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I just want to go hiking with my dog!

I just want to go hiking with my dog!

Has it been a year already? Yup, it’s been longer than that unfortunately. Twelve months ago no one could have foreseen what has transpired in that time. Sigh! Like me, you’re all likely suffering from Covid fatigue, and it has certainly turned the spotlight on mental health. I know I am struggling at times like everyone else, and there are moments I just want to do one thing…

Hey kids, I’m finally back! I know it’s been another long stretch since I last wrote, but as I’ve already stated, it’s been tough to keep motivated. Hopefully all of you have been keeping safe during this difficult time. I feel like a hermit in my house, but I’m a firm believer that we need to stay the course to get through this pandemic. I find it quite frustrating that there are still people who cannot fathom that this is real and continue to flaunt the health requirements/mandates such as masks and physical distancing. Obviously, they do not know their history, since pandemics have been around since the beginning of time and will continue to do so in the future. But I digress.

So, you’re probably wondering how school is going? Well, it is, kinda. Since my last post, we’ve gone through quite the stretch. The lockdown the province started in late December became a stay at home order, which affected a number of things, primarily work. With that order in place, we were told to work from home the first week in January. Then, later that month, we began working from home in the afternoons to minimize the number of people in the building. That lasted until mid-February. For the most part, cases here in our city were relatively low; then they exploded. The local health unit shutdown the schools for two weeks starting at the beginning of March. Guess what? We’re still at home! Two weeks became four, then six. The provincial government pushed the spring break to mid-April, so we’re supposed to return to school on the 19th to start the new quadmester, but that might be in doubt. Cases of the new variants have gone through the roof and the whole province has moved into the “grey” zone (which we are already in). What that means for schools after the break no one knows.

I must say it has been a huge challenge teaching from home. It is nice rolling out of bed and doing my lessons in shorts and a t-shirt. However, it is an awful way to teach. The kids are shutting down and there’s not many ways to make virtual learning more exciting. And it’s tough for us too. As a teacher, you feed off of the interaction with the students, which is non-existent when you’re staring at a bunch of black tiles. At first the kids at least responded, but now they don’t really speak either, so I spend my day talking to myself. The good news is that this was my busy quadmester, and I only teach one class for the fourth quadmester; I can breathe a bit heading into summer.

Okay, you know I’m going to bring it up so I might as well get to it…the weather. The weather has been relatively okay. Really? Ya, really. We did have a brutal 10 day or so span in mid-February where we were beset with the dreaded polar vortex. I don’t think I remember that many consecutive days of such frigid temperatures, like -30C frigid temperatures. Yuck! Since then, it’s been pretty good. It actually seemed like we would have an early snow melt with some warm weather the last few weeks, but unfortunately, we’ve had a bit of a setback with some snow and chilly temperatures. It has bounced back up this past weekend, so hopefully the snow will all disappear sooner than later and we can get on with spring.

Polar vortex cold, February 2021.
Early spring thaw, March 2021.
Early spring snowfall, March 2021.

Speaking of spring, it can’t come soon enough. With the Covid situation, I haven’t been out hiking since early January. Now, that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle. I’ve been working hard updating this site again with a lot of new information, so please look around. I’ve also been doing a lot of plotting. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a busy hiking season planned, fingers crossed! I’ve revised my list and have 28 hikes of various sorts that I’d like to do…so, ya, I’ll be staying out of trouble. I just want to get out there with Luna!

I’m also looking forward to better weather and hiking because I have a new toy. I’ve been diligently saving my pennies and I finally was able to buy myself a drone. A drone? Yes, because I don’t do enough on my hikes taking pictures and video that I needed also to be able to take them from the air, right? I know, it seems a bit much, but there are so many places that I want to get photos and video from a different perspective or just can’t get from the ground. One in particular is the Blende River Viaduct. While some people are crazy enough to cross it, it is fenced off and I’m not crazy. Therefore, my only option is from the air.

My drone is a DJI Mavic Air 2, which has some really cool features including HDR video and a 48 megapixel camera. Here in Canada you have to register any drone over 250 grams with Transport Canada and take either a basic or advanced flying exam. I’ve registered the drone and done the basic exam, so all I need is more flying time. Unfortunately, I cannot fly it at my house, since I live close enough to the airport that I’m within restricted airspace. So, I have to go to camp to do any flying for the time being. As the weather warms I’ll be out there more often, so I’m sure I’ll get more flying experience soon enough.

