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The Tale of Two Tunnels…

The Tale of Two Tunnels…

No, this isn’t about London or Paris, and definitely not about the French Revolution; it’s a little closer to home. Likewise, I’m certainly no Charles Dickens or anything close to it. I fancy myself more like Hemingway haha! This story however, does have a historical flare to it, I guess like everything I write about. It is a bit of an adventure and deals with new discoveries, at least on my part. I doubt there will be a TV adaptation…I know, it would make for a “great” story.

Hey kids, it’s summertime! Well, I guess summer started a few weeks ago, but as this is my first post since that time, I do need to point it out. It has been a over month already since my last post and I can’t believe that much time has passed by; summer is flying by! I am doing my best to make the most of it considering the craziness of this time and the uncertainty of what the future brings. I don’t even want to think about what fall in the classroom is going to look like.

Thankfully, Mother Nature has been mostly cooperative. While we’ve seen some unsettled weather in the last week, it has mostly been great. Fairly dry and very warm; in fact, we had some extremely warm weather a few weeks ago where the temperatures were over 30 Celsius. It’s still been warm, but we’ve had showers and thunderstorms thrown into to mix since then that make things a little more interesting. Hopefully, these warm days continue for the rest of the month and into August. We’ve been spending most of our time out at camp where we can relax a bit more and cool off in the lake.

Camp sunrise, July 2020.

Camp sunset, July 2020.

In addition to relaxing (and working a lot) at camp, I’ve been going on hiking trips as often as I can. Two were on the Grand Trunk, and one on the Canadian Northern, though with all the time spent at camp, there will be more Canadian Northern hikes in the future. It’s been great to get out, though the bugs have made things a little more challenging that usual. However, it’s all been offset by the amazing discoveries and scenery I’ve been able to take in.

My first hike after the last post took on part of the Grand Trunk Pacific between Ellis and Flett Stations. I was one of the longer hikes I’ve attempted, but well worth it. My journey started on Finmark/Flett Road, just east of Flett Station and it took my about 8km east to Ellis Road and back. There were some remarkable sights, including a number of huge rock cuts and a very unusual concrete culvert over Strawberry Creek. The only downside was the bugs; I was absolutely eaten alive by deer flies, particularly on my head through the holes in my bike helmet. A small price to pay for the experience, I guess.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

The next trip was less vigorous, but certainly strenuous given the temperatures that day. We departed for camp on a one hour and twenty-minute ride to the northeast to Macdiarmid, Ontario, on the former Canadian Northern line. I had never been to this spot before, and in fact had only been up the stretch of road it is located on once (Highway 11). Our goal (the boys came with me that day) was to explore something that I had been looking forward to seeing for quite some time, which was the railway tunnel known as the Madiarmid or Jumbo’s Cove Tunnel. It is one of the few railway tunnels in the area, and I believe the longest at over 1000 feet.

After a very picturesque drive along the Nipigon River and Orient Bay of Lake Nipigon, we arrived at our destination, which was a dirt access road a few hundred metres from the tunnel. We walked in from the highway and could see the tunnel right away to the north. Soon we were at the entrance and proceeded through its length toward the northern portal. Other than its length, this tunnel is unique as it is partially lined with concrete at intervals inside its cavernous expanse. From what I could see, with reinforcing steel jutting from the complete sections of concrete, the entire length was supposed to be lined but was never completed. It does give it a rather interesting appearance. Railway ties still sit in their place throughout the length of the tunnel.

Macdiarmid Tunnel, June 2020.

Macdiarmid Tunnel, June 2020.

Macdiarmid Tunnel, June 2020.

Macdiarmid Tunnel, June 2020.

Macdiarmid Tunnel, June 2020.

After completing our exploration of the tunnel, we headed south for about 700 metres to where the grade crossed over the Postagoni River on a high bridge. This structure, built in 1924 to replace a previous wood trestle, is 285 feet long and 45 feet high. The temperature was starting to climb quickly, so we didn’t dwell too long, but we spent enough time to check out both ends of the bridge as well as the area next to the river. The views from the bridge (which was rather interesting walking across…much like the bridge in the previous post) of Lake Nipigon and Orient Bay were spectacular. It must have been quite interesting from the train!

Postagoni River Bridge, June 2020.

 

Postagoni River Bridge, June 2020.

