Tag Archives: Research

I had to open my big mouth didn’t I?

Remember last week how I wrote about being so sick I felt like crap? Yup, I had to say to say it and now karma has bitten me in the ass. I have not been this sick in a long, long time. I was actually starting to feel better as the week progressed, but then I got hammered on Saturday. My back was a bit sore all day (for no apparent reason); by the evening I was lying on the couch completely chilled to the bone. Sunday wasn’t too bad, but I woke up on Monday morning at 4 freezing once again. I went to work for the morning, but went home at lunch. My temperature was a lovely 103F!

Needless to say I am feeling marginally better today, but my head is still plugged up and I cannot breathe properly. Talk about the perfect storm of colds…head, chest and fever. I managed to get through the day at work with only a few shivers and sweats. Hopefully I’m feeling better by tomorrow as I’m out of the classroom for an e-Learning workshop.

So Sunday marked the one year anniversary of this blog; where has the time gone? It’s sort of interesting to look back and see what I had to say a year ago. It’s also amazing where this rant has taken me and the topics I’ve written about every week. I’m very thankful for the 4000+ views in the last year and the 49 people who’ve decided to follow me. We’ll see what the next year brings!

Anyway, the railway front has been very busy, mostly regarding the Silver Mountain Historical Society again. Last week I wrote about the launch of the society website, which went public on Friday. Personally, I feel it could be a bit better, but I guess it’s okay for now. Hopefully it will bring more publicity to our efforts and there’s always room for improvements in the future. Be sure to check it out!

On Saturday I “stopped by” the Silver Mountain Station to borrow some old photos so I could scan them (I say “stopped by” in jest as it is a 54km drive along twisty-turny Highway 588 to get there). I did grab the photos I was looking for, but I also had a chance to chat with proprietress and fellow society co-chair Shelley Simon. She was kind enough to give me a tour of the old station, especially the upstairs part which one does not normally see. The station has seen a few additions over the years, but it still retains much of its historic style.

After our walkabout, our conversation turned to the old station on North Lake. Shelley had some great photos of the original station from the 1970’s; it really made me wish I could have seen it.  It made me think of the replica station that was built on Addie Lake which I did have a chance to visit on many occasions. I kinda miss that building…it made me go digging through my old videos to find some footage that I had of it from 1997. Unfortunately it’s not a lot of footage, but I decided to post it to YouTube anyway.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

North Lake Station, 1970’s.

North Lake Station, circa 1970’s.

Tomorrow I have my meeting with the Regional Advisor from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. I think I’m ready for this, but I have no idea where the discussion will take us and what will come of it. I am trying to be positive though, as any little thing will be a step in the right direction. I’ll report all the news next week.

Anyway, time to wrap things up as I’m still not 100%, but you know that already. Hopefully I’ll be back to snuff by next week. Until then…

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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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The Colours of Fall

Well, in case you are not aware, it is fall. Yes, that season where we celebrate the death of summer and the impending arrival of winter. Yup, I just said that. Fall always seems to be a bit of a catch 22; the beautiful colours versus the falling temperatures. Or I should say the rollercoaster temperatures. Gotta love how it can be a gorgeous 20C one day and 4C with flurries the next. However, I must say that I wish I had more time to enjoy it.

Northwood Maple, September 2012.

Unfortunately the insanity that is my life right now has not changed much since last week. Between work, family, football, football and everything else, I am burnt! At least I am feeling a bit better than last week, but I’m sure the next cold will roll around just as I kick this one. I guess I can look forward to the upcoming long weekend…some relaxation, hiking and turkey. Yes, for those of you who are not aware, Canadian Thanksgiving is this Monday. I guess when most people think Thanksgiving, they obviously think of the American holiday, but we Canadians do celebrate it too. October is a bit more fitting for us, since November is kinda crappy around here.

Autumn Spire Maple, September 2012.

So last week we played our first meaningful football game of the season. We came up a bit short, losing to our crosstown rivals St. Ignatius 32-17. However, we are pretty happy with the outing, since many of our kids have never played before. Ya, there were a lot of mistakes, but we’re only going to get better as they learn the game; it seems as if we’ve made huge strides from last week. Next up is Hammarskjold and this is going to be an interesting one as they have yet to play a game and we did not have any tape on them. Thursday night lights here we come!

Speaking of football, the boys play their first game on Saturday. We finally divided the kids into teams last week, so they are now members of the Argos. Getting beyond the fundamentals and drills is a bit of relief, both to the coaches and players. It is neat to see their enthusiasm and energy, although the lack of concentration and absence of short term memory is enough to make one drink. They are hilarious to watch when they play though.