Drone shot, April 2021.

Anyway, I think it’s time to move on. As usual I’ll be back as soon as I can with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2021 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research

 

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Extra Credit I “The Beginning”

Extra Credit is new video series that examines topics related to history in the Thunder Bay District and exploring that history.

This first episode in the series details how I became interested in local history more than 30 years ago and how that journey has led to the videos that you see on my channel today. If you have suggestions or ideas for future episodes, leave them in the comment section. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2021 in History, Railway, Video

 

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A new year, a hope!

A new year, a hope!

Almost sounds like it would be a title for a great movie doesn’t it? I should come up with a plot and write a movie based on it don’t you think? Maybe it would make me famous and rich, and then I could do all my history stuff fulltime. Why didn’t I think of this earlier? Talk about completely missing the ship or what!

Hey kids, I’m back! I know, I know, I was supposed to be back a month ago, but I have an excuse…I was busy. Never heard that one before, right? It’s a well-worn rationalization, but that’s all I got. In all honesty, I haven’t been my usual insanely busy self, but rather it’s how I’ve chosen to spend my time. I have not been writing because I’ve been working away on this website. There are no dramatic changes, but there’s been some important updates to some the sections and the menus. Take a look around!

I guess I would be remiss if I did not wish everyone a Happy 2021! I don’t even have to say how challenging the last year was and how hopeful the entire population of the planet is for things to improve moving forward. Speaking of the current situation, myself and a good chunk of the population of the province of Ontario find ourselves at home under lockdown. This latest stay at home order began December 26th, and lasts, at least for us in the northern part of the province, until January 11th. This means, like in the spring, I am teaching from home. The distinction this time however is that we’re expected to deliver “synchronous” learning, that is teaching real time. It’s been going well, though it is somewhat weird teaching from my dining room dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Our internet connection is taking a beating as well, with two teachers and two kids working from home. We’ll be back in the classroom soon, but it’s doubtful the Covid restrictions will end anytime soon.

So, it is January if you’ve lost track of time like many have. That means we’re well into winter and that means it’s usually time for a rant about the weather. However, I really don’t have much to say. What, really? I know, shocking isn’t it? Well, truth be told it hasn’t been too bad. In my last post I complained about some early snow, but after that things settled down and then some. We had some fantastic weather in November and December, including a record breaking +20C day in in the former. Since then it’s been seasonal or above seasonal, with only 10cm or so of snow. We’ll see what the rest of winter has in store for us…hopefully we don’t pay for it in the spring and summer. I have a lot of hiking to do!

With the continued Covid issues, work to complete my book on the Pigeon River Lumber Company and its operations at Gunflint Lake continue to sit in a holding pattern. There are a few things I’ll be working on in the next few months, but the really important stuff that needs to happen, some field work in Minnesota and a trip to the Archives of Ontario in Toronto, have to continue to wait. It is very frustrating, since I’d like to move on from this project, even though it has been very enjoyable. I have some other plans, but I don’t want to bounce around too much without fully completing this first. I guess we’ll see how things pan out in the next year.

In my last post, when I was complaining about the weather, I mentioned that I was doubtful I’d be able to squeeze in any more hikes, but fortunately the weather gods took pity on me. The warm up we had after that early snowfall allowed me to complete two more hikes, but that was not the end of it. Although I decided to put the bike away until spring, I figured why stop exploring? With that in mind, I did 6 more “mini” hikes sans bicycle before the end of the year, plus a few more since the new year started. I consider these to be reconnaissance for the real explorations, or using the proper Commonwealth term, a “recce” (pronounced rekke). One of the most time-consuming tasks of my hikes is stopping to check out spots and then entering the data into my GPS. This way, most of that work is now out of the way and I can then concentrate more on the photo and video part. I’m not the biggest fan of winter, but if I have to be outside to get some fresh air and exercise, why not do it on a railway line?

CNoR/CN grade, October 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, October 2020.

Wolf River Bridge, October 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, October 2020.

Bridge, October 2020.

Insulator, October 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, October 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, October 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, October 2020.

Rails, October 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, October 2020.

Coldwater Creek Bridge, October 2020.

