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It’s a good thing I left the snow tires on…

April showers bring May flowers right? Wrong! Horribly wrong. More like April snow brings spring misery. For the love of God it needs to stop snowing! Snow? In April? Yes, unfortunately…the truth hurts. We’ve had more snow in the last 3 weeks than the rest of winter combined, or at least it seems so. Winter wonderland is great in December, but not now. Speaking of December, remember that brown Christmas I wrote about back then? Ya, well we’re paying for it now. Climate change deniers need a kick in the head. Ugh!

Hey, so I’m back. Maybe a little testier than usual, but if you just read my rant, you’ll understand. So yes, it is now April and the weather blows. My apologies for the somewhat profane language since this is a family-friendly blog, but hopefully it’s understandable. I am just so done with winter! Since my last post we received a huge dump of snow during March break (my deck had over 40cm or 16in on it). It will then warm up for a few days, melt that snow, and then we will get more to replace it. It is a frustrating vicious circle. Good news is on the horizon though; even though today is supposed to be 2C for the high (normal are around 7-8C), it is supposed to be in the double digits by the end of the week. Here’s hoping. Maybe I will listen to my wife and move somewhere warm and buy one of those much cheaper we keep seeing on House Hunters!

Results of a snowstorm, March 2016.

Results of a snowstorm, March 2016.

Snowstorm, April 2016.

Snowstorm, April 2016.

So besides the climatological issues, things are good. I am certainly enjoying the time off, though it is flying by way too quickly. This week is already the middle of April! I know I always complain that it goes by quick while I’m at work, but time typically moves more quickly when you’re on vacation. What that all means is that it’s time to start moving past winter and thinking ahead to all the stuff goes on in spring and summer…if the snow ever goes away.

One of the things that is starting to gear up again is football. Yes, football…in the snow. Okay, I’ll stop! Anyway, Noah just started skills and drills, which will last throughout the month and as usual I am helping out. Even though it’s a while away, planning has already commenced for our annual spring camp, which will be held in again in June. In preparation for that, I’ll need to finish filming and editing our recruiting video, which always takes up a bit of time.

I guess the one thing that the weather has not hindered is my work on the railway. In actuality, I’ve been quite busy with it since the last post. I finally managed to complete transcribing all the Arpin Papers from my visits to the Cook County Museum last summer. The end result? Thirty-one landscape pages of details from those letters, organized by date and who the letter was addressed to. And unfortunately I’m not done yet; a few of the early letters from 1900 are very difficult to read, so I’ll have to go back and see if I can decipher them from the original documents. That however will give me a chance to go to the Grand Marais Library while I’m there to look up a few things.

As I reported previously, I have been spending a lot of time at the Thunder Bay Museum examining digitized newspapers. They have been a great source of information, both about the Pigeon River Lumber Company and the PAD&W. There are still many years to look through, but I think I will wrap things up for now with one more visit this week. I have a feeling I will still have to do some manual searching at some point.

Since we’re on the topic, I’ve already begun planning my research trips that will be coming up rather quickly. At the beginning of May I will be in Toronto for my brother’s wedding and I’d like to get to the Archives of Ontario for a few hours. They have some photos I’d like to look through, as well as an early plan for the North Lake Station location and an Order-in-Council related to the PRLC.

However, it is a lengthy excursion to La Crosse, Wisconsin and Chicago that will take the most time, and planning. I’ve already mentioned that the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Archives holds the personal papers and records of PRLC vice-president Frank P. Hixon. Email inquiries have indicated there are extensive records at that facility; I have a feeling that I will have to go back in the future, possibly next summer.

Chicago is a regional repository for the National Archives and Records Administration, and they might have records for the Gunflint Lake customs house. Unfortunately I will not know what they have until I look through their files. I’ve never been to Chicago before, so my wife and I will be spending a few days there once I complete my archives research. I know it won’t be enough time to do the Windy City justice, but it’s better than not at all. I’m sure I will be able to get there again in the future.

In the meantime, I was able to do a little research a bit closer to home yesterday. The drive to Gunflint Lake never disappoints, even though the scenery was a little snowier than I would have liked. Bruce and Sue Kerfoot, always the cordial hosts, were gracious enough to take time out of their busy schedules to chat with me again about the local history. Bruce’s knowledge of the area is amazing and he has a lot of experience exploring many of the historic sites, whether by himself or with the First Nations people who used to live at Gunflint. I’m looking forward to going back as soon as possible, hopefully when I get back from Toronto.

Gunflint Narrows, April 2016.

Gunflint Narrows, April 2016.

Bottom end of a switchback, April 2016.

Bottom end of a switchback, April 2016.

Gunflint Lake, April 2016.

Gunflint Lake, April 2016.

