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Gunflint Cross

Hey, so let’s try something a little different for a change. Since I’m not always able to write a full blog regularly, I thought I’d copy a little initiative I’ve been doing on social media.

Since January, I’ve been featuring videos from my YouTube channel on social media, which highlight parts of the line. These videos date back to 1997 and I am still producing new ones regularly. Part of their purpose is to promote the history of the railway as well as to chronicle some of the physical remains of the line and its infrastructure before it all disappears. I know I started this many months ago, I am doing this rather mid-stream, but there never can be too much publicity. In any case please enjoy!

This week’s episode of our YouTube tour of the PAD&W takes us to the section of line west of Leeblain (MP 84). Here, in October 1892, crews were working a rock cut for the right of way. Unfortunately one labourer, Joseph Montegia, was tragically killed in a blasting accident. In his memory, his fellow workers carved a cross in the side of the rock cut near where he died. It still remains, 126 years later, as a silent tribute to all those that toiled constructing the railway.

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Posted by on December 3, 2018 in History, Railway, Video

 

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He’s almost here!

Who? You know silly! He shows up every year around this time; the big, fat, jolly guy! Can we say fat anymore…is that too politically incorrect? Metabolically challenged better? Maybe he’s like the guy from the Rudolph animated show that gains like a pile of weight for December 25-“eat papa eat, no one likes a skinny Santa!” In any case, we’ll be eagerly anticipating his arrival at our house; I’m sure the boys will be on the Santa Tracker this afternoon watching his progress.

The Christmas season has brought with it a welcome respite from work; it has been an insanely busy year since September. Every year I say how much busier it has been compared to the previous year and this time it was no different. I’ve already been able to spend some time relaxing and hanging out with the family and I look forward to doing more of that during the next couple of weeks.

One of the things keeping me occupied during the fall was football, and this year I received a very special surprise when the season ended. On November 19 a very unusual email (and tweet) showed up in my inbox; I had been selected as one of the ten finalists for the NFL Canada Youth Coach of the Year. I was totally shocked…I didn’t even know I was nominated! Turns out one of my fellow coaches, Shaun Berst, wrote a very flattering email that helped me earn the nod. In the end I was not the winner ($5000 for your football program), nor one of the two runners up, but I was honoured to be one of the finalists nonetheless. I coach because I enjoy it and try to make a difference our youth. Besides, in a hockey crazy town like Thunder Bay, it’s nice to get people thinking about some other sports for a change!

On the field, October 2014. (J. Mirabelli Photography)

On the field, October 2014. (J. Mirabelli Photography)

In other school related news, the pieces are beginning to fall into place for our 2017 trip to Europe. From our first student meeting in early October to now, we have come a long way in a short period of time. There are now 21 students enrolled on the trip, with a few more on a waiting list. We are hoping that our tour company, EF, can land us a larger bus so we can take those extra few students with us. Even though we are more than 800 days away from the trip, the excitement is building. Our tour will bring us together with thousands of other high school for this monumental event in Canadian history.

So with things having returned somewhat to normal, I’ve been trying to get back to some railway related matters. Interestingly enough, I’ve received a couple of emails in the last week that have helped me with that endeavour.

The first was a tweet rather than an email, but important nonetheless. The anniversary of Alexander Middleton’s birthday, who was the chief engineer and briefly president of the PAD&W, sparked some interest in his native Scotland. A number of back and forths later I had some new information about Middleton’s past before he began work on the railway.

A few days later I received another inquiry, this time related to my work on Leeblain. There is very little information about what occurred during its existence, but I may have gained a little more insight. The only know person to live at Leeblain was one Adolphe Perras, who previously operated a hotel in Port Arthur. The email I received from a lady in Winnipeg, who is descendant of Perras, has me looking in some new directions and might even lead to a photo of him.

While I’m away from school for a few weeks, I’m going to try and get back to some work on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. I still have quite a number of files (rather photos) from the Arpin Papers to transcribe, which I’ve started to pluck away at again. I’ve done a little digging on the internet, but I’m planning to get to the Thunder Bay Museum next week to do a little “ole fashioned” research.

Anyway, I gotta run, as there as is a lot to do before the big day. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and joyous New Year. I’ll be back in 2015 with more news and ramblings. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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The view from the Balcony

I think I’ve mentioned on many occasions that I love the Boundary Waters between Canada and the US; North and Gunflint Lakes are my favourite places in all of this area. It is probably the combination of remoteness, beauty and history that draw me to it and continues to do so. I’ve already been there a lot this year and I wish I could be there even more. If you’ve ever been there you’ll know what I’m referring to…it’s all in the view!