Postagoni River Bridge, June 2020.

Postagoni River Bridge, June 2020.

A week later I was back at it, this time on the complete opposite end of the district on the GTP. This “hike and bike” as I call them was going to be tough, as it was going to a 10km trip each way. The boys were going to come along again on this trip, and I was bracing myself for a bevy of complaints about how far and how boring it was. I won’t ever tell them, but their complaints make the journey a little more entertaining.

So the plan was to pick up from the last hike at Finmark/Flett Road and push northwest, past the station at Flett to a bridge crossing just east of Griff Station. There was a thunderstorm the night before, so the air was hot and very humid that morning. After a short ride, we arrived at the first point of interest, which was another tunnel. The Flett Tunnel is a very popular hiking spot and probably the most visited abandoned railway location in the area. Unlike the Macdiarmid Tunnel, I had been to this one before, back in 1996…if I remember correctly. I might be hazy on the exact year, but I recall the tunnel well and remember ice still in the tunnel months after it had disappeared from the ground. It’s just over 600 feet long and has a much more rough appearance, with no concrete on the inside.

Flett Tunnel, July 2020.

Flett Tunnel, July 2020.

Flett Tunnel, July 2020.

Flett Tunnel, July 2020.

Flett Tunnel (west portal), 1909.

Past the tunnel, there are numerous large rock cuts that made the journey very interesting. In one spot, I was expecting to see (hopefully) another concrete culvert. What I found was something far more unique. Very strangely, the railway engineers re-routed a creek and blasted a culvert out of solid rock, the likes of which I have never seen.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

The railway grade in this area is in rough shape, as it was used a logging road for many years. There were many large puddles in some of the rock cuts, which made our journey a bit challenging at times. It even ended our ride short of the planned destination, as several large puddles about 500 metres from the bridge were unnavigable by bike, so I had to walk the last bit. I was hoping this bridge over the Oskondaga River was another concrete structure like the one over Strawberry Creek, but it was something different, a bridge I had never seen before. Turns out it is a Ballasted Through Plate Girder span bridge. Who knew!

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, July 2020.

My last bit of railway news relates to those North Lake Station documents I bought off ebay. One of my goals was to have them properly preserved and accessible at the Thunder Bay Museum. After reaching out to the museum, I was able to arrange to present them to Curator Michael DeJong. There they will form the first part of a historical fond of my research files, which will eventually all find their way to the museum. I don’t often feel that I do a ton of things right, but this one gives me warm and fuzzy feelings!

Document transfer, June 2020.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. I already have new hikes to write about and even more on the drawing board. I’ll be back soon enough with all the latest info. until then…

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Man, that bridge was sketchy!

Man, that bridge was sketchy!

Have you ever done something you thought was a good idea at the time and then regretted it immediately? How about days later, when you watched it on video? Yes, no, maybe? I think we’ve all been there, whether in that exact scenario or not. So, you’re probably wondering what I got myself into now, right? Well, I do have a story to tell you. And I won’t say that it was a good idea or that I “regretted” the situation…more like I found it unsettling afterwards. I never get to the point, so you know to keep reading!

Hey kids, it’s almost summer! Time continues to fly by at an unbelievable pace. My last post was two weeks ago and seems like yesterday; we’re already midway through June. Craziness! What that all means is that the school year is almost over. Didn’t this whole pandemic just start the other day? How does 3 months fly by so fast being stuck at home? In any case, the next few weeks are going to be busy marking and preparing reports for the end of the year. And after that, it’s “vacation” time, whatever that will look like.

So, in my last post I commented on how at least the weather had been good and how Mother Nature was trying to cut us some slack. Funny how a few weeks can change things quick. Now, let me temper this by saying it hasn’t been terrible, just not what it should be. Inconsistent would be the correct word. I mean we have had days that it was 30 Celsius and one day where it felt like 2. Places northwest of the city got snow for god sakes…in June!  I seriously want to punch climate change deniers in the face. Not literally, as this is a family-friendly blog.

Okay, so I’m back sooner than usual as I have a lot to report on the railway front. As I have mentioned several times recently, I have a long list of hikes that I want to complete while I have the opportunity. I have done a lot in the past few months, but there are many more left to go. I’ve been able to get out twice since my last post.

