’m assuming the poles were all cut and destroyed (or salvaged) at some point.

Telegraph Pole base, west of Mackies, October 2012.

About 550 metres from the trestle is where I made my first significant find, albeit one that has little to do with the railway. I vividly remember this location from a 1998 visit, even videotaping what I found and being amazed to see something like this in such an obscure location. The object in question is an old truck belonging to the Northern Wood Preservers Company. It was probably abandoned in its current location back in the 70’s or 80’s, most likely when that company was logging in the area and the grade was more accessible. I wonder how long before it rusts out completely and turns into just a pile of metal.

Abandoned truck, west of Mackies, October 2012.

The grade continues southwesterly, and then westerly for 650 metres before you arrive at a small rock cut nested in one of the few really overgrown sections in the area. The cut is not high, maybe only 3 feet or so, but it gives an indication of things to come. From there the line alternates through some grown in and relatively clear sections for another 900 metres. At this point the grade opens up completely as the trail becomes part of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs network.

Rail bed, west of Mackies, October 2012.

Ties, west of Mackies, October 2012.

I only followed the railway for another 800 metres in a northwesterly direction as I had to get back home early that day. I was quite a beautiful walk as the grade ascends the slope alongside Sun Hill. With the leaves down and some of the trees harvested, it made for a gorgeous panorama of the surrounding area, especially the mesas of the Canadian Shield. It must have been something to see when the train was puffing through this area.

Cutting, Sun Hill, October 2012.

Embankment, Sun Hill, October 2012.

Cutting my journey short left me about 1.5km shy of my intended end point, which is the beginning of the Gravel Lakes section that I walked back in 2010. I decided that this area is easy to get back to and hike, so I would re-visit it next fall when the leaves were still up and take in the colours as well. Maybe I’ll even venture into the Gravel Lakes again and shoot some HD video of that area (I only recorded it on my still camera and I’m not impressed with the quality).

Anyway, I’ll wrap things up as it has been a long day and wet day. I spent the better part of an hour and a half today soaked and freezing on the football field. I’ve only just finally warmed up. More to say next week-until then…

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


Tags: , , , , , , , ,