Tag Archives: PD Railway

Saving a piece of history

So I’m breaking with my usual tradition of Tuesday night posts, but this is a special edition of my blog. I wasn’t going to write until next week since I just came back from vacation, but I was spurred to write because of something happening related to the railway.

The Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway officially began operations in June of 1893 and the last passenger train rolled over the tracks of the Canadian National Railways-North Lake Subdivision (as it was called at the time) in March 1938. It has been 75 years since the Iron Horse rolled through the Lakehead, along the banks of the Kaministiquia River and into the Whitefish Valley to Mackies (and beyond). Very few substantial pieces of the railway are left after all these years; only the bridge over the Kaministiquia between Stanley and Harstone and the Silver Mountain Station remain.

In the spring it was brought to my attention that plans were afoot to replace the bridge with a new structure. The current bridge is not the original 1889-1890 Howe Truss bridge (it was swept away by ice in 1893), but a 1922 concrete and steel replacement built by CN. That makes it 91 years old! Time and the elements have taken their toll however, and the structure does have some deficiencies. After making some inquiries, I was assured that it would be repaired, not replaced.

Things quickly changed this week however. I was told that the Municipality of Oliver-Paipoonge was again weighing the costs of replacement versus repair. As I understand the situation (to the best of my knowledge), replacing the bridge will cost upwards of $5 million dollars; repairing it will be half that amount. Obviously the trade-off is that repair work on the structure will again be required in 20 or so years.

In this day and age, fiscal prudence is of the utmost importance. Obviously spending the money now and replacing the bridge makes the most financial sense. However, as I outlined in a letter to the Municipal council, what price do we put on our cultural and historical landmarks? This bridge, and by extension the railway, represent an important link to our collective history; the railway was the main reason why many of the places southwest of Thunder Bay now exist.

Over the past 75 years, far too many traces of this railway have disappeared, overtaken by time and progress. Is this bridge to be the latest victim? As a history teacher and historian, I know that nothing is ever infinite. However I think we owe it to those intrepid railway builders and early pioneers and to our children, to do everything in our power to preserve pieces of history such as this. As is often said, without our history, who are we?

Kaministiquia Bridge, July 2010.

Kaministiquia Bridge, July 2010.

I have started an online petition, asking that the Mayor and Council of Oliver-Paipoonge make every effort to save the bridge and preserve this important piece of history. After reading this post, I would ask that you give serious consideration to signing the petition. Once history has been erased, we cannot get it back.

I’ll be back next week with my usual Tuesday blog. Until then…

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Posted by on July 31, 2013 in History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Writing


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December already?

Remember when you were a kid and time seemed to drag? Summer vacation used to last forever and it would take an eternity to get to Christmas; now you blink and it’s gone! That’s how I feel right now. The past three months have been a blur…that probably has more to do with the fact it has been the busiest fall of my life (work, football, kids activities) than anything else. I just remarked to my Grade 11’s that there is only three weeks until Christmas and a few more when we get back; then the semester is done-wow! It gets faster and faster every year. Is it because I’m getting older and older? Second semester always goes by more quickly, especially since the days get longer and the weather gets nicer. This year I’ll also be in Europe for 8 days, so I’m sure that will help expedite things.

Speaking of Europe, I am in the process of organizing the first parent meeting for the trip. I can’t believe that the trip is in about 120 days; April seems so far away, but it will fly by! There is so much planning to do, and unfortunately I am doing it by myself. I do have the benefit of working with teachers our sister school who are travelling with along with us, but since this is my first experience in this type of activity, I am a bit intimidated by the whole process. Oh well, it is a learning curve right now, but I guess I’ll know exactly what to expect when Vimy 2017 rolls around!

On the football front, I’ve almost finished putting together the football highlight video. Well, I should clarify; I’ve pretty much chosen the clips that I want to use for the video, which is about 80% of the job. It does take some time to sort through eight games worth of tape and pick what I’d like to use. Now all I have to is plunk the clips in some sort of order and add some music. I should have it ready to go for next week’s coaches wrap-up.