The first hike took me somewhere I’ve been and haven’t been. Confused? Well, this spot is a hub of activity and I’ve seen some stuff and not others. The area I am speaking about is near Sistonen’s Corners, which is about 35km northwest of the city. Here, three railway lines passed close by, two of which are still active: Canadian Pacific (active), Canadian Northern (later CN-active) and Grand Trunk Pacific (later CN-inactive). My particular interest was parts of the former GTP line.

My first exploration of the day involved a 1 kilometre section of the GTP that was part of the 26 miles of line that was opened in 1908 and abandoned in 1924. I had been by this section several times, but never actually walked it. It starts at milepost 166 of the GTP and goes east until it becomes part of Forbes Road. It was a very beautiful section to walk, almost picture perfect. There were many cuts and even some ties still in their place. Gives a real sense of what it used to be like travelling this railway as it made it’s way alongside the Matawin River.

GTP Grade, May 2020.

GTP Grade, May 2020.

GTP Grade, May 2020.

When Grand Trunk and Canadian Northern were merged to form Canadian National in the early 1920s, CN had some decisions to make in terms of its lines. In this case, they had two lines running in the same direction from Thunder Bay to this point. So, they decided to abandon 26 miles of the old GTP line, and had all westward trains use the Canadian Northern line to this point, which became known as Conmee Junction. The tracks to that point were doubled, and a new bridge built across the Matawin River. Some traffic would continue west on the Canadian Northern line, now known as the CN-Kashabowie Subdivision. The other would veer off the northwest, cross the new bridge and proceed to Sioux Lookout on the GTP line, which was now the Graham Subdivision. The Graham line stayed in operation until 1994 when was it was abandoned by CN.

I had been over the Matawin River bridge once before, shortly after the line was abandoned, around 1996. Fast forward 24 years and I found myself crossing the river again on that bridge. Let me preface this with the fact that I’m not good with heights, and walking across railway bridges isn’t easy as there’s not a solid deck, but rather large timbers spaced about 10 inches apart; it makes for an awkward walk. Plus, this bridge has been abandoned for 26 years, so the walkways on the sides are all rotten, so you need to walk down the middle of the bridge.

Anyway, ignoring the fact that I was 40 feet above the river, I walked across the 630-foot bridge to the other side. It didn’t really phase me at the time, maybe because I was so focused on taking pictures and video. The only time I really felt any fear was on my way back, video camera in hand and recording away, when one of those big bridge timbers wiggled a bit when I stepped on it. Talk about a disconcerting feeling! You are totally wrapped up in what you’re doing, one eye on the video camera and one eye on where your feet are going, when all of a sudden, your foot doesn’t plant properly. Now, it’s not like I was going to fall to my death or anything as the space between the timbers isn’t big enough to slip through. However, it does give you quite the mini heart attack! Other than that, maybe it was the adrenaline, I was fine, until I watched the video back. There were spots that made me feel nauseous and gave me a bit of vertigo. Maybe because I could see how high I was and that there were no railings. So weird!

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

Matawin River Bridge, May 2020.

After shooting some pictures and video of the sides of the bridge, I turned my attention to the railway grade from the bridge back to where we had come in from, a road known as Sunshine Crossroads. The starting point is rather interesting, as it features unique junction. Here, the line from the bridge joins the old GTP lines and as you look east, you can see two grades; the newer one built by CN in 1924 and the original 1908 one built by GTP. From this point, it’s about 2.3km to Sunshine Crossroads, which I covered, as I have been doing recently, on my bike. It’s a nice area, but it has been wrecked in my opinion by logging that is going on alongside the grade. It’s kind of a shame. Anyway, you can watch the videos here.

GTP/CN Grade, May 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, May 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, May 2020.

A week or so later I was back to the same spot, this time pushing myself further westward along the railway. I typically like to do my hike n’ bikes (as I call them) backwards, that is start at my destination, go backwards to the starting point and then forwards again to the destination. This allows me to do all the hard work on the backward portion, such as taking pictures and logging GPS data. This then allows me to just focus on doing the video on the return leg.

So, on this hike, I began my journey at milepost 161.3, where the grade crosses Ellis Road. I would then work my way to milepost 164.5, where I left off on the previous hike at Sunshine Crossroads. This section of the GTP is a fairly easy stretch, and also passes by one of the stations known as Ellis at milepost 162.2. My journey did begin on a sour note though, as I realized, halfway through my drive to the area, that I forgot my hiking vest at home. I therefore had to improvise how I would carry my gear, which did make it a bit inconvenient. I managed though!