Sunrise, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Sunrise, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

So it is hard to believe that my vacation is already half over…where did the time go? I can answer my own question very easily though. I have not been home very much; this past week is my longest stretch I’ve been at home since school ended. Unfortunately the weather this year has not been very cooperative, with quite a bit of rain and crazy temperature swings. Hopefully things steady up for August.

So last week was a busy week for me on the railway front as I had a number of events on the go. Things got rolling on Sunday the 20th when I travelled down to Gunflint and the Chik-Wauk Museum for a presentation on the Paulson Mine and the railway. There was a good turnout on the front porch of the museum and the audience was very interested in the history of both enterprises; there were a lot of questions afterwards. This was my second appearance at Chik-Wauk and I decided this time around to place my focus more on the mine as opposed to the railway. You can watch the presentation online here.

My trip to down Gunflint had a dual purpose, the second of which was to do a bit of field exploration on a little project that I am working on. I mentioned in my last post that I am planning to write an article on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which was a little logging line that branched off the PAD&W at Little Gunflint Lake and travelled several miles into Minnesota. The last time I had done any extensive exploration of the G&LS was way back in 1997.

I was up very early on Monday the 21st as I wanted to get going before things got too hot. The temperatures were supposed to be close to 30C in the afternoon. My other big concern of the day was the wind; Gunflint Lake is over 11km long, very narrow and situated in a valley. When the wind picks up, especially from the west, the water gets very angry. My ride from the Cross River Lodge was slowed by the waves, which were already up at that time, but by 9:30 I was on the beach at the eastern end of the lake.

The first part of the day would involve following the G&LS grade north-east to where it intersected the PAD&W. I was last in this location in July 2011 and in addition to the timing, the weather was eerily similar. That time I walked 13km from Trestle Bay to the same sandy beach in some killer heat…I’m pretty sure I had heat exhaustion. Before the day was over, I would find myself in a similar situation.

Until the 1999 blowdown, the grade of the G&LS in Ontario was a nice little trail about 400 metres long. The blowdown and 2007 fire unfortunately did a number on it and I remembered how difficult it was to explore from my experience 3 years earlier. My plan was to hike to the PAD&W, cutting a trail and marking it for future exploration in the fall or next spring when it would be more visible without the leaves. It would be a little more challenging without my trusty machete (which first hiked with me in 1994) since I wasn’t comfortable taking it across the border. That left me with my K-Bar knife, another trusty friend, but its packs a little less punch than the machete.

It did not take me very long to realize that this would be a difficult journey. Away from the lake it was stifling hot in the bush, and the thick forest growth made it very difficult to cut a trail. Very quickly I was dripping in sweat and the mosquitoes and black flies were eating me alive (even active bug dope doesn’t last long with that kind of perspiration). It took me over 2 hours to cover all 800 metres, which is rather ridiculous (most people can walk that in 20 minutes).

After photographing the area where the grade crossed into Minnesota, I jumped into the boat for a 1.5km journey around the peninsula to where the railroad rounded a bay and crossed a small river. However, try as I might, I could not find a place to beach the boat to start the hike. I was forced to backtrack to the narrows between Gunflint and Little Gunflint. It was a bit of a challenge getting into to the narrows; this year with all the snow and rain, the water on the lakes is several feet above where it normally is. I had to fight a very strong current coming through the narrows before I could beach the boat.

Boundary Marker, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Boundary Marker, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS Crossing, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

It was after 1:00 when I started on the 750 metre journey along the twisting grade to the bridge crossing. This was going to be an interesting hike for me, as I was entering some “virgin” territory if you will. I had only ever hiked about 100 metres of this portion of the G&LS so I was excited to see what I would find. The only downside was that the wind had dropped and the temperature was climbing fast.

This section of the G&LS turned out to almost as bad as the one I had hiked in the morning. There was a lot of deadfall and new growth, but there was a lot to see as well. For a logging railroad, this part of the line was very well constructed. There were a few sizable rock cuts, and rock fill had been used in a number of places. Corduroyed logs were still visible in the water under parts of the grade, exactly where they were placed some 111 years ago. I did get sidetracked a little bit, losing the grade for a short distance until I backtracked and got myself going in the right direction. When I reached the river crossing, I was unable to continue following the grade to its end due to some wet ground; it would turn out to be mute a point anyway since I slightly miscalculated the exact location of the crossing.

G&LS grade, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS rock cut, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

The journey back was a bit of an ordeal since the heat was beginning to take a toll on my body. Despite drinking water and Gatorade to keep myself hydrated, my legs began to cramp trying to negiotiate all the fallen trees and brush. I really had to will myself back to the boat and it reminded me so much of my experience in 2011. When I later returned to the lodge the thermometer was showing 94F, which works out to be 34C and with the humidity it was nearly 45C!