I do have one trip to Gunflint already planned for the summer with a very familiar agenda to it. I have been invited once again by the kind folks at the Chik-Wauk Museum to come and give a lecture on a piece of local history. If you recall I’ve been there twice in the past, in 2012 and 2014. I decided to talk about my current research, especially since a lot of people are not very acquainted with the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad and I thought it would provide a refreshing change. Previously, lectures were held on the museum porch, but they have a newly constructed facility at Chik-Wauk which will bring everything inside and allow me to include a visual component as well. The date of the presentation is Sunday, August 14th and you can visit their website for more information.

Anyway, it’s time to move on. Shockingly, it’s snowing again, so I have to go clean off the deck for the sixth or seventh time in the last few weeks. I’ll be back soon with more news and hopefully in a better mood. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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Reflecting on two decades.

Twenty years; for me, it amounts to half of my lifetime. Wow! I spent some time searching the internet looking for a quote to accurately describe my thoughts on this journey but I couldn’t find anything that fit. I guess that is a sign that I need to come up with something on my own; unfortunately I’m not really a master of the profound. Maybe I just need to speak from the heart, to say what I’m really thinking. However, that is usually easier said than done. I’ll give it a try in any case…but you’ll have to wait for it.

So, what’s new and exciting Dave? Well, here we are on the cusp of May and I’m still complaining about the weather. Yup, I went there. This has been quite the on-going saga with me (and everyone else for that matter) for the last year, but who can blame me. This winter does not want to end. It is so utterly depressing I cannot stand it any longer. The temperatures over the last month have warmed up a bit, but just as we seem to get ahead with the melting of the snow, we get blasted with another storm. This has happened three times in the last month-I’ve put together a nice little montage of photos to show you our progress, or lack thereof. I really hope that this it for snow; I and everyone else just wants to put this miserable winter behind us and hopefully move on to some warmer temperatures!

April 17, 2014.

April 17, 2014.

April 18, 2014.

April 18, 2014.

DSC_4788

April 19, 2014.

April 21, 2014.

April 21, 2014.

April 25, 2014.

April 25, 2014.

April 27, 2014.

April 27, 2014.

April 30, 2014.

April 30, 2014.

So with the arrival of May, we are now down to our last two months of the school year. It keeps getting faster and faster every year…it’s just a big blur! The worst part about it is there is so much to do in a little bit of time. You can never seem to get ahead on your marking, exams will be coming up in June and we will be starting to timetable for next year very shortly. On top of that there is a ton of football stuff coming up, such as spring camps and our trip to Duluth for the UMD team camp. Craziness!

Things have been fairly active on the railway front of late. As we move toward summer, planning has begun on our agenda for the historical society. We held our Annual General Meeting at the end of March, and we have a board meeting coming up next week. Planning for our flagship event, History Day, will be commencing at the meeting. There has been some discussion about moving the day into the fall, but my personal preference is to leave it where it is (I’m too busy in September). I’m sure we’ll get it all sorted out so we can start publicizing it as soon as possible.

Another reason why I’m anxious for the snow to go away and things to dry up is that I am itching to get out on the railway. I have a lot of field work planned this year and the sooner I can get out the better; besides, I just bought a new video camera and I’m dying to get things recorded in 1080p! First on my agenda is a visit to Minnesota to get some video of the grade before the trees leaf out. I also want to do the same with the Canadian portion of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad before things get too green as well. In addition to day hikes, I’ve already booked two trips to Minnesota for the summer and fall; hopefully the weather cooperates with me.

So I actually have an ulterior motive for the July trip to Minnesota (well, besides visiting with my friend John at the Cross River Lodge), which is that I’ve been booked for another lecture at the Chik-Wauk Museum. If you remember I spoke there back in August 2012 and they’ve asked me to come back. I’m pretty excited; there was a great turn-out last time and I’m hoping it will be the same this time. If you’re in the area July 20th, you might want to stop by!

Alright, I guess this is the point at which I should explain the whole title thing, right? So here goes. In April 1994 a young guy was just finishing his second year of university and decided to satisfy a long-standing curiosity about a little know railway. What was supposed to be a short trip to the library to find a book to read became multiple trips and then became an odyssey once he realized that there were no books to be found. For some reason this railway seemed to fit all of his interests; history, the outdoors, research and a love of exploration. I was all of 20 years old.

In those early days there was very little information about the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway, or Pee Dee (PD) Railway as it was often referred to as. There were a few maps, some relatively recent newspaper articles and a number of old photos. They all began to slowly form into the story of a long-forgotten railway. Eventually the visits to the library led to trips to Thunder Bay Museum and the files of one Clifford Brown.

Cliff Brown had recently passed away in 1991, but he had dedicated a large portion of the latter part of his life to unravelling the story of the railway. Many knew him as Mr. Pee Dee and were very aware of his work and presentations. His file at the museum was filled with old newspaper clippings, letters of correspondence and many personal notes. They were a huge source of information and provided many helpful insights into where to look for more information.