Flanger sign, October 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, November 2020.

Telegraph pole, November 2020.

Luna, November 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, November 2020.

Switch, November 2020.

Rails, November 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, November 2020.

Mackenzie River Bridge, November 2020.

Culvert, December 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, December 2020.

Culverts, December 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, December 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, December 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, December 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, December 2020.

Crossing sign, December 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, December 2020.

Selfie, January 2021.

CNoR/CN grade, January 2021.

CNoR/CN grade, January 2021.

CNoR/CN grade, January 2021.

Those extra hikes I was able to complete in the fall has helped me to almost complete my documentation from Red Rock to Pass Lake. There is one section left to do around Ancliff Station, while I would like to redo 3 sections from Pearl to Pass Lake since they were not done with the full bike effect. Meanwhile, those “recces,” including one at Ancliff, has prepared me to cover the reminder of the line right up to the outskirts of Thunder Bay. All told I travelled nearly 5700 kilometres and recorded over 800 minutes of video…I have no idea how many photos in the process. Probably way too many!

I have a very ambitious 2021 hiking season laid out, as I hope to get in at least 19 separate hikes. Some of these will take me much farther out to the east on the line, particularly around places like Macdiarmid, Beardmore and Jellicoe. One of the more interesting ones will be around Macdiarmid and the large tunnel just south of the community. A few weeks back I learned in a social media post that there were purportedly workers killed while constructing the tunnel; intrigued, I began to dig into the circumstances. As it turns out, the rumours were correct, and the workers were even buried nearby. I plan to incorporate this tragic event into my videos, which adds a very important human and personal element to the story.

Anyway, it’s time to move on. I’ll try to get back a little sooner next time, but I make no promises! Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2021 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Bad for life, great for history…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CN Swing bridge over the Kaministiquia River, April 2020.

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

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

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

Stanley, circa 1900. (Duke Hunt Museum)

Stanley, April 2020.

Stanley, April 2020.

Stanley, April 2020.

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

High Track 1928 (GSC)

High Track, May 2020.

High Track, May 2020.

High Track, May 2020.

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

Moose’s Nose 1925 (GSC)

Moose’s Nose, April 2020.

Moose’s Nose, April 2020.

Moose’s Nose, April 2020.

Moose’s Nose, May 2020.

Moose’s Nose, May 2020.

Moose’s Nose, May 2020.

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

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

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

 

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Gunflint & Lake Superior: Ontario’s Private American Railroad

Looking for something to do during the COVID-19 situation? Why not join me for a talk on a fascinating piece of area history?

Tonight, April 7th, I’ll be presenting Gunflint & Lake Superior: Ontario’s Private American Railroad live on YouTube. This is a very unique and obscure story that spans the two countries that share the Boundary Waters. The presentation contains some great information, as well as numerous period and modern photos. Click on the link below for more details.

Please join me if you can and feel feel to share this link with anyone who may be interested. The live stream starts at 7pm Eastern time.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2020 in History, Railway, Video

 

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It’s spring, but I’m stuck inside…

It’s spring, but I’m stuck inside…

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

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

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

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

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

Spring thaw, March 2020.

Spring thaw, April 2020.

Camp, March 2020.

Camp, March 2020.

Mount McRae, March 2020.

Mount McRae, March 2020.

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

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

Book files, March 2020.

Book files, March 2020.

Book files, March 2020.

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

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

Stanley, Ontario, March 2020.

Harstone Railway Bridge, March 2020.

Harstone Railway Bridge, March 2020.

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

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

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

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

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

Gunflint & Lake Superior: Ontario’s Private American Railroad

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

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

 

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Corduroy Trestle, Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad 1997

In honour of the 115th anniversary of its completion, and the 12th anniversary of its demise, we revisit the Gunflint Corduroy Trestle.

This amazing structure was built in the winter of 1904-1905 by the Pigeon River Lumber Company for their logging railroad, the Gunflint & Lake Superior. To climb the ridges south of the lake, the company built a very crude trestle by corduroying logs and topping it with gravel. Just over 250 feet long, the elevation increases 25 feet in that distance, creating a brutal 10% grade. It was probably one of the most unusual railroad trestles in all of North America.

Later that year they purchased a Shay locomotive (SN-683) to work this section of the line.