Now despite the searing temperatures, I was not finished for the day. Back in 1997 I had identified a piece of “machinery” near the site of the logging camp along the G&LS. It turns out that this was not some random chunk of steel, but rather a gear shaft from a specialized locomotive known as a Shay. Made by the Lima Locomotive Works, Shays were used typically on logging railroads because of the heavy grades involved. The kind folks at shaylocomotives.com had helped my identify one of the engines used by the G&LS as SN-164, but they wanted me to measure the shaft to confirm it. Turns out this shaft was not from SN-164, but most likely from another loco SN-683.

Shay shaft, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Shay shaft, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Unfortunately my next day of exploring was a bit of a wash due to some heavy rain overnight and some pretty wicked winds on the lake. I did venture out after supper for a quick run (which is a relative term, since it is 6km away) to Leeblain. I had not been there since last August, so I figured it was time for a check in. My excitement very quickly turned to disappointment though; I was not very pleased at what I saw, but I’ll save that thought for my later.

Wednesday was my last day and even though I was leaving, I was hoping to make up for some lost time. I had to move quick though, as I needed to be home by the early evening. My first stop across the lake was the site of the river crossing just south of Monday’s hike. I beached the boat and poked around a bit looking for the where the grade resumed. I became very frustrated when I could not find anything, so I jumped back into the boat hoping to find some traces of the bridge. Turns out I could not find anything as I was looking about 15-20 feet too far west. I’ll have to get back when I have more time and when the water is lower to expand this find.

From the river I drove 2.5km southwest to where the Crab River empties into the lake. There a 600 metre trail that heads west toward a beautiful set of falls known as Bridal Falls and about 40 metres beyond that is the grade of the G&LS. I was last there in 2011 and the trail at that time was much easier to negotiate; this year’s weather left sections of the route very wet and muddy. However arriving at the falls was well worth the walk, but that would have to wait for later.

The falls had more water cascading over its rocks than I ever remember seeing, which made it a real challenge crossing over the river toward the railroad. Before the 2007 fire there was an amazing wood corduroy trestle beside the falls, but that is a story for another time. Starting at the top end of the former trestle, I worked my way up and south over the ridge toward Crab Lake. Eventually after about 200 metres the grade became too wet for me to follow so I decided to leave it for my return trip in the fall.

G&LS rock cut, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

G&LS rock cut, Gunflint Lake, July 2014.

Before I had to make my way back across the lake to the lodge I had a little spare time to do something that I haven’t been able to indulge in in recent years. Since I caught the “bug” in the early 1990’s, I have always loved photography. Before marriage and a family I had time to do both the railway and photography, but those times are long gone, so it is very rare that I have time these days to take photos. I found myself getting a little giddy as I snapped away!

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Bridal Falls, July 2014.

Now one of the biggest results of the whole trip was what I discovered at Leeblain. I didn’t have a lot of time to poke around, but I did check over the rock ovens. I found that two of the three remaining intact ovens had been tampered with. I don’t think it was a malicious act, but rather an attempt an individual (or individuals) to help? clean up the ovens. However at 122 years old and having been through a lot of turmoil in the past 15 years, this is not the type of interference they need. Unfortunately this is not the first example of someone trying to “help” these historic sites. I have followed this up with a series of emails; I’ll see what transpires.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Rock oven, Leeblain, July 2014.

Anyway, I better get rolling. There’s a lot to digest in this post, so I better save some for next time. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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And so it continues…

*Sigh* It seems like the more things change the more they stay the same. In my last post I wrote about how bloody cold it was and how tired I was of the weather. Well, guess what? Yup, it’s the same ‘ole story three weeks later. Yes, we did get a little reprieve in there, but come on! This has definitely been the crappiest winter I can remember. Now don’t get me wrong, I did sign up for this (as in I decided to live here), but there’s got to be a limit to it. It hasn’t been as cold as it was at the beginning of the month, but -41C is still flippin’ cold. We better have a kick-ass spring and summer to make up for all the BS we’ve been putting up with. Rant off!

So it’s almost the end of January and that means the end of another semester and the start of a new one. I finished marking all my exams and submitted my reports, so I’m done with the first half of the year. Yay! It’s not that I didn’t like my classes, but after 5 months it’s time for a change; new kids, new classes. A new semester always energizes you a bit, like a breath of fresh air in your sails. Second semester also means that we’re on the downward slide toward June and the end of the school year. Geez, it just keeps going by faster and faster every year!

One of the most exciting parts of moving into February is that we are inching ever closer to the March break Europe trip. One of the students stopped by room last week and said that when we started the countdown it was like 500 and something days before departure. Wow, time has certainly flown by! I am very anxious to go, but as the group leader I always have that bit of nervousness that accompanies a big event like this. The reality I guess is starting to set in. It’s probably just me though, just like I get nervous before every football game. In any case, our EF backpacks and trip water bottles have arrived, so all the little pieces are starting to fall into place. 35 days until we leave!