Now once again I did not have a lot of railway time this past week, but Sunday cometh! Yes, I am pretty excited for the upcoming visit to Minnesota and the Paulson Mine. Hopefully the weather cooperates as this is going to be the one shot I have for this year. I’ve been tinkering around with the maps again and I can’t wait to do some investigating. I don’t want to get my hopes up as I might be disappointed, but I guess the thrill of the chase can be intoxicating. Yes, I know I’m saying that about a 120 year old railway, but to each his own right?

Paulson Mine, August 2010.

If anything this weekend, maybe I’ll be catch some fall colours. I rarely get to indulge in my love of photography; I’m mostly limited to shots of the railway and the occasional nice pic when the opportunity presents itself. I remember the old days when I could get out and spend hours taking pictures. Unfortunately there is only so much time to go around these days and most of my free time goes to the railway. I tried to get a fix by wandering around my backyard last weekend! Well with any luck, I’ll get a chance to do both on Sunday.

Poplars, September 2012.

Anyway, it’s time to go. I didn’t get much sleep last night so my bed is calling. I’ll definitely have a lot to say next week. Until then…

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Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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Cry havoc, and let slip…the Dawgs and Bandits?

Yes, sometimes I even surprise myself with my cleverness. Literary genius? Definitely not. Obviously this week’s title is a play on the famous phrase from William Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar. The big question remains however, is where does the other part come from? Well, you’ll just have to keep reading!

It has been yet another busy week, and my exhaustion has not dissipated; rather, I can say that it has become magnified. Is it Christmas break yet? I would certainly not wish away the fall for the respite that the holidays offer, but things are a tad bit crazy right now. Between work and football, I feel like I can’t stop my head from spinning.

My classes have certainly been going well and I am definitely back into the swing of things. It is almost like I never left. It sometimes amazes me how after 14 years in the classroom things have become second nature to me. It is also weird that I don’t think of myself as veteran, experienced teacher, but I am. Young at heart? I think a lot of it has to do with the passion I have for teaching and for history. I hope some of it rubs off!

Now speaking of history, work is progressing on the planned 2014 excursion to Europe. Last week I had an interest meeting which attracted 12-13 kids; I’m sure there were many who did not know about it despite my multiple announcements. The plan is to travel with our sister school St. Ignatius and hopefully we have enough kids to fill a bus. We haven’t yet decided on an itinerary, but that will be taken care of this week. Probably France, Belgium and the Netherlands…sounds like an awesome adventure!

Stone of remembrance, Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, Cintheaux, France.

So, what are these dawgs and bandits you speak of Dave? I’ve used it in the title, so it must be something of significance. Well, it is actually. Since 1999 I have coached high school football, and for the past 10 years of that time I have been the head coach of our school’s junior team (JV for any American readers). I currently coach the linebacking corps, as well as serving as the defensive coordinator. In our 3-5-4 defensive scheme (3 down linemen, 5 linebackers and 4 defensive backs), the outside linebackers are called dawgs and the left/right inside ‘backers are called bandits. Linebackers are the heart of this blitzing defence, thus the need to unleash them! We play our first scrimmage on Thursday, so we’ll see how things pan out.

I’m currently getting a double dose of coaching, as I’m taking on a pretty substantial role with the boys Tyke football program. They were direly short of coaches, so I volunteered my services and experience to teach these 5, 6 and 7 year olds. It is certainly a challenge! We have not set any teams yet, so it is mainly just fundamentals for now. Introducing offensive and defensive schemes to them should be quite the interesting endeavour.

Needless to say that with all of these things going on, that any railway work has been put on the back-burner. I’m just too tired to concentrate on such things as writing. I’m hoping to get back to my Leeblain article at some point in the future. Leeblain however is on my mind. Even though I’m very busy with other things, I’m still working on the historic preservation at the site of this ghost town. I’ll probably have more news to report in the next few weeks.

I did spend some time working on some railway related stuff on Saturday. I’m still planning to head to Minnesota to visit the Paulson Mine in a few weeks. In preparation for that trip, I decided to do a bit of research. Despite several explorations, particularly this spring, I have been unable to clearly determine the exact route the railway took near the mine. My attempts this spring were frustrated by the new forest growth, so I’m hoping that with the dropped foliage I will be more successful.