Research notes, April 1994.

Research notes, April 1994.

Besides rooting through archives and information, I really wanted to go out and explore the railway. My first experience with the PAD&W had been four years earlier in 1990 on my first ever moose hunting trip at North Lake. I had never been to this area before, and the property on the lake had only recently been purchased by friends of the family. I very quickly became enamored with the area, especially with all the discussion and mention of a “railway” that had once gone by. Walking the old grade and finding spikes and the remains of old buildings really intrigued me; I wanted to know more.

I found many old maps in the library, but looking at a map and determining where exactly the railway had been after been abandoned for 56 years was another matter. In some cases it was fairly simple, but in others it was a really challenging. You have to remember that the internet was just starting out, there were no Google maps or GPS and nature is very quick to take back what is hers. I was determined to trace the entire railway before I had to head back to school in September.

West of Rosslyn, April 1994.

West of Rosslyn, April 1994.

I spent a lot of time that summer slogging through rivers, getting eaten alive by bugs and often getting temporarily lost as I struggled to follow a grade that was now obscured by brush, washed out by floods, settled into swamps or rendered impassible by long burned out bridges. It was an ordeal at times to say the least. My journey that year culminated in a 3 day journey to probe the most remote area of the railway, the stretch west of Trestle Bay on North Lake all the way to the Gunflint Narrows. However I’ll save that story for the next post!

Anyway, I need to get rolling. Stay tuned for Part II of this retrospective coming shortly. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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It’s a miracle!

Well, I guess that’s maybe a bit of an exaggeration. However, I cannot deny that I certainly feel like it is…and I’m not the only one. Probably everyone in the 807 feels the same way. Confused? Have you read this blog before? If not, you better back track and catch up. Just kidding. I’m obviously referring to the weather, which has been a constant topic of conversation for me in the last little while. So the miracle is that spring has finally arrived…a month late! We’re finally seeing some double digit temperatures, melting snow and today the precipitation is rain instead of snow (though we may get a little snow later in the week as the temps are supposed to drop). Who cares though, as the end has arrived and it couldn’t come soon enough.

Beautiful evening, April 2013.

Beautiful evening, April 2013.

So today is the last day of April. Wow! That means there is only 2 months left of school…some days I wonder if I’m going to make it that far. Holy burnout Batman! I am really feeling it now, but that could be the bit of a cold that I am currently nursing. It certainly isn’t helping the situation. There are just so many things going on right now it’s hard to keep up. Between family, work, football and history stuff, my head is spinning. After 15 years of teaching, I should know that this time of the year is especially crazy. But, it is easy to forget when you’re in the moment.

The warmer weather and the end of the school year are making me think of football. Come again? Football? Isn’t that a fall thing? Yes, it certainly is, but times they are a changin’. Football, like many other sports, is becoming a year-round endeavour. The season ends in November, but soon after Christmas we start with our off-season workout schedule (which I supervise once a week). In a few weeks the coaches from the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) will be coming up for a weekend camp which requires us to give out equipment. Finally, I’ve already started planning this year’s edition of our annual spring camp, which takes place in June. Hard to start thinking about x’s and o’s when there’s still snow on the ground 😉

The railway has been very busy as usual, but I was thinking that I haven’t done much research in a long time. I did manage to squeeze in a presentation over the weekend. I always love to talk about the railway, and never pass up an opportunity to promote it and my work. About a month ago I was contacted by a gentleman named Dave who asked if I could come and speak to a men’s group he belongs to. So I found myself up early on Saturday morning (it was tough to get up at 7) and making my way to St. Paul’s Anglican Church. Everything went well, especially since I only had 45 minutes to deliver information that usually takes more than an hour.

As has been the norm lately, most of my time has revolved around the Historical Society. We have a board meeting coming up in a few weeks and there’s a lot to prepare before that happens. I’ve been working with a former student to overhaul our website, and also trying to get the spring edition of the society newsletter ready to send out. Wow, holy craziness! And that is in addition to the work on the North-Gunflint Lakes Historic Corridor (what we’re calling it)-hopefully I’ll have some news about that by the end of the week.

My final news this week is in regards to my article on the ghost town of Leeblain. My work is currently being reviewed, while I unsuccessfully attempt to find a mapmaker. I’d love to include a map with the article, but I’ve never created a digital map in my life. I’ve been struggling to find someone who can help me out, but my search so far has come up empty. I may have to bite the bullet, put my geography minor to the test and try my hand at cartography. I fiddled around a bit last night, making some headway but also dealing with a lot of frustration. Why can’t anything ever be easy?

Anyway, time to go. I’m tired and need to get some sleep….lots of work to do! More to say next week as usual. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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God my legs hurt!

