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Tag Archives: Port Arthur Duluth & Western Railway

Extra Credit IV “Photography”

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

This episode is all about photography, which I’ve been involved with photography since the mid 90s when cameras were still using film. I explain the evolution of my photography from that time to the present, some of the cameras that I have used along the way and how technology has changed this particular field of history exploration. I’ve also included some of my better shots from the past to today, including my newest foray into drone photography.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2021 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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Extra Credit III “The Pee Dee, Part I”

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

This episode deals with the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway, or Pee Dee Railway as it is commonly known and is the first of several on the topic. I explore the entire history of the railway, right from its early years in the 1880s until its abandonment in 1938. I highlight many of the challenges leading up to the construction of the line, and then the series of misfortunes that led to its eventually bankruptcy. Its time under the control of Canadian Northern Railway and Canadian National Railways is also discussed.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2021 in History, Railway, Research, Video

 

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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 II “Load Bearing”

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

This episode deals with load bearing, or in other words, carrying stuff. If you want to be successful on your hikes or explorations, you need to be able to bring with you the right gear for the situation. I detail 3 levels or types of equipment I use to carry my gear, from a light-duty fanny pack to an off the beaten path, heavy-duty tactical vest. I’ll also highlight examples of the gear I carry with me. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2021 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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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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It was 30 years ago…

It was 30 years ago…

Kinda sounds like the intro to a Beatles song doesn’t it? You know the one. Sadly it was 10 years longer, I don’t remember the exact date and has nothing to do with a Sergeant. Okay, maybe I’m reaching a bit here…or maybe a lot. It was worth a shot though! In any case, I just realized that something really significant happened to me all those years ago.

Hey kids, I’m finally back! I know, it’s been a really (really) long time, like almost three months long time. Can I say I’ve been busy? And maybe there’s some laziness and procrastination thrown in there too? Anyway, it’s good to be back. I’m sure you’ve all missed me right? Hopefully? There’s certainly a lot to update you on, so buckle up.

Well, it’s October, so that means we’re well into the new school year. There was obviously a lot of discussion and consternation regarding the start of the year, particularly how it was going to work and what it was going to look like. It took a long time for the government to figure out exactly how things would look (which I won’t comment on) and even then there were some differences across the province. Our board adopted a hybrid quadmester system for high school, which allows us to meet the government criteria for student cohorts. Instead of 90 day semesters with 4 classes, students take 2 classes for 44 days. This means teachers are teaching all day for 2 quadmesters, and half day for the other 2. 

So I’m one of the lucky people starting off with 2 classes, Grade 10 history and Grade 9 geography. I haven’t taught geography in 14 years, so it’s like I’m teaching something brand new. We teach one class in the morning in person and the other online in the afternoon. The next week the schedule flips. In the school, we have to wear level one medical masks at all times, and wear eye protection when we’re within 6 feet of the students. We can only remove the masks when we’re in our rooms by ourselves.

No sugar coating here…it’s exhausting! The online part is brutal. It is so hard trying to teach virtually as you get zero clues if the students are actually learning anything. I certainly don’t blame them though, as it’s a terrible way to learn and there’s not much we can do to make it any better. All we can do is our best and hope that things get better soon.

With all the safety measures and precautions in place, one big victim of the Covid situation has been football. This is the first time since 2000 that I have not had high school football and it certainly feels weird. I do have to say that there is no way I could manage coaching with my current teaching schedule…I’d be losing my mind! I do feel bad for the kids, particularly my oldest, Ethan, who potentially loses a year of ball because of this. There is football running, flag football, which my other son Noah is participating in. It is definitely not the same, but at least it is something for the kids to do and get them out of the house.

I would be remiss without saying something about the weather, which is one of my usual things to rant about. I actually cannot complain, as we had an absolutely beautiful spring, summer and fall. It was hot, sunny and dry. That was up until two weeks ago. I think we got more rain in a couple of days than we got all summer and the temperatures have just bottomed out. As I write this, I’m sitting here looking at the patches of snow on the ground. It’s October! I was hoping to squeeze in another hike this season, but this might have dashed those hopes. I’ll have to see what things are like in the next week or so, but I have a feeling I am done for 2020. I hope this weather isn’t a foreshadowing of things to come this winter.

Early snowfall, October 2020.

Early snowfall, October 2020.