The hike went smoothly, though it did take longer than I expected. I found what I believed to be the location of Ellis Station, complete with the remains of the water tower. The only real shock I got was when I located another concrete culvert. I never really thought I’d find one so far west, my thinking that they were only built closer to Thunder Bay. This one was within a few hundred metres of the turnaround point at the Sunshine Crossroads, atop a very high embankment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an embankment that high, as it was some 55 to 60 feet above the creek. I saw the creek and immediately my hopes went up and I quickly charged down the slope to investigate. From a distance I could make out the form of the concrete opening and instantly became giddy. The south side was okay, though I could not approach it closely as the water was very deep. The north side was a complete disaster; successive floods had pushed piles of debris in front of the opening and had exposed some twenty feet of the culvert by eroding the grade above it. It is beginning to come apart and crumble, but I guess it has been maintained in 26 years and was built in 1917. It’s to be expected.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

GTP/CN Grade, June 2020.

This discovery has made me excited for future hikes along this line, and I’ve already started pinpointing creeks and streams via Google Earth to load into my GPS. Hopefully this will facilitate me in locating more of these concrete structures when I get to those locations.

Okay, so I’ve saved my best news for last. If you read my last post I mentioned that I had something exciting coming in the mail; well, as you can imagine, it arrived last Thursday. Canada Post actually teased me a bit. Closely eyeing the tracking, Thursday morning it displayed that the package was “Out for Delivery.” Then suddenly, the message changed and the delivery was pushed back a day…so disappointing. However, at 4 o’clock I received a notification it was back out for delivery, which was weird to have something delivered that late in the day. Lo and behold, it showed up at 6:30!

Now, you’re probably wondering what the heck I got. Well, let me give you the whole story. I never go on ebay and I have not bought much off of that site in recent years. One day I was searching for railway timetables and I ended up there. What prompted me to search “Canadian Northern Railway” I’ll never know, but maybe it was fate. Anyway, this was one of the listings that came up: “You are bidding on almost two pounds’ worth of Canadian Northern Railway station paperwork circa 1912-1921. This assortment was salvaged in 1961 from behind an abandoned railroad station located on the Canadian-Minnesota boarder, not far from Gunflint Lake. (The paperwork had apparently been thrown out the back door and allowed to become humus after the rails were taken up.) This assortment includes shipping orders, Royal Mail reports, telegraph message blanks, custom manifests, collection deposit receipts, circular letters sent out by the passenger department, etc. The condition of these documents ranges from fair to something akin to the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, to the right person, they will be a treasure trove of historical railroad information from 100 years or so ago. We didn’t bother to count how many individual pieces are there, but it’s a lot. This assortment comes from a non-smoking household and will be shipped via USPS Retail Ground. It will undoubtedly be of interest to railroad museums and historians, authors, preservationists, and collectors of railroad paper. It’s been priced to sell so don’t let it get away from you because it slipped your mind to put in a bid. Our feedback rating speaks for itself so bid with confidence. Thanks for looking and GOOD LUCK BIDDING!”

After looking at the pictures, I was flabbergasted; it was unbelievable! It was an auction, but I knew I could not let this slip away. I immediately contacted the seller, told him my story and asked if I could make an offer on the item to buy it right away. He accepted and completed the transaction. It cost me a few bucks (the shipping was more than the papers) and my wife thought I was nuts, but you cannot put a price on this type of stuff (it was less than $100 Canadian). Afterwards, the seller contacted me and told me how he came to possess this paperwork. The story is just crazy and really makes me feel like I was destined to find this listing: “This paperwork was salvaged in the summer of 1961. We were on a Boy Scout canoe trip out of Gunflint Lake and happen to camp at the end of North Lake. Somehow, we stumbled upon the station which was then already hidden in the undergrowth. We discovered the paperwork in a heap behind the station. The top layers had probably already turned to humus, but we dug down and found some that was still reasonably intact. Without bothering to read through any of it, we scooped some of it up and packed it out with us. That was almost 60 years ago! After having it in storage for many years, I decided to list it on eBay. I’m DELIGHTED that you spotted it and that it will be going to someone who knows what it is and who can make some practical use of it.”