It simply amazes me the things that the human body can do…what a wonder of engineering we are! The body’s ability to take abuse and then bounce back is astounding. Unfortunately, there is always a price to be paid for such resilience, and it usually involves pain. It’s just a not so subtle way of saying to you that you’re a dumbass for putting yourself through some sort of self-imposed torture. I’m seemingly a poster-child for this type of stupidity!

Needless to say it has yet again been a very busy week, and it appears that it is shaping up to be even worse this week. How can it be the second of week of the new semester and I’m already burnt out? Maybe work, a new class, open house, football and railway stuff might have something to do with it. Hopefully next week is a little more sane.

So much of my stress has been generated by the new class that I am teaching which is an online, “eLearning” class. I spoke about it last week, but I haven’t really been able to get a real sense of it until yesterday when it officially began. It’s not that it’s overly difficult, but the content is new and it’s a very different medium than I’m used to. Probably most of my headaches stem from the fact that I am a worrier and I am constantly wondering if I am doing a good job or handling things correctly. Hopefully I will feel more comfortable as the semester progresses.

There are two big events on tap this week that will be absorbing most of my attention (and unfortunately leaving very little railway time). Tomorrow is our school’s annual open house, an opportunity for us to showcase our fine establishment to next year’s new students. It all over in an hour or so, but it takes quite a while to set everything up. There is also the challenge of trying to incorporate new ideas and keeping things fresh; no wonder I feel like I’m totally bagged! I’m sure it will all be fine, but I will be glad when it’s done.

Immediately after the open house is done I have to rush home and pack for another out-of-town excursion. On Thursday after school, myself and my fellow football coaches will be departing for Minneapolis to attend the annual Glazier Football Clinic. Glazier is probably the largest provider of coaching clinics in the US; the event in Minneapolis alone has over 150 sessions delivered by coaches from many different levels right up to pro. I’m looking forward to some great information on 3-5 defenses and linebacker play.

If you read last week’s babble you’ll know that the big event in the past week was the presentation I gave at Gunflint Lodge. I had been invited by Sue Kerfoot to give the talk back in September, so it was a long time in coming. I was very excited for the event, but as I normally am with things like this, very nervous too!

I decided to leave from home early on Saturday morning as there was a chance of snow and I wanted to take my time in case the roads were bad. It’s about a 2 hour, 45 minute drive to Gunflint on a good day, so I figured I’d have plenty of time to get there. I had time to burn lest I arrive too early, so I stopped in Grand Marais to snap some photos of the harbour. Pulling in to Gunflint I stopped for the first time at the lake overlook just off of the trail and got some good shots of the narrows between Ontario and Minnesota.

Grand Marais Harbor, February 2013.

Grand Marais Harbor, February 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

When I arrived at the lodge my cabin wasn’t quite ready, so I chilled out in the Red Paddle Bistro, sent some emails, updated my Facebook and had a bite to eat. The lodge is quite the beehive of activity, even if it is winter. There were a lot of people coming and going, heading out on the lake to snowmobile or snowshoe. It made me think of how we take our surroundings for granted too often and how people pay a lot of money to experience what we have.

Gunflint Lodge, February 2013.

Gunflint Lodge, February 2013.

After lunch and settling into my cabin, I decided that since I had an entire afternoon to kill by myself that I would walk across the lake to Gunflint Narrows and take a poke around the railway. I don’t normally hike the railway in the winter as it difficult to get around (I like to walk) and the snow covers things on the ground that I want to see. It’ been a long time since I’ve walked over a frozen lake so therefore forgot how the ice can play tricks with you; it make stuff look “just over there.”

Cabin 20, Gunflint Lodge, February 2013.

Cabin 20, Gunflint Lodge, February 2013.

So I began my little journey in good spirits, happily trudging along the snow covered ice between the fishing shacks and snowmobilers. The going was a bit tough, as there were a few inches of snow on top of the ice that made each step a challenge. My GPS told me that the Canadian shore was a scant 1500 metres away…child’s play! That’s the distance I cover when I walk the dog and I’m not worse for wear. As I tromped along I became acutely aware of how much colder it was on the open expanse of the lake, and how my legs were becoming tired punching into the snow. However everything was tempered by the beauty of my surroundings; the high, rocky hills were more defined in the snowy landscape.

Gunflint Lake, February 2013.

Gunflint Lake, February 2013.

When I finally reached the shore I quickly covered the 70 or so metres until I reached the railway grade. I thought I’d walk a bit east until I reached the supposed site of the “town” of Gunflint and then head west toward the Narrows. Along the way I happened to notice something in the bush I’d never seen before…an old truck. For a few minutes I was puzzled as to how it could have got there until I realized someone could have done what I just did and cross over the frozen lake!