Sadly, the trestle was lost in 2008. The year before it was engulfed by the Ham Lake Fire and the logs smoldered for months. The USFS was forced to dynamite the structure to extinguish the fire. I’m glad I was able to see it before its demise and shoot this footage. My apologies for the shaky recording; I was very young, rather excited and there was no stabilization!

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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I didn’t know it would take this long!

I didn’t know it would take this long!

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

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

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

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

Winter snowfall, January 2020.

Winter snowfall, January 2020.

Winter snowfall, January 2020.

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

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

Piles of documents, January 2020.

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

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

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

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

 

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Hello burnout, my old friend!

Hello burnout, my old friend!

I’ve come to talk with you again? Well, it would appear so. I don’t know if I ever thought I could adapt the words to a Simon and Garfunkel song to this blog, but alas here we are. It’s rather appropriate given the current situation, however. There are definitely no sounds of silence here though.

Well, it’s been quite a while, but I’m back kids! I usually never intend to go this much time in between posts, but unfortunately life typically has something to say about that. When I last wrote, we weren’t even a month into the school year. Now, thanks to the rapid movement of time, we are midway through November. Craziness! It’s hard to believe that Christmas is just over 5 weeks away. It’s been a struggle to keep abreast of things at work during this time, which is one of the reasons I feel the way I do.

Speaking of struggling with life, football season is finally over. I know that doesn’t sound very positive, but it can be exhausting and stressful. Don’t get me wrong however, I love every moment of it. Coaching two teams puts a lot on your plate, but I was blessed to be able to work with two fantastic groups of kids. The icing on the cake was the results. Noah’s minor team, the Marauders, upset the number one team to capture the bantam championship. Our high school team, which Ethan was a member of, went undefeated and for the first time ever in our school’s history, won back-to-back championships. After all of that, I feel like I can finally breathe again!

TBMFA Bantam Champs, October 2019.

SSSAA Junior Football Champs, November 2019.

SSSAA Trophy, November 2019.

One of the biggest challenges the fall brought with it was the weather. Man, we had a crappy fall! It rained a lot, and then it got cold. I know I gripe constantly about it, but it was not pretty compared years past. If I thought it was bad with the rain, the temperature drop was worse. Our last week of high school practice was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced in 20 years of coaching, with wind chills pushing the mercury into the mid minus teen range. It was brutal! Made me regularly think of the line from the Lethal Weapon movies, “I’m too old for this s@#t!”

So, with all of this going on, you’d think it was a quiet time for any railway work. However, the reality is quite to the contrary. Between my annual trip to Gunflint and a few other field trips, I was able to get out 4 times late September and October. Truth be told, it was a nice break from the grind and a stress reliever.

My boys had been asking if we were going to do any hunting this fall. I had not been hunting since 2016, which ironically was the last time I had been to one of my favourite railway locations, North Lake. So, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone…literally. It wasn’t a particularly nice day, but it I appreciated the opportunity, nonetheless. I forgot how much I love the area, and I made a few new discoveries along the way, a telegraph pole and a steel rail. The best part was Ethan bagged his first two partridge (grouse), using my dad’s venerable 1952 Mossberg .410 shotgun, the same gun I learned to hunt with as well.

Telegraph pole, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Steel Rail, North Lake, ON September 2019.

A week later we were back in the bush, this time in a much different location. A friend had promised to show me around parts of the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) grade near Dona Station in Kaministiquia. The boys were with me and we started our day hiking the grade south of Highway 102 at and beyond the concrete bridge I explored back in early September. Afterwards, we met up with Perry who took us to the site of Dona Station (MP 168.6) on the banks of the Kaministiquia (Kam) River. There’s nothing left of the station, but the concrete base of the water tower is still there, several metres south of where the line crossed the river. At the crossing, three concrete piers are all that remain of the 350-foot bridge that once spanned Kam. This section was abandoned in 1924 when the line was re-routed following the merger between the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk systems.

Water Tank, Dona Station, ON October 2019.

Bridge piers on the Kaministiquia, Dona Station, ON October 2019.

Later that day we explored more of the line further west near Ellis and Flett stations. The highlight was a quick visit to the bridge over the Mattawin River that lies between Dona and Ellis. This bridge was part of the new line that was opened in 1924 and abandoned in 1994. I had not been there since 1997ish, but I plan to revisit this spot next year when I have more time to look around.