With that almost out-of-the-way, I can start working on the article. Surprisingly I feel somewhat calm about the whole thing (although part of me is completely petrified). Even though I’ve come up with a rough outline of where I want to go with it, I still need to work out the finer details. I think part of my difficulty might stem from the fact that this article will be written for a non-Canadian publication. There is a certain bit of Canadiana and northern nuances that go along with this railway that our friends south of the border may not understand. Trying to explain that in the limited space of the article might be a bit of an issue, but I guess that will hopefully work itself out.

On the research front, I’ve spent some of my spare time looking up a hodgepodge of things, from newspaper articles to Minnesota individuals. Yesterday I started off looking up Kristian Kortgaard and then somehow ended up on Matthew Walsh. On the positive side, I think I’ve tracked down a photo of Walsh. That would mean I’ve collected photographs of all the promoters of the Paulson Mine and the PAD&W of Minnesota. Now to get my butt in gear and start banging off some book chapters; I think the best place to start (after I write the article) is with silver mining. This is one of the few sections where I think I’ve completed all the necessary research. Should be an interesting Christmas break with the writing and some home renos on tap…I’m sure they will find their way into my musings.

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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Christmas Trees, Grey Cup, Football Highlights and Pierre Berton

So I spent a very interesting Sunday. After cleaning up some of the snow that fell on Saturday, it was that time of the year to put up the Christmas decorations. Needless to say my boys Ethan and Noah were ecstatic, probably more so about the approach of the season that about the tree(s) coming out. Had I had more time, I would have done my part which is to put up the lights outside. Unfortunately some of my talents were needed inside and I also had plans for later in the day.

The last Sunday in November is traditionally a football day here in Canada as it is playing of the Grey Cup. For those of you outside Canada, football here means the gridiron (not soccer) and the Grey Cup is the Superbowl of the Canadian Football League. This year was the 99th installment of this great tradition and since 1992 my good friend Dave (yes, another Dave; there are three of us!) has hosted a Grey Cup party. Unfortunately my Eskimos were not in the big game, but it is a good excuse to get together with the guys (btw, BC beat Winnipeg 34-23).

Speaking of football, much of my time over the last few days has been devoted to putting together a highlight video of our past season. I use this video for recruiting in the off-season and for promoting our program. I know the kids also love to watch the video; keep an eye out for it in the next week or so on YouTube.

My railway work over the past few days has consisted of a mixed bag of things. In preparation for writing the article, I pulled some material from my files regarding the need for railways in Canada and how it became part of our national identity. I also busted out my copy of Pierre Berton’s The National Dream as it had some great stuff about Canada’s enchantment with railways.

I’ve also spent some time doing a little light research on the net. It is very interesting how you can find yourself bouncing around from subject to subject as you get ideas or some other sort of inspiration. I found myself on Saturday night looking up some material on John Paulson; I was able to find a few good tidbits. First, Paulson was involved in another railway project before his Paulson Mine days called the Lake Superior, Willmar and Dakota Railway (I have no idea if it was ever built). My other interesting development was stumbling upon a website for the Eagle Lake Lutheran Church, where Paulson’s brother Ole was pastor for 11 years. The site talks about how many parishioners moved to the Willmar area from Carver County after the Civil War.

Yesterday I found myself vainly trying to find information about the establishment of the customs house at Leeblain. At the same time this city was being abandoned (trains stopped running to Gunflint in 1903), the Pigeon River Lumber Company was starting its operations at the east end of Gunflint Lake. They built a short logging railroad called the Gunflint and Lake Superior and both US and Canadian governments established customs houses in the area. The office on the Canadian side became know as Leeblain (even though it was several miles away from the original location). It was opened in July 1903 and closed in April 1909 (it was moved to North Lake). Unfortunately I could only find a short excerpt on the net; I’ll need to try to get a copy of the Acts of Parliament for 1909.

There was one curious and unexpected revelation that came from my digging yesterday. I had heard stories that there was a gold exploration north of Leeblain during the 1890’s; I believe it was Justine Kerfoot who first told me about this. I found a report from the Ontario Bureau of Mines that mentions this small development. Maybe at some point I will have to try to locate this shaft, but given its location it might be quite the undertaking. I’ll be sure to write about the mine if I ever get there.