Abandoned truck, Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

Abandoned truck, Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

Three hundred metres farther west I arrived at the narrows, unfortunately disappointed that the current between Gunflint and Magnetic Lake had prevented ice from forming; I would have to settle for snapping some pictures from the Canadian side only. However, the side effect of a dry fall and the cold winter was the lake level was the lowest I’d ever experienced. I was able to walk out very far into the channel and take some really neat pictures and video. Many of the bridge pilings, which are normally under water, were clearly exposed by at least 6 or more inches. Very interesting to see!

Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, February 2013.

Soon it was time to head back to the lodge, but I did not relish the thought of the walk across the lake. It was just as cold as the way out, but the distance seemed a lot longer. By the time I made it back, I was pretty pooped. I only walked about 4k, but I had to work each step of the way…and there’s not even that much snow. My legs were a bit rubbery when I reached my cabin and I was glad there was some time to relax before dinner. The warm shower I had was the perfect remedy for my ailments.

Creeper deer outside the window, February 2013.

Creeper deer outside the window, February 2013.

After a bit of relaxation in the lodge and a great prime rib dinner, it was time to prepare for the presentation. The talk was going to be held in the Conference Center, which was just across the road from the lodge. The air was a bit crisp outside, but I was sure sweating trying to get everything set up. I was scheduled to go on at 7:30, but people started rolling in at 7:00 and so I was kept busy chatting. That helped get my mind off of things.

All in all, everything went very well (or at least I thought it did). There were about 30 people or so in attendance and they all seemed very interested in what I had to say. There were a lot of great questions afterwards and hopefully I did a decent job of answering them. I had a great time and the folks at the lodge were just awesome. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get a return invite at some point!

Anyway, I guess it’s time to move along. I’ll be back next week with some new revelations. Until then…

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

 

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I must be doing something right…

So I just checked the counter on my “dashboard” and I have just eclipsed the 5,000 views mark for this blog since I first created it in November 2011. Impressive…most impressive! I had to throw that one in there, since I am wearing a Darth Vader t-shirt today (Ethan and Noah’s favourite, the one where Darth is walking an AT-AT instead of a dog). Anyway, a big thank you goes out to all of you, the readers, who have taken the time to peruse my often witty, sometimes boring ramblings. Most of you are fellow Canucks, some of you are our neighbours to the south and a few are from far away places such as Vietnam, Jersey and Malta. I hope you return for more entertaining, insightful musings.

Since I am a bona fide literary heavyweight, I guess I need to make sure that this week’s installment is packed full of great material, both delicious and nutritious! As per usual, it has been a crazy week, with tons of things going on and it doesn’t appear that it will change anytime soon.

So I’m currently sitting here watching my Grade 12’s finish their exam, fitting in some sentences while I circulate and answer questions. This is my last exam, which means that by tomorrow all my marks will be in and another weight will be lifted off my shoulders. Thursday and Friday are both PD (Professional Development) days, filled with meetings, information sessions and preparations for second semester. At least we get a chance to go out for lunch on those days, which is a nice change of pace.

I do have a bit of apprehension heading into the new semester, since I am teaching my first ever eLearning class. eLearning is a fairly new program whereby course content is delivered online using a system called the Learning Management System (LMS). While I’ve never taught in this medium, I’m sure I can handle the technology portion just fine. I am a bit concerned about the fact that I’ve never done the course before, which is Grade 12 World Issues (geography). I’m sure I will be fine, but it is always a challenge teaching something for the first time and figuring out exactly how to work it. I’ll find out soon enough!

Remember last week when I wrote about the absolutely frigid temperatures, the likes of which I’ve never seen before? Well today it was 39 degrees warmer at +1C with some slushy, wet snow…this weather rollercoaster is absolutely insane! However the weekend was gorgeous, and coupled with the recent snowfall, allowed me to finally get up the mountain for the first time this year. It felt good to get out into the fresh air, especially after being cooped up in the house because of the cold weather. The only “sore” point was the fact that my body didn’t appreciate the 7k walk and 700 foot vertical climb. My legs were pretty stiff trying to get out of bed the next morning!

Looking north on the trail, January 2013.

Looking north on the trail, January 2013.

Loch Lomond, January 2013.

Loch Lomond, January 2013.

Descending the big hill, January 2013.

Descending the big hill, January 2013.

It has been another very busy week on the railway front once again. There has been some movement with the Silver Mountain Historical Society, as we press toward the incorporation of our group. I’m trying to get some action going on a logo for the society, which will help us with marketing once the incorporation goes through.

In my last installment I wrote about several photographs that I received from Library and Archives Canada and my attempts to identify them. I’m happy to report that one photo was most likely taken at Whitefish Lake, where the Snowden Brothers operated a logging business. Another appears to be a construction camp at the east end of North Lake. The third shows a locomotive, which has added another piece to our ongoing investigation of the Black Auntie.