Mattawin River Bridge, Conmee, ON October 2019.

Mattawin River Bridge, Conmee, ON October 2019.

CN-GTP Junction, Conmee, ON October 2019.

Usually one of the highlights of the fall for me is our boys’ weekend at Gunflint, which we’ve been doing since 2013. I was a bit concerned in the days leading into the weekend as the weather was not expected to be great (ironically it was fantastic during the week). I really look forward to the down time and the opportunity to spend some time with the boys, so we went ahead with it anyway.

It rained on Thursday night and early Friday morning, which caused me to delay our departure by a few hours. After stopping for supplies in Grand Marais, we arrived at the lodge by 11am. By that time it has stopped raining, but the weather was not particularly nice. I was supposed to do a little presentation at the lodge at 5:30, so I decided that we should at least try and do a few things before then.

The boat ride across the lake was rather chilly, but not terrible. Our destination was the site of the corduroy trestle and rock cut of the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad near Bridal Falls. It was a bit damp, but otherwise okay. I managed to shoot some video of the grade, but we had to head back before I could take some photos of the falls. I figured we’d be back the next day anyway. The presentation at the lodge was well attended and gave me a chance to catch up with some old acquaintances.

Unfortunately, mother nature decided to spoil my party on Saturday. I awoke to a dusting of snow on the ground and some flurries in the morning; not to be dissuaded by this feeble attempt at an early winter, I figured we would still be able to get some work done that day. My hopes were dashed however after a rather chilly boat ride, for there was quite a bit of snow accumulation at the east end of the lake, so much so there was no point in trying to do anything. Sadly, the boat ride back was even worse, as the wind and snow had picked up considerably.

Gunflint Lake, October 2019.

After a wasted day on Saturday, I was really holding out hope for Sunday. The big event of the weekend was that I was supposed to meet USFS archaeologist Greg Heide for a visit to Camp 8 so we could begin documenting that site. The weather let me down again, however. After hearing about significant snowfall east of Gunflint (mid-Gunflint Trail was reporting 12”), I decided to do a little reconnaissance, a recce (pronounced rekke) in Canadian military parlance, of the area on Saturday before we went to dinner. What a disaster! The area was covered in a thick blanket of snow which clearly would not melt before the next morning. After several years of trying to get an archaeologist into Camp 8, I had to regrettably contact Greg and call the visit off.

So now that the primary purpose of my visit had been crushed by the weather, I had to figure out what to do on Sunday. I reasoned that it was snowy to the east, so we could take a walk along the PAD&W grade to the west. It had been 5 years since I had hiked this portion of the railway, so it would be great to reacquaint myself. Well, I had again underestimated the snow. Clearly the lake near the lodge had moderate the weather there, so there was a lot more snow than I anticipated. It was snowy and sloppy along the trail, soaking parts of our clothing. But, as the saying goes, a crappy day in the bush is better than a good day at work!

Paulson Mine, October 2019.

Centennial Trail, October 2019.

Rock cut, Round Lake, MN October 2019.

Rock cut, Round Lake, MN October 2019.

Following the postponement of the visit to Camp 8, Greg and I stayed in touch. With temperatures returning to normal, we hoped to do a one-day trip the next Sunday. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we had to cancel again. The question now was what to do that day, which promised to be a good one. I figured let’s kill two birds with one stone…again!

Ethan and I headed out early on a crisp and sunny morning to North Lake. The birds were definitely out that day, and we bagged our limit. Compared to the previous weekend, it was an amazing day in the bush. It was warm, with little wind that made the lake almost like glass. It certainly reminded me how much I love that area and love being in the outdoors. Made me think a lot about doing the same thing with my dad when I was Ethan’s age…I hope he treasurers the memories like I do.

Rock cut, North Lake, ON October 2019.

A boy and his dog, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Rock cut, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Trestle Bay, North Lake, ON October 2019.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. As things start to return to normal, I’ll be back into the book writing mode soon enough as I want to try to finish most of this book during the winter. I will be back before Christmas with the latest news and info. Until then…

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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‘Tis the Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, August 2019.

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

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

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

Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

Strawberry Creek Bridge, Grand Trunk Pacific, September 2019.

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

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

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

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

 

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