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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Here I go…

So on Thursday I made a trip to the library to try to find a book related to the Paulson Mine. Through my communications with Clark in North Dakota, we were able to unravel a good part of the life of John Paulson. Apparently he had a brother, Ole, who wrote part of his life’s experiences in a book titled, “Memoirs: Reminiscences of a Pioneer Pastor in America, 1850-1885.” According to Clark there are some references to his brother John which I am really eager to read about. Our communications also helped us find two photos of Paulson; one from his Civil War days as a Private in the 9th Minnesota Infantry and another as an older man returning to Willmar, MN. Hopefully I can get the book!

Now that I have more time for railway matters, one of my goals is to resume posting videos from my archives. I’ve already uploaded 3 of these videos; Gunflint Railway, Gunflint Mines and the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I still have a whole bunch of clips from my 1997 North-Gunflint Lake trip and 1998 field work to sort through. Makes for a great trip down memory lane! First however I have to edit the 2011 football highlight video, which will take a bit of time.

In the meantime I had a chance to put together an outline for the article I’m planning to write with Lee Johnson. I think the hardest part will be saying everything in 2500 words. Brevity isn’t always the easiest thing to adhere to when you’re writing about 12 years of railway history. In my planned book this will take up five chapters, but I only have eight pages to work with! I just have to remind myself that this is just an article and not the real thing. With any luck I’ll get a chance to start writing this week.

On another note, plans for our school’s Vimy Ridge trip are coming together. I will be leading a group of 6 students on an eight day trip to Europe over Easter in junction with our sister school St. Ignatius. I’m pretty pumped for this trip as we get to visit Paris, Dieppe, Juno Beach, the Somme, Ypres and of course Vimy Ridge on the 95th anniversary of the battle. These places are on my bucket list; I’m sure my wife is happy that I’ll be taking care of this now and not dragging her along when we retire! I will post more details as we get closer to our travel date.


Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Life after football

Well, now that football has ended for another year (albeit on a disappointing note; we lost 20-13 in the championship game) I will have more time to devote to research. I’d like to resume writing book chapters (with the material I have-there’s still a lot more to be researched), but I actually have a small side project that I will be working on.

Even though I’ve done all this research over the years, I have never had anything published; well, maybe that will change. I’ve been very fortunate to meet some great people over the last 17 years who share my passion for history and particularly the history of this area. Last March I approached Superior National Forest archeologist and fellow historian Lee Johnson about sharing research material. Lee had contacted me several years back when the US Forest Service decided to use the 2007 Ham Lake to create a new hiking trail along the old railway right of way in Minnesota (Centennial Trail) and we have kept in touch since. As part of our collaborative research, Lee proposed the idea of co-authoring an article about the railway and the Paulson Mine for the Minnesota History Magazine.

I immediately jumped on the idea, but truth be told I was (and still am) a little nervous. I’ve written a lot of papers, articles, etc. over my academic and teaching career, but I’ve never done anything of this magnitude. Fear of the unknown? However, I guess it’s like writing a big essay. Maybe because this is my first scholarly article I am a bit apprehensive, especially since I don’t really regard myself as an academic. I am extremely knowledgable about the subject, but I always think that this is the stuff that doesn’t fit my mold. I’m sure I’ll be fine, but since there is already a book out there about the railway, it’s like there is something hanging over my head.

So if I can find some time this week I’ll start working on the outline for this article. Lee and I will have to spend some time working out the fine details, since I’m only writing half of the article. Hopefully I can start writing before Christmas and with any luck this article will be out in the second half of 2012. Maybe this will lead to other opportunities; I’ve considered writing an article about Leeblain for the Thunder Bay Historical Society’s Papers  & Records. Maybe that’s next on the list!

On a related note, I had a few research highlights in the last few weeks. Working with a fine gentleman from North Dakota named Clark, I’ve received a few more tidbits about the life of John Paulson. I also received a response from the Queen’s Own Rifles Museum in Toronto (located at Casa Loma) regarding a request for a picture of A.B Lee Jr I sent in a letter for back in September. The scan was from a book (and I already had the pic) but the resolution was much better. Now I just have to track down photos of J.F. Eby and David Blain and I’ll have the entire Toronto Syndicate. Happy hunting to me!


Posted by on November 21, 2011 in Research


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