I did spend a bit more time on Ancestry trying to gather more information about the railway management. I did make some headway, but my principal task of locating photos has proved very frustrating. I wish there was just a magic place that had all the pictures I was looking for!

Most my interesting piece of news from the past week was an email I received from Gunflint Lake. If my article on Leeblain is selected for publication, I thought it would be important to have a detailed map of what the site looked like. My biggest problem is that the only map of the area was done nearly 20 years after the town was established. I needed some expert help, so I contacted long-time resident and current Gunflint Lodge owner Bruce Kerfoot. Bruce’s mother Justine (who I was fortunate to meet in 1997), first arrived at Gunflint in the late 1920’s and became a legend in the Boundary Waters area. I met Bruce back in 2011 at the Gunflint Green-up and I was hoping that he could help me out.

In response to my inquiry, Bruce sent me a map that completely shocked me. I was aware that there were several buildings at the site, but Bruce’s map showed the locations of 8 structures on top of the station beside the grade. Unfortunately this information has provided me with yet another mystery; if there were so many structures at Leeblain, why are they not on the 1911 Boundary Map? My theory is that some buildings, such the trading post/hotel, were shifted to Gunflint Narrows. I can’t wait until the spring so I can get out to Leeblain and do some exploring!

Leeblain, 1931 Boundary map (surveyed 1911).

Leeblain, 1931 Boundary map (surveyed 1911).

Speaking of Leeblain, next weekend is my presentation at Gunflint Lodge. Things are rapidly coming together and I guess I need to get my butt in gear and finish the slideshow. Another busy week ahead…what’s new!

Anyway, I need to get rolling. This coming Sunday is Superbowl, so I’m sure there will lots of news to talk about. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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So this is what Siberia feels like

If you’re old enough, you might remember hearing references being made to Siberia i.e. being sent to Siberia, or how cold it was in Siberia. Since I was born in the 70’s, I certainly have vivid recollections its mention. The Cold War was on and the Russians were the bad guys; I heard all about how they sent people to prison in Siberia and they never came back (or maybe that was just my mom threatening me). Since I had never been there, all I could do was envision what it was like. I imagined a cold, forbidding place, far removed from any vestiges of civilization. Today reminded me a lot of those younger days, but that’s a story for later.

So here we are in the last few days of classes before exams, which start on Thursday. I still haven’t completely caught up on my marking, but I’m getting there. Unfortunately I’ll be back to square one with three sets of exams and two sets of culminating activities to mark soon enough. Oh well, I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks right?

The crazy thing in all of this is that the next semester has not started yet and it’s lining up to be even busier, at least in the beginning. I already have four days that I’m out of the classroom in February alone. One is for eLearning orientation (yes, I am doing an online class), one is for open house, another is for a department head meeting and the last is for our trip to the Glazier coaching clinic in Minneapolis (yes, we’re going back this year). I generally hate to be out of the classroom; it does mess with the continuity and it is more work for me to be away than to be there. However, most of it has to do with the fact that I am complete control freak with my classes and I like to do things my way!

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what’s with the title. If you guess I was alluding to the weather, you are correct. Remember a few weeks ago when it was +7C and rained? Ya, well that’s a distant memory. The last several days have been some of the coldest I’ve ever experienced; there might have been colder, but I don’t remember. Without a doubt it’s the coldest it’s ever been since I got married. How bad it is? Well I’ll tell ya.

So it started snowing on Friday…finally! And thank God for that, because things could have gotten ugly without any snow cover on the ground. It snowed all day Saturday and stopped in the evening. Sunday was pretty chilly, which made snow blowing the driveway quite wonderful. However, the worst was yet to come!

Falling snow, January 2013.

Falling snow, January 2013.

Yesterday was cold, damn cold. When I left work to pick up the kids, my truck almost didn’t start. It had been sitting in the parking lot exposed to the sub -30C wind-chill all day. On the second try it went, but felt like a block of ice the entire drive. The thermometer never moved from -28C and it was 3:30 in the afternoon! The temperature continued to drop, and by the time I went to bed it was -38C with the wind.

One of my morning routines immediately after getting up is to check the outside temperature (the wireless sensor is on the northwest side of the house). I was shocked to see it display -37.2C, by far the coldest I’ve ever recorded at my house in 10 years (it bottomed out at -37.8 by 7:00). When I got to work, the wind-chill was sitting at -45C! That’s kinda one of those unfathomable numbers…I may have stated earlier today that it was “stupid” cold. Funny thing is that it does even come close to breaking the all-time record, which was set at -41.1C. Brrrr!

Early morning temperature, January 2013.

Early morning temperature, January 2013.

-45 with the wind, January 2013.

-45 with the wind, January 2013.