The craptastic weather we’ve been experiencing over the last month has certainly put a big damper on any outdoor activities one would expect to do in winter. So far I’ve only made it up the mountain twice since Christmas, and haven’t gotten out the last few weekends (see the reason above). I’m hoping that the -14C they are calling for Saturday is warm enough to get out and about, since Sunday is Superbowl Sunday and you know what that means! Yup, it’s time for the annual Superbowl party and I have a million things to do to get ready. It would be nice to squeeze in a little fresh air before I spend the day on Sunday cleaning up and preparing food. This is the first time in a while that I am not cheering for a particular team, since I actually like both Denver and Seattle. Maybe there will be some real football weather for this year’s edition ie. snow and cold!

Snow-obscured Loch Lomond, January 2014.

Snow-obscured Loch Lomond, January 2014.

So I actually have some things to report on the railway front for a change. I have some really exciting news to talk about, but I’ll save that for last. However it started me thinking about writing another article on a railway related topic, so I did spend time doing some research over the weekend. I’d like to write about the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which was a little logging line built by the Pigeon River Lumber Company in 1903. It connected to the PAD&W at Gunflint Lake and was in operation until 1909. It was very unique in that it was an American railroad that had no connection to any other American railroad; its only link was north through Canada. Very odd indeed.

The president of the G&LS was one Daniel J. Arpin of Wisconsin and I’ve been trying to track down a photo of him for some time. That led me off on a search for the gentlemen who manned the Canadian customs house at Gunflint between 1903 and 1909, Thomas Roberts and Peter Chausse. I’ve mentioned on several occasions that I love to do this type of investigation and see what I can come up with. It can be very frustrating at times, but also great when you make a big discovery. Most of my time was spent trying to scrounge up some pictures, which was fairly unsuccessful. But you never know though, maybe a breakthrough will come at some point.

While I was on the topic of the G&LS, I moved into looking at some maps of the area. Hiking the G&LS is on my agenda for this year, weather permitting, since I haven’t really looked at the Minnesota portion since 1997. It`s really too bad the amazing wood trestle near Bridal Falls is gone, as it was quite the sight to see (it burned in the 2007 Ham Lake Fire and had to be dynamited to put out the fire smoldering inside the logs). When I did walk the railway all those years ago, I did not follow the whole length of the line. The question I need to answer is where did it go from there. Documents suggest that the railway ran down to Crab Lake and then possibly a mile east to Whisker Lake. To help me locate the route, I turned to Lidar.

Gunflint & Lake Superior RR map, International Boundary Commission Map (1929).

Gunflint & Lake Superior RR map, International Boundary Commission Survey (1929).

Top of the G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

Top of the G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle, August 1997.

G&LS log trestle during the Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine)

G&LS log trestle during the Ham Lake Fire, May 2007. (T. Kaffine)

Remains of the G&LS log trestle, August 2011.

Remains of the G&LS log trestle, August 2011.

Lidar is a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to collect elevation and other data from the ground. It is very useful at finding old railway grades, especially where embankments and cuttings were made as they stand out in the ground around it. It`s not always perfect, especially in wet or low areas where the grade has settled into the ground, but it`s better that nothing. Hopefully it has given me a few clues as to where to look for the G&LS south of Bridal Falls; I guess we`ll find out in the fall when I`m planning to go there!

Lidar image, Gunflint Lake.

Lidar image, Gunflint Lake.

By far the most exciting news from the past week was the publication of my article on Leeblain. Yes, I am now officially an author and historian! It is amazing to see my work in print and out there so people can read what I’ve discovered. Unfortunately things are not all roses though; part of my article is missing from the 2013 edition of Papers & Records. After a bit of digging, we were able to determine that a little technical glitch omitted the last third of my article. However, the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society has graciously agreed to reprint it in their 2015 issue. Better late than never and maybe if they like my G&LS article, I’ll have two entries for the book!

Leeblain article, Papers & Records.

Leeblain article, Papers & Records.

Anyway, it’s time to run. I’ll be back in the next few weeks with more news…maybe the weather will have warmed up by that time. Until then…

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

 

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Okay, enough already!

Hey Old Man Winter! Ya, you! You’re a crotchity, cranky old buzzard and you suck! Geez, that’s a little harsh don’t you think Dave? Yes, yes it is and I mean every word of it. Hey, I understand that I decided to live in a northern climate, but this presses the limits of one’s tolerance. Really, could the weather be any worse? Well, the answer is yes, but not by much. The last month and half has been nothing but snow and cold. So yes, I am a bit bitter and rightly so. Am I pushing my luck with Karma? Maybe, but what have I got to lose?