I was so excited to open the package and see what was inside. Turns out that about 60 to 65 percent of the material is useable historic documents, while the rest is just railway notices and forms. Some of the useable stuff is pure gold; there is one customs manifest of logs for the Pigeon River Lumber Company from 1908, while there are several customs reports of coal for the PRLC’s locomotives from 1906. There are many mail reports, as well as shipping forms for goods transported between Port Arthur and the various stations along the line. All told, the papers date from 1906 and 1922.

It took me several hours to separate the papers and photograph them all. Some are in good shape, while others, as the seller described, are like the Dead Sea Scrolls. There was a pile of dust and paper fragments left after I was done and certainly reinforced my belief that these documents now belong in a museum. I have reached out to the Thunder Bay Museum to have them take possession of them and see that they are properly preserved. I will keep you posted on how it goes.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

North Lake Paperwork, June 2020.

Anyway, it’s time to move on. With school winding down I’ll have more time for hikes amongst other things, so I’ll be back before you know it with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Well, at least Mother Nature is sympathetic!

“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” I think most people have heard that biblical quote, even if they are not particularly religious or Christian. I’m a practicing Catholic, but honestly, I had to look up where the quote came from, which by the way is in Book of Job if you care to know. Sorry, I’m not always up to speed to my Old Testament scripture. Anyway, the reason why I brought it up was that it encapsulates, at least for some of us, our current situation. I know, cryptic as always. I will get to the point if you read on.

Hey kids, it’s almost June! This whole pandemic has turned the calendar into a blur of dates. I generally know which day of the week it is, but I’m having a difficult time keeping track of the dates. This means we’re now two and half months into this COVID imposed quarantine, which has turned everyone’s lives upside down. I’m still teaching from home, and will continue to do so until the end of June as the province has announced that we will not be returning to the classroom until September at the earliest. It’s still a struggle, as these online lessons do not do the curriculum any justice, and the students have begun to shutdown. In a regular year this always happens, but the pandemic has made everything worse since they don’t have to actually be in a classroom. Hopefully I can make it through the next few weeks without losing my marbles!

So the one thing that has been helpful is the one thing I always gripe about…yup, the weather. It’s almost like Mother Nature feels sorry for us and has decided to cut us some slack with some warm temperatures and generally sunny days. After a cool start to the month, May has been fairly warm, with some hot days and mostly rain free. That lack of precipitation does have some drawbacks, mainly the imposing of a restricted fire zone because of the dry conditions. That sadly means no open fires in backyards or at camps. The good with the bad right? The Lord giveth…

Now speaking of camp, it is that time of the year. For anyone new, camp is the term we use here in northwestern Ontario to describe our cottage, cabin or lake property. My wife and I are lucky to have inherited her parents camp, which is really like a house, so we have another place to be during this time. Usually the Victoria Day long weekend (third weekend in May) is typically the start of camping season for most people around here and we were no exception. We’ve spent the last few weekends out there, which really helps break up the monotony of being at home all the time. We recently got internet at our place, which is only available in turtle-speed DSL, but it helps take some of the pressure off our cellular data. It also allows us to do some of our school work while we are there; as we move more into June, we might be working more from there than usual.

Camp sunset, May 2020.

Camp sunrise, May 2020.

As I mentioned in previous posts, all of this time at home and no activities for the kids has given me more time to get out and do many railway related hiking. I’ve pretty much shutdown all writing work on my book, but I did do a number of online presentations via YouTube during April and May. You can watch them here if you are interested.

Now, back to the hiking thing. In my last post I mentioned that I was going to do some exploring around North Lake Station for the first time in 9 years. I was very excited for the visit, as North Lake was the first place I encountered the railway. Unfortunately, I left there very disappointed for two reasons. The first, was the weather. I was actually hoping for more clouds than sun, since I would be filming in a very heavily treed area and the clouds help to even the light so you can see better. The second and more important let down, was what I found. The North Lake station was built in 1907 and abandoned in 1923. It was still standing in the 1970s but sadly time caught up to it and it fell into ruin. When I first saw the remains in 1990, the station wasn’t more than a pile of boards; however, the nearby coal bunker was decently preserved and still fairly full of coal. I was shocked by what I saw this time. The remains of the station are nearly gone, with only a small section of boards left, and the coal bunker has all but deteriorated. It such an inglorious end for such a beautiful area.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

North Lake Station, May 2020.