To aid in my quest, I pulled out a historic map that was included in U.S. Grant’s geological survey of the area. Using the data on the map, I tried to plot some likely locations for the railway. For now I am optimistic as to what I’ll find. They say success is built on failure, and I’ve failed a lot in this regard. Maybe my luck will change this time…I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Paulson Mine area, Minnesota.

Anyway, I better get rolling. As usual, there will be more to say next week. Until then…

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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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Man I’m beat!

That pretty much sums it up. I am dead tired! Now you’re probably wondering how I could be in this state since school only started a week ago. Well, I guess it’s like the proverbial 0 to 60. A week and a half ago I was relaxing at home and now I’m putting in 11 hours days. Yesterday I was so exhausted I had no energy to even write this blog…I guess it will be a Tuesday night affair for the foreseeable future.

So the explanation behind my current physical and mental state is simple-I’m doing a heck of a lot of stuff. Tuesday I was back at work, and Wednesday was the first day of classes. By Thursday we were holding our first football practice and Saturday was the boy’s initial Tyke football practice. I try to put everything I have into what I do, and I guess it takes a lot out of me. Yesterday I went from the classroom to the football field, and then another football practice; hence my lack of energy to write. I’m hoping that my body adjusts to this new schedule soon; otherwise it’s going to be a long few months.

Anyway, enough about my sad sob story. It has been a good return to work, and I’m certainly (trying) to get into the swing of things. My classes are good, and I’m looking forward to working with this group of students for the next five months. Likewise it has been a good start to the football season, though I am concerned about the less than stellar player numbers. We have not had a numbers issue in quite a while so it is a bit baffling as to why we are suddenly faced with this issue. There are some students planning on coming out over the next few days so I hope things turn around. We play our first scrimmage next week so there is a lot to do in a very short period of time.

I’ve also jumped into some other extra-curricular planning. Based on the success of this spring’s Vimy Ridge trip, we’ve decided to plan a return to Europe for 2014. That year will be the 70th anniversary of D-Day, so I would be nice to see Normandy to commemorate that event. We’re having a meeting tomorrow, so I hope there will be enough interest to get the wheels turning. There’s no decision yet as to where exactly we will go, but definitely Juno Beach and Dieppe are at the top of the list.

German bunker, Nan White Sector, Juno Beach.

Needless to say all of this has left me with little time (or energy) to devote to the railway. I was hoping to get more work done on my article on Leeblain, but other than looking a few things over, I didn’t write anything new. I did get a little research done, as requires much less mental effort than writing. What I turned up was quite amazing. I found a document about Fort William in 1893. It spoke about the optimism surrounding the railway soon after its construction, particularly with the impending shipment of iron ore. Most importantly, it contained a map showing the route of the line and its initial stations. Very neat to see!

Railway Map, 1893.

Railway Map, 1893.

Now this work stuff has really cut into my “me” time, so I really won’t be able to get to hike the railway anytime soon. Besides, I do need to catch up on some projects around this house. I am planning my next hike though, and I hope it will be productive. I’ve been asked by fellow railway historian Elinor Barr to take her to the Paulson Mine. It has been several years since I visited the site, so it will be nice to get back. While I’m there I can shoot some new video for the YouTube Channel! I’d also like to try again to locate some traces of the second switchback on the railway near the mine. If you remember, my efforts were thwarted back in June, so I’m hoping that with the leaves down I will be more successful.

Anyway, I know this is a bit short of my usual babble, but I need to go to bed. I’m beat! So, until next week…

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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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Technology sucks!

That’s probably the last thing you’d ever expect to hear from me, as I am a self-professed technology geek. But at times it can and does suck! Case in point: trying to update the maps on my Garmin Auto GPS. Cannot get it to work, even on two different computers. Why? Why? I don’t want to call tech support, I just to plug the f’ing thing in and have it to what it is supposed to do. Is that too much to ask? I guess it is.

Anyway, hey, I’m back! After a much deserved break following four straight days of blogging in the states, its back to the regular Monday ramble. Since it has been about a week and a half, I do have a lot to say; so take a bathroom break, grab a drink and get ready for some literary magnificence!

Okay, so where to start? Well, I last wrote about Day Four in Minnesota and the great time I had on that trip. A few days later, I was immersing myself back into the history of the railway. On Saturday, August 11th owner Shelley Simon was hosting the first ever “History Day” at the historic Silver Mountain Station. The station is the sole remaining significant building left from the railway and dates from 1907.