Well, all this frigid weather means that there’s a lot of time spent inside, and that gave me chance to do some extra railway stuff. Most of it involved research, but I did do a little work in preparation for my upcoming presentation at Gunflint Lodge. The event has been confirmed for February 9th at 7:30pm (CST) at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center. I’m pretty excited about the presentation and especially that I get to go to Gunflint to do it. Now I just need to convince my wife to come with me and enjoy a little break from the kids!

It had been a while since I stuck my nose in the computer and did some railway stuff other than writing. I always love the rush I get when I’m on the hunt…you’re still talking about historical research right Dave? Yup, and call me a nerd, but I find it exciting! Whether I’m out in the field or following a trail on the computer, nothing beats trying to locate the next clue. This is why this project is so amazing; I never get tired of discovering new things. It will be a sad day when I finish all my research.

Anyway, there have been a lot of great revelations. I’m not sure what started it all, but I did spend a lot of time looking at things on ancestry.ca. That site has been absolutely phenomenal for my line of work. Well worth the money. I think it started with my thinking about Leeblain, and specifically the customs house that operated at the eastern end of Gunflint Lake from 1903 to 1909. I looked up the two gentlemen who ran it, then moved on to Archie Bishop who owned a sawmill on North Lake circa 1911.

Somehow or other I ended up with a census record showing that certain key railway people were all boarding together in Port Arthur in 1891 (Alex Middleton, Richard Hazelwood and Ross Thompson). That then led me into a search of these gentlemen and then some. It was at this point I made interesting discovery.

George Middleton (Alexander’s brother), was a primary contractor of the railway along with prominent area politician James Conmee. While the railway was being constructed, the contractors had control of the line, and so Alexander served two terms as president (and chief engineer) in 1890 to 1891. He was eventually succeeded in his role as chief engineer by Richard Hazelwood. Hazelwood as it turns out, thanks to Ancestry, is George’s brother-in-law. Nothing like a bit of nepotism!

My next mission is to try and track down pictures of these people, which doesn’t look to be an easy task. Maybe Ancestry will come to the rescue again…fingers crossed! Speaking of pictures, I just received three pictures I ordered from Library and Archives Canada today. One is of a locomotive, which may help in solving our engine mystery. The others show a construction camp and workers loading logs; now I’ve got more work to do trying to figure out where they were taken!

Anyway, time to finish my marking. Hopefully be next week it will be a tad bit warmer. Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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Gunflint Day 1

Greetings from Gunflint Lake! I am sitting here in the great room of the Cross River Lodge watching football as I write this. If it weren’t for the pounding headache that I have, life would be awesome. I’ve had a good day for the most part and I am certainly looking forward to tomorrow.

So this week has been a very busy week for me. This is my second kick at some fieldwork in less than a week. On Tuesday I decided to take the boys with me and walk a bit of the railway near the former village of Flint. I mentioned in my previous post the Flint is a village no more since most of the area has been washed away by the Whitefish River.

We started our hike where Diana Road ends along the river and headed north. It was going to be a 3km round trip, which I thought was well within abilities of the boys. It unfortunately was a cool night, so there was a heavy dew which made everything dripping wet. In areas the grass and vegetation growth was much thicker than I expected, but the boys took it in stride (much to my shock) and were real troopers about it.

When we arrived at our destination, which was a crossing of the river west of Harstone, we spent some time examining the remains of the bridge there. We then headed back and checked out some of the eroded sections of the grade. In one area it there was what appeared to be the remains of a diversion of the river. The engineers diverted the river is several places along this stretch of the railway and this could very well have been one of those locations.

When we passed through Flint we made our way down to the river to see what might still be lurking in the area. We could see some of the remains of the bridge across the river but no traces of the former village. From there we crossed the Silver Creek and finished our little adventure.

So that brings us back to Minnesota. I made the drive down to this very beautiful area today to give a talk at the Chik-Wauk Museum on the railway and the Paulson Mine. I’m sticking around for a few days to do some hiking on Gunflint and hopefully Mother Nature cooperates!

After stopping for some supplies in Grand Marais, I arrived at my “home” for the next few days, the Cross River Lodge. I’m staying in the main lodge and my room is amazing. Even as I sit here on the main floor I’m struck by how well appointed this resort is. What is even better is the hospitality of my hosts, John and Rose Schloot. They have been nothing short of fantastic and the staff is equally wonderful!

The presentation today had the makings of an interesting experience since it was outdoors and I had no technology assistance (other than my tablet for my notes). It was well attended (I didn’t count the number of people) but I’d have to guess there were about 50 people. I managed to stay within the one hour time frame and I fielded many questions about the railway and the mine. I’m looking forward to doing it again at some point in the future!