Well, it’s been a month since my last post and the hot button topic has certainly been the weather. If you live anywhere in the central part of North America, you know exact what I’m talking about (Polar Vortex anyone?). The weather has been downright miserable of late, at times making me regret liking living here so much. Comes with the territory right? Yes, but come on? Does it have to be this cold? Last year I wrote that I had seen the lowest temperature I could remember; well guess what? Yup, it got even colder! Twice last week my home temperature record was broken; first at -38.2C, then a few days later at -39C. With the wind it was -51C one of those days! We were the coldest place in Canada! Seriously? Thunder Bay is at 48 degrees north…there are a helluva a lot of places farther north than us and we were the coldest place! I am certainly not alone in my current disdain for the weather, but hope is on the horizon. The forecast is calling for -2C on the weekend. -2! Holy crap! I might have to break out my shorts for that!

-38.2C, December, 2013.

-38.2C, December 2013.

-39C, January 2014.

-39C, January 2014.

So Christmas break has come and gone and I am now back at work. Ugh! It seems like every year the break goes by faster and faster; the two weeks seemed like a blur! I know the kids enjoyed it and Santa Claus was very good to them. I guess I can’t complain though, since Santa brought me a present too…I got the awesome Sean Lee throwback jersey I wanted! It certainly offset the fact that I passed a not-so-great milestone birthday. Yes, I turned the big 4-0! Everyone kept asking me how it felt to be forty; how do you answer that? I felt the same as I did when I was 39! It’s not like I suddenly became decrepit on my birthday. You’re only as old as you feel right?

Sean Lee throwback jersey!

Sean Lee throwback jersey!

The return to work has brought me back to that ever-present pile of marking that never seems to diminish. I know I’ll get it cleared up soon since exams and the end of the semester are just around the corner. Also keeping me busy is the fact that the Europe trip is coming up quick…March seems like a long way away but it isn’t. There is so much to do. I applied for a new passport over Christmas, and now I’m collecting forms, planning meetings and buying water bottles. Was I this busy the last time? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that in 2012 there were 7 students and now there are 22. I am very excited to go, but also nervous in the fact that I want to make sure all the bases are covered. 57 days until departure!

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, April 2012.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, April 2012.

The railway front has been a bit up and down since I last wrote. As usual, time is the biggest detriment in terms of getting anything substantial done. Over the break I finally finished posting all my summer/fall hiking photos and video to Facebook and YouTube, which was long overdue. Hopefully I don’t fall behind like that again. I did spend a little time doing some research during Christmas, mostly looking for some photos of people associated with the construction of the railway (George & Alexander Middleton, Ross Thompson). I certainly love the challenge of trying to dig up these images, but at times it can be very frustrating when you`re making no headway. Places like Ancestry are a very valuable tool, but so far the pictures are eluding me!

So my biggest piece of railway news is the anticipated release of the Thunder Bay Museum`s Paper and Records. I`m really excited to see my first published article in print! It should be ready anytime soon and hopefully it will be the start of more written pieces on my part. I was hoping to begin work on another piece about the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, but I just didn`t get around to it over the break. I`m sure to find some time for it over the next few months. We`ll see what happens!

Anyway, time to go. I’ll have more to say in the coming weeks, but for now you can enjoy my 100th post! Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2014 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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The Ghost Town of Gunflint

Very mysterious. Murder? Intrigue? Failed dreams? Sounds like it would be the title of a cool book huh? Maybe something you would have found in the Hardy Boys collection. But this is no work of fiction. Many do not know it even existed, partly because its tenure was so brief. Much of what was there is veiled in a cloak of mystery and it does not give up its secrets easily. Historical and archeological investigation has offered a few glimpses into life at this remote frontier village that was poised to become a metropolis in the wilderness. Its story has certainly captivated me and will continue to do so for some time.

So here we are; we have just passed the halfway point of June. Summer is just around the corner and so is vacation. There are only 2 more days of classes before exams and the end is in sight. I still have a bit of marking to finish, but once that happens I am in the clear. It will be nice to not have to worry about assignments, marks and or even getting up early. It has been a long semester and I really need to recharge the battery.

Now speaking of vacation, I am very excited about our upcoming plans for the month of July. For many years my brother, who lives in Toronto, has been bugging my wife and I to bring the boys for a visit. The boys are also getting older (8 and 6), and the window is rapidly closing for us to do “kid” things with them. So we made the decision that we would “kill two birds with one stone” and do Toronto and Disney in one shot. We’ll be driving to Toronto, head to Disney for 12 days and then spend some time in Toronto before returning home. Should be an awesome time!

So what’s the ghost town stuff? Did you go to the old west or something? Well, as you probably guessed from the title, the ghost town is a real place on Gunflint Lake. Leeblain…you may have heard me mention it a few times in the past (just a few). Anyway, though I’ve been to the site of this former “town” on many occasions in the past, I had never really explored where many of the “buildings” were located (mostly because I didn’t know where they were). What I found was very exciting and makes me want to go back as soon as possible.