Speaking of hiking, there is a lot to talk about. Boy have I done a lot of hiking this year! I definitely exceeded my own expectations by a mile and I have done so many hikes (or more appropriately hike and bikes) since my last post, I don’t think I can talk about them individually. I did 14 separate hikes since the 20th of July, covering most of the former Canadian Northern/CN Kinghorn line from Macdiarmid to Pass Lake, some 52 miles in total. That’s a lot of miles! And that’s only one way too, so you need to double that number for the true picture. As well, I needed to get to these places, so I put 4600 kilometres (yes, you read that right) on my truck doing it. 

Over all those miles, I saw a lot of great and interesting things, and certainly learned a ton about the line and railroading. So see, it’s not just exercise, it’s educational too! One of the best parts was the scenery. If you read this regularly you’ll know I love the outdoors and I was totally in awe of some of the amazing sights I witnessed. Places such as Orient Bay are gems that I didn’t even know existed; it’s like I’ve been introduced to a whole new world. The only sad thing is that I wish I could have seen it by train, especially in the early years when it was just opened up.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

Nipigon Lodge, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, July 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, August 2020.

Cash Creek Trestle, August 2020.

Cash Creek Trestle, August 2020.

Cronyn/MacAskill Station, August 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, August 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, August 2020.

Nipigon River Bridge, September 2020.

Nipigon River Bridge, September 2020.

Nipigon River, September 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, September 2020.

CNoR/CN grade, September 2020.

Black Sturgeon River Bridge, September 2020.

Black Sturgeon River Bridge, September 2020.

In any case, I have now totally committed myself to covering all 147 miles of the line from Jellicoe to Thunder Bay. Why am I doing this you ask? You’re first guess is that I’m crazy. Possibly true, but no. Actually, I’m worried it will go the way of the PAD&W. Canadian National will hang to on the grade until all the infrastructure is gone and it will no longer be usable as a trail. It is a daunting task however; I have divided the line into 42 separate hikes, of which I was able to complete 17 so far this year. I figure it will take me 3 years to complete. My main emphasis is to record on video the entire length and so far I’ve made 64 4K videos, amounting to 12 hours of footage. Just so you’re aware, every minute of 4K video is about 1 gigabyte of data, so these files tend to be huge.

I can’t wait to explore more of this line…I feel like a giddy little kid! Maybe it’s just because this line is what the PAD&W used to be in the past, but I never had a chance to experience it. I’ve definitely immersed myself in its history, and as with the scenery, have found it quite fascinating. As such, I’ve created (or rather updated) an information packed page on this website about the line and the places along its length. Click on the CNoR/GTP tab to take a look at it.

The last hike I want to talk about is probably the most important. In late September, the boys and I took a ride to North Lake to do a little bird hunting, but there was (obviously) an ulterior motive; I guess it’s the proverbial two birds with one stone analogy. The boys wanted to go hunting, and I figured why not in a spot where I know there are birds and where I could walk a little bit of the railway. Any excuse to get out on the PD is a good excuse!

As we walked the old grade I was hit by a bit of nostalgia; it was almost 30 years ago that I was first introduced to the PAD&W. It was Thanksgiving weekend in 1990 and I was all of 16 years old. It was going to be my first foray into moose hunting and my dad asked if I could tag along with some family friends to their newly acquired camp at North Lake. I had never been to the area before, or even had a clue where it was. It was a strange new world for me. Right from the moment we drove in to the camp, I began hearing about the old railway that use to run through the area and saw some of the remnants for myself. Over the next few days, I had a chance to explore more of the old grade, particularly around where North Lake Station was located. When I returned the next year the local snowmobile club had opened up the rest of the grade right to the end of Gunflint Lake. You could now walk all the way to Trestle Bay, and with a short boat ride, even explore the line west of the former 1000-foot trestle site.

That was the beginning. I never would have imagined that one chance trip 30 years ago would ignite a lifetime passion. It just amazes me how things in our lives begin and play out. Had I not begged my dad to go moose hunting, I likely would have never been drawn into all of this great history. Good thing for moose hunting huh?

PAD&W Grade, September 2020.

PAD&W Grade, September 2020.

PAD&W Grade, September 2020.

Trestle Bay, September 2020.

Well, I better move along. With the change in the quadmester soon, I should have more time to write, so I won’t take so long to write another post…hopefully. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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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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