Following the presentation I returned to the lodge for a bite to eat and then headed out for a bit of exploring along the Gunflint Narrows Road. My main goal was to try to locate the turning wye that was situated just north of the crossing of the Cross River. I had spent a bit of time examining the area on Google Earth and I was pretty convinced that I would easily find this unique feature. Unfortunately as I began to walk it became apparent that I would not find it. I crisscrossed the site many times but I could not see any definitive traces. I guess the wye is where we thought it was all along, obliterated by a gravel pit.

Well, I’m heading off to bed since my head is still pounding and I have a long day tomorrow. I will hiking the eastern end of the lake and let’s hope I don’t get rained on. Then my host John will be taking me to the Gunflint Narrows to look at the railway there and maybe even see something neat!

Until tomorrow…

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel

 

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Are we there yet?

No, we are not on a vacation to Kansas with Toto, but we are certainly in need of a break! I’m done! Kaput! Toast! (I could go on with the metaphors) It seems as though no matter how much sleep I get, I still wake up feeling tired. There are way too many things swirling in my head that will only go away once the school year is done. Now I know what you’re saying, poor teachers, it must be rough having the whole summer off! Well, truth be told, this occupation is getting harder to do all the time.

Once the weather begins to turn warm in April, this whole idea of “teaching” becomes much tougher to do. The nice temperatures bring with them thoughts of summer and the kids begin to lose their focus. It is now June 4th and we have completely lost them! They have no attention span, trying to do work is like pulling teeth and the senior kids just don’t show up; June is like a good month/bad month. Therefore June 29th can’t come soon enough!

I must admit though that I do have an ulterior motive; summer means that I will have time to do what I want, namely hiking the railway. Unfortunately the bush it still wet from last week’s rain, so I can’t really get out. The city continues to be in a state of emergency, since our water treatment plant is still out of action. More than a thousand homes were flooded by the rain, and I really feel for those people. I hope that things get back to normal as soon as possible.

Gravel Lake Station, June 2012.

I did get out for another drive this week, mostly to complete my task from the last drive. Moving beyond Nolalu, I marked Hillside, Silver Mountain, Whitefish, Wolfe Siding (Suomi), Mackies and Gravel Lake on Facebook. Being out there made me want to be hiking so bad; maybe I have a bit of an addiction! Or it could be that I love being in the outdoors and it gives me the peace and quiet I crave. I never really hiked a lot of the line along Whitefish Lake and my curiosity has been peaked. This area is fairly high and dry, so I might be able to get out next week.

One of my stops was at the Silver Mountain Station, one of the few remaining buildings on the line. It was built circa 1911, replacing an existing log structure and is an identical copy of the station that once stood at North Lake. For many years it has been an iconic landmark on the corner of Highways 588 and 593. During the railway era, it was home at one point to Dorothea Mitchell, the famous Lady Lumberjack. The book on her adventures makes for a very interesting read, not only chronicling some of the history of the area, but also of the life of a female entrepreneur in a frontier wilderness.

Silver Mountain Station, June 2012.

Today the station is a restaurant, recently acquired by chef and baker Shelley Simon. I had a quick chat with her on Saturday, but I need to stop by again this summer and sink my teeth into a PD burger. If you’re in the neighbourhood (or even if you’re not…the drive through the Whitefish Valley is beautiful) be sure to stop in for some great food and hospitality!

Last week I wrote about my concern for the potential development near the ghost town of Leeblain. Unfortunately I did not receive any replies to my emails, which is a bit frustrating. I know that it has only been a week, and that people have other business to attend to, but I had hoped to hear at least something. Maybe I’m used to my profession and things just operate differently. In my line of work, I’m expected to reply to messages/emails as soon as possible. Then again, I’m responsible to parents for their child’s education, so maybe there’s a bit more urgency in that!

My last news for this week is very good news. I’ve written about my planned talk at the Chik-Wauk Museum scheduled for August 5th, but I’ve managed to land something closer to home. On Friday I paid a visit to one of my old stomping grounds, the Duke Hunt Museum. Located just outside Thunder Bay in the Municipality of Oliver-Paipoonge, it will always be known to me by its old name, the Paipoonge Museum. I first visited this great little gem back in 1997 and I spent many a day there in years past. I was privileged to be able to give a few lectures at the museum back in the late 90’s.

It had been quite a while since I visited the museum, especially given that it was recently relocated to a former school just down the road. The director is a great lady by the name of Lois Garrity and it was nice to sit down and catch up with her. Our conversation naturally turned to railway and we reminisced about the presentations I had done all those years ago. It was then that Lois said, “Hey, it been a long time since you spoke about the railway, are you interested in doing it again?” To be honest, I was hoping that she would ask. Needless to say I jumped at the idea and we were able to pin down a date. So on July 25th I will make my return to the lecture world and I could not be more excited. I love to research and hike the railway, but I probably like talking about it even more!

Anyway, enough yapping for now; I’m sure I’ll have more news and things to say next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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