I was up bright and early on Friday morning, which was very tough considering I had a late night on Thursday (we had our school convocation ceremonies and then it was out for a drink and some conversation). I didn’t get to bed until 1:00, so I was pretty tired when I rolled out of bed a 6:00. Why was I going hiking on Friday you ask? Well, I had the day off; I get one free day off per year (personal day) and I usually take it on this day since the kids have a PD day at their school.

After loading up my stuff and the dog in the truck, I had to zip over to my mom’s where the boys had spent the night (mom and dad were both at grad). From there it was supposed to be a 2 hour drive to Gunflint, which ended up taking me 20 extra minutes since the road is so rough. I was in a bit of a hurry since I was supposed to meet up with Bruce and Sue Kerfoot at the site. Bruce grew up on the lake, and is very familiar with the historic locations in the area. It was Bruce, through his own explorations and those of his mother Justine and the local natives, who told me about the other buildings at the site.

I arrived just after 10:00, very apologetic to Bruce and Sue who were waiting for me. The road in is so rough that one must drive slow, but it is also very picturesque. I always like to stop just north of Magnetic Lake, where the road begins a long decent from the surrounding ridges down to the lake. Here, at an elevation of nearly 1800ft, you are afforded a spectacular view of the lakes and area; it makes for some great photos. Definitely God’s Country for sure!

Gunflint Road above Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Gunflint Road above Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Gunflint Lake, June 2013.

Gunflint Lake, June 2013.

Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Magnetic Lake, June 2013.

Once I got to the lake we began our explorations. Unfortunately for everyone, the area we were exploring was not as pristine as it once was. I was at Leeblain in 1997, but I did not know to look for remains in this particular spot. Two years later, in 1999, the Boundary Waters was hit by a large storm called the Boundary Waters-Canadian Derecho (derecho means straight line wind). The storm caused massive blowdowns throughout the area, including Leeblain. The Canadian side of Gunflint was then logged to remove the deadfall lest it provide dry tinder for a forest fire. The falling trees and then the logging disturbed much of the site, so finding things wouldn’t be as easy as it once was.

Bruce and I were going to look for the most obvious remains, which were those of a two-storey “hotel/trading post” located along the beach, some 120 metres southeast of the railway grade. Just a couple of metres off the beach, Bruce showed me two large depressions in the ground, oriented north to south. They were about a metre deep and separated from each other by about a metre and a half. Bruce had deduced that these were the cold storage cellars below the hotel. Some of the “walls” of the hotel could be made out (mostly small mounds now), and they were littered with nails. This building would have had quite a breathtaking view of the lake!

Beach north of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Beach north of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Beach south of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Beach south of the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cold cellar, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cold cellar, Leeblain, June 2013.

Nails at the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Nails at the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

View of the lake from the hotel, Leeblain, June 2013.

Several metres west of the hotel one finds a small trough or ditch in the ground. A few metres in length, it deepens as it runs west and ends in another depression surrounded by mound walls. Bruce had suspected that this was a root cellar, with the trough being the ramp into it and a wood structure above it. I found a few items in it, but most appeared to be more recent additions to the area.

The hotel is the subject of most of the mystery at Leeblain; as a two-storey structure, it must have been quite a large building. However, it is not shown on the best map we have of the area done in 1911; in fact only one of the 9 buildings at Leeblain is on that map, presumably what is the station near the railway siding. The evidence that Bruce provided me with (both his own discoveries and what was told to him by local natives) and what I saw with my own eyes clearly indicates that the structure was there…so what happened to it? That same 1911 map reveals a collection of structures at Gunflint Narrows near Magnetic Lake. An article written by Bruce’s mother Justine in the 1960’s mentions a station, hotel and customs house at the Narrows. My theory is that the structure was abandoned or moved to that location sometime between 1893 and 1911.

Western Gunflint Lake, International Boundary Map 1931 (1911).

Western Gunflint Lake, International Boundary Map 1931 (1911).

Bruce and I looked around unsuccessfully for some of the other structures in the vicinity, but that search may have to wait until the fall when the leaves are down. We were joined on our exploration by friend and amateur archeologist Harold Alanen who has spent a lot of time on the lake. After Bruce and Sue left to return to Gunflint Lodge, Harold and I began the next phase of our search with the metal detector. Our previous visit to the area last August turned up some very fascinating items under the ground and this time was no exception. Tons of nails, cups, pots, a pry bar and the big prize, a skate blade, all reveal glimpses of life in this turn of the century settlement. Maybe the video I shot does everything more justice.

Pot?, Leeblain, June 2013.

Pot?, Leeblain, June 2013.