To boost my spirits, I’ve done a few other hikes. I was invited to visit a section of the Grand Trunk Pacific that lies on private property just west of the city. The owner, Howard, uses one part of the grade for his driveway and the other as a recreational trail. Both are kept so well-maintained they appear as though they would have back before this portion of the line was abandoned in 1924.

Grand Trunk Pacific, May 2020.

Grand Trunk Pacific, May 2020.

Since I’ve been at camp the last few weekends, I’ve taken the opportunity to explore more of the former Canadian Northern/CN-Kinghorn grade in the area. I’ve really embraced the whole bike and hike concept on this line (and others). A couple of months ago I bought a new bike and I’ve been putting it to good use. The bike lets me cover ground a lot quicker, and its ideal for areas where the railway grade is easily passable. I have quite a number of these explorations planned for the summer when I’m already in the area.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Kinghorn Sub-Division, May 2020.

Now I do have some exciting news to pass along. I mentioned how disappointed I was with my visit to North Lake, but I actually found something that made up for it and then some. I’m not going to give too many details other than I have something arriving in the mail in the next few weeks that is of great importance to my research on the railway. I’ll post all the details when it shows up.

Anyway, I need to be moving along. I have a hike scheduled for today along the Grand Trunk. It’s to a place I have not been to in along time. I’ll have pictures and info on all my explorations in my next post…and details about my “special” deilvery! Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Paulson Mine 1885-1921: The Struggle for Iron in the Gunflint Range

The story of the Paulson Mine, located in the western part of Cook County, Minnesota, has captivated people for many years. Touted as one of the great mining projects of the era, its failure in the early 1890s had a devastating impact on local economies spanning both sides of the border. For years afterwards, many attempts were made to restart the mine, all of which ended with the same result.

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2020 in History, Railway, Video

 

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Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway MP 71 II

Video of the former railway grade and station at North Lake, ON. North Lake was one of the original stations on the PAD&W line when it opened in 1893. It later saw the additions of a section house, turning wye and coal bunker. The turning wye and coal bunker were constructed prior to 1902 and the station was added in 1907.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway MP 71 I

Video of the former railway grade and station at North Lake, ON. North Lake was one of the original stations on the PAD&W line when it opened in 1893. It later saw the additions of a section house, turning wye and coal bunker. The station remains shown in the video was built by Canadian Northern Railway in 1907 and was one of their Third-Class stations. It was abandoned in 1923 and was still standing into the 1970s.

See the 1997 video for comparison (links in the video).

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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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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Leeblain: The Ghost Town of Gunflint

I hope you’ve been enjoying the live presentations on YouTube. If you have, or haven’t taken them in, the next one is ready to go!

Please join me tonight (Tuesday, May 5) at 7pm EST for Leeblain: The Ghost Town of Gunflint. It is an intriguing story of optimism and failure that revolves around the PAD&W Railway and the Paulson Mine in the pre-1900 Boundary Waters. There are many twists and “what ifs” in this obscure piece of area history.

Please click on the link below for more information.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2020 in History, Railway, Video

 

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Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway MP 19

Video of the former railway grade at Stanley, ON. Stanley was a major station on the PAD&W from 1889 to 1899. When Canadian Northern began construction on their line to Winnipeg, it became the junction point between the two lines. However, in 1912, a new route was opened from Twin City (MP 11.8) to Kakabeka which bypassed Stanley. Its importance declined, though it remained a station until 1938 when the PAD&W was abandoned.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway MP 11.8

A little sad posting this, but here it goes.

Unfortunately, the last piece of the PAD&W Railway has disappeared after 131 years. When the line was abandoned in 1938, all but 1.74 miles of the rails were removed. Those were left to service the brick plant in Rosslyn, but almost all them were torn-up in 1989. All that remained was a 2000-foot spur near Twin City Junction. They managed to hang on for another 30 years, but sadly lost their battle to time as well.

There is a small section still in the ground, but it is likely that they too will be taken up soon enough. This means that the bridge at Stanley/Harstone and the Silver Mountain Station are the last physical traces of the PAD&W left.

https://padwrr.com/info/chronology/

Available in 4K (though it might not be available due to YouTube lowering bandwidth worldwide).

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2020 in History, Railway, Video

 

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