Skate blade, Leeblain, June 2013.

Skate blade, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cup, Leeblain, June 2013.

Cup, Leeblain, June 2013.

Pry bar, Leeblain, June 2013.

Pry bar, Leeblain, June 2013.

It was another very successful visit and our discoveries make me eager to return and find more. I obviously cannot turn back the clock and repair the past damage, but I am quite determined to preserve and protect this very important piece of our history. I am working both through the Historical Society and on my own to accomplish this goal. I know that it is a slow and tedious process but one that needs to be done. Maybe awareness is part of the battle; maybe my words, images and video are making a difference. Only time will tell.

Anyway, it’s time to move on…marking to finish! It will be a quiet couple of weeks as I won’t be able to get out hiking for a few weeks (I need to catch up on some stuff around the house). However, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Soaring eagles and killer blackflies!

I was lucky to get out with my life. They were huge, and there were a lot of them…actually clouds of them. It was like a scene out of the Walking Dead; hordes of blood-thirsty man-eaters looking for blood. They were inescapable, around you wherever you went and did. And no matter how many you killed, there were always more swarming around you. My body bears the scars of my harrowing escape-scars that have not yet healed.

Facetious, always; funny, maybe; based on a true story; you betcha! Hope you like my attempt at literary wit. So I’m back kids! After a well-deserved week break, I’ve returned to the keyboard, more or less in one piece. Obviously I’ve been referring to the swarms of mosquitoes and black flies I encountered on my expedition this weekend (the bites of which I am still scratching while I type). The respite was nice; I was actually too busy to write more than anything else. But we’ll just say it was a vacation.

So speaking of vacation, there’s only 7 days left until exams…halleluiah!  I know, I know, poor teacher, two whole months of holidays to worry about. I need a break though. The last few weeks have been crazy and very stressful; I need to get away for a bit and recharge the battery. Even as I sit here and write my head is pounding and I’m thinking about the essays beside me I need to mark. I guess soon enough I’ll be able to clear my mind and just focus on my family and some me stuff for a while.

One of the things that kept me from writing last week was our annual spring football camp. I know it was only three days, but it does take up quite a bit of time in what is already a very hectic period. It was worth it though; 26 Grade 9’s and 8’s came out to prepare for next season. We did a couple of days of drills followed by a game of two-hand touch to wrap up the camp. I always love that last day as the coaches get involved as well…it’s nice to be out on the field for a change. I had a ton of fun-had a big stretch pass break-up and a pick six, but boy did my body hate me the next day! My hip flexors were so tight I could barely walk. Must be getting old! On a positive note, we have finally moved the program into the next arena of social media; you can now visit us on Facebook!

On Saturday I finally made it out to my second railway “hike” of the year. I use the term hike lightly, as there wasn’t a heck of a lot of walking done, mostly exploring you could say. This adventure took me and the boys back to the North Lake area, somewhere we hadn’t been since last spring. That trip took us to Little North Lake (west of North Lake) in search of telegraph poles and insulators. I made a big discovery of an intact insulator still attached to the wire beside the rotten remains of the pole; I was determined to find more.

The drive to North Lake is about 105km from my house, which normally takes about an hour and a half. However, since I was going to be towing my boat, I would need to drive a bit slower this time around. It was a beautiful morning and the lake was very calm and tranquil. By 10:30 we were heading west across the lake toward Trestle Bay. My newer, bigger boat made the 4.5km journey much quicker and in 10 minutes we had arrived at the site of the once mighty 1000 foot trestle that spanned the bay.

North Lake, June 2013.

North Lake, June 2013.

I always love visiting Trestle Bay, and while I’m there try to imagine what the trestle used to look like that spanned this long bay. The water is very clear and the depth is fairly shallow (9-15ft), so on a calm day you can clearly make out everything resting on the bottom. In addition to pilings and rails, there is a 1952 Pontiac sitting submerged on the side of a large rock bed (the chrome is still shiny). It’s a bit of a mystery as to how it got there.

Trestle Bay, June 2013.

Trestle Bay, June 2013.

Eastern abutment, Trestle Bay, June 2013.

Eastern abutment, Trestle Bay, June 2013.

1952 Pontiac, June 2013.

1952 Pontiac, June 2013.

Heading from the east side to the west is very neat, but also very freaky. There are still pilings that jut upward from the bottom, massive 12+ inch logs still in their place 121 years after being driven through the mud to the bed rock. It’s kinda fascinating to see. Last year I was sent an image that was taken from the air in 2007 when the lake level was very low (the rock bed that today is 3 feet under water was above the surface). It almost appears as if the trestle is still there, hiding below the water.

Piling, June 2013.

Piling, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Pilings, June 2013.

Trestle Bay, July 2007 (B. Rushton).

Trestle Bay, July 2007 (B. Rushton).

From Trestle Bay we headed west toward the end of the lake and into the narrows that leads to Little North Lake. That area of the boundary waters is always breathtaking and on Saturday it was no exception. As we neared Little North I could see eagles soaring through the sky, looking for a meal or roused from their perch by the sound of our boat. I even caught one is the distance as I snapped a picture of the lake. I always wish I could spend more time on the lakes to see and experience their natural beauty.

Little North Lake, June 2013.

Little North Lake, June 2013.

A few minutes later we arrived at the end of Little North, where the water spills westward through a small creek into Little Gunflint Lake. It was at this spot, presumably during the construction of the railway in 1892 (there is no definitive mention of it), that one of the most unique objects in the railway history was built. The creek itself is not very wide (and it looks as if its course was altered by the engineers), so they fashioned a marine railroad to move boats carrying supplies between the two lakes.

Small rails were laid across the spit of land between in the two lakes on the Minnesota side. A small cart with railway wheels was fashioned, attached to a manually operated capstan. This allowed the laden boats to be winched across to Little Gunflint, thus keeping the work crews far from the rail head well supplied.

I was hoping to get some good video of what is left of the tracks and capstan, as well as the creek itself. However the water was high from our recent rains and so I decided to postpone until later in the year when the lake levels are lower.

Marine Railroad, Little North Lake, June 2013.

Marine Railroad, Little North Lake, June 2013.

Creek between Little North and Little Gunflint Lakes, June 2013.

Creek between Little North and Little Gunflint Lakes, June 2013.

After poking around for a while, we made our way back east about 600m. Just off a small bay on Little North was a spot where I had previously found a telegraph pole and the map also indicated that there were at one time some buildings. I had found a very well preserved telegraph pole (they were put up in 1903) in this spot back in 1997. At that time, the crossbeam was still attached to the pole. When I saw it again in 2011, time had taken its toll and the crossbeam had fallen off. I don’t normally grab too much stuff when I hike the railway, but I decided that this object would soon fall apart and it might be worthwhile to save it and get it into a museum or something. God, I feel like Indiana Jones…”it belongs in a museum!”

Telegraph crossbeam, June 2013.

Telegraph crossbeam, June 2013.

I did poke around for some remains of buildings north of the grade. I figured that these buildings were the Ontario Forest Ranger cabins indicated on another old map. I didn’t see any foundations or anything, but it has been a long time. I did find some old cans, but it’s tough to spend a lot of time in one place, especially when you have young kids with you.

Back in the boat we went another 1000m back toward the east end of the lake. It was at this spot that I had found the intact insulator. My goal was to grab some of the wire (to preserve the authenticity of it) and maybe find more poles and insulators.

When we arrived at the spot, I grabbed the piece of attached wire and immediately began following the rest of the wire through the bush. It is rather tough, since the wire in many cases has been on the ground so long that trees have now grown over it. The initial piece led to a dead end, as did another piece I found a short distance away. About 150m to the east I found a shard of an insulator beside a round hole in the ground, which could have held the pole. The bush then became very grown in, so I decided to turn around and head west.

I walked about 150m west from the previous site until it once again became very dense growth. I was a bit disappointed, but I thought that I should retrace my steps, this time a little closer to the grade. My perseverance paid off, for lying next to a tree and previously hidden from my view was another intact insulator (the tree had grown on top of the wire). This time I snapped off the wire away from the insulator and coiled it around a tree branch for easier retrieval. I obviously was quite excited by the find and it makes me want to go back and look for even more. I need to get a metal detector so I can find the poles and wire in the ground!

Insulator, June 2013.

Insulator, June 2013.

After my great find I realized it was now getting close to 2 o’clock, so we needed to head back to the truck. Our decision was helped by swarms of black flies that had made walking around insufferable, despite an ample application of bug dope. It was also quite hot along the closed-in railway grade, so it felt good to get out on the open lake. Loading the boat also became quite the ordeal, as we were beset by more blackflies and mosquitoes. This is where I probably acquired most of my battlescars that I spoke so eloquently about earlier.

Little North Lake (ON left, MN right), June 2013.

Little North Lake (ON left, MN right), June 2013.

Unlike the two previous hikes/adventures of this year, I have a very short turnaround between trips this week. I have the day off on Friday, so I will be driving down to Leeblain on Gunflint Lake to do some exploring of what remains of some of the buildings that made up that ghost town. I’m pretty excited to see what turns up, though the drive diminishes some of that zeal. The road into Leeblain is one of the worst ones I’ve ever experienced and I don’t relish my trips over it. The last 20 miles into the lake are particularly pleasant and enjoyable!

Anyway, time to go; lots of things to do. Of course I’ll have tons of news and pictures for next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing

 

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