My journey would be an interesting one that day, since my wife and I were entertaining some friends at camp. My in-laws camp is situated east of Thunder Bay, while Silver Mountain is located to the southwest. I would thus have a 110km drive just to get to the presentation, and unfortunately have to depart prior to the dinner portion of the day-missing the prime rib buffet!

The day was designed to celebrate the history of the railway, the station and its most celebrated occupant, Dorothea Mitchell, the famous Lady Lumberjack. For this event, I would be joined by other historians and authors associated with the area; Elinor Barr, author of her own book on the railway and esteemed historian, Professor Michel Beaulieu from Lakehead University, Canadian best-selling author Elle Andra-Warner and Nolalu-area author Leo Hunnakko. Also present was artist Brian Nieminen, who created a famous painting of the railway for its 100th anniversary. Quite the notable company!

The social part of the day lasted from 3 until 6, which gave me an opportunity to chat with people at event. I made some good contacts and had some great conversations. I even got a chance to say a “few” words (you know my issue with brevity)! More importantly, I was able to spend some time Michel Beaulieu and Elle Andra-Warner. Elle is a fellow member of the Thunder Bay Historical Society and on the publications committee. This may help with my plans to get published and may even lead to another speaking engagement!

Speaking at History day, August 2012.

All in all it was a great day and I am glad I was invited to participate. I think that Shelley has plans to make this an annual event and I am certainly excited about the 2013 edition. The gears are already turning on how I can increase the exposure of my work!

At History Day I had the good fortune to meet a seasonal resident of Whitefish Lake by the name of Rocky McCutcheon. In our conversation, Rocky mentioned that he had explored some of the railway around the lake and we should get together for a hike. So last Friday I loaded up Loki and we drove down to Whitefish for what would prove to be an interesting adventure.

Now one of my objectives for that day was to try to locate, hike and mark the location of the one-time turning wye just east of the lake. Before my planned meeting with Rocky, I decided to stop by the road and quickly take a look at the area where the wye was located. I learned two very important things from that short exploration; the grade was very difficult to navigate in that area and following the wye might prove difficult as the ground there was quite wet.

When I met Rocky at 10:00, the first thing he did was to take me over to Maki’s Resort as he wanted to show me what turned out to be the Whitefish Lake spur. I had no idea this spur was even there. We made our way northeast, and it was apparent that there was something running across the ground toward the lake.

Rocky and I spent some time poking around the area where the west leg of the wye should have been, but I was unable to locate it in the wet, heavy undergrowth. As we returned, we located the junction between the spur and the mainline. We followed the prominent grade toward the lake, finding the remains of a wooden culvert in the process. We then worked our way closer to the lake until we reached a spot where the grade appeared to disappear into the water.

Culvert remains, Whitefish Lake, August 2012.

Rocky then told me that at one point this area had been dry, and the grade probably had crossed what is now a small bay. Sure enough, on the west side we found a continuation of the grade, and we resumed our journey westward. Soon thereafter we made an interesting discovery; a curved rail close to the lake shore. We pulled this roughly 12 foot piece out of the tall grass along with a curved fishplate. The rail was stamped “Cammell Sheffield Toughened Steel 1887.” I had never seen a pre-1890 dated rail, and wondered if it had been placed there. The curved fishplate told me that it was probably an original piece, but the date was baffling. However then I remembered that there was an abortive attempt to build the railway in 1887; was this rail purchased at that time and then left over? We can never be certain, but it is a tantalizing find.

Steel rail, Whitefish Lake, August 2012.

From there we moved on the property of resident Helen Morrison who took us a short distance further to where it looked like a gravel pit had been. When I returned home, I found a reference to the spur and that it was approximately 2250 feet long. Taking into account the section through the bay, the distance we covered from the junction to the gravel pit was about 670 metres, or 2197 feet…that’s pretty remarkable!

It was in conversation with Helen that I learned another interesting piece of information that relates to the events that are happening on Gunflint Lake. Over the last few weeks I have discovered that the grade is no longer owned by the railway, but rather it is now crown land. Helen told me that in the late 70’s the railway grade was offered up for sale. There were some people that did take advantage of that, but others were not aware or decided not to spend the money on the right of way. The big question now is which sections were sold.

From the spur, Rocky and I headed back to the mainline and proceeded to walk most the 930 metres from the junction to where the railway crossed Highway 588. Sections were heavily grown in, but others made for a rather nice walk through the conifers. We were able to locate and mark where the railway crossed the highway and paved the way for another hike west of the road, probably for another 500 metres or so until it reaches some private property?

Rail bed, Whitefish Lake, August 2012.

I’m planning one last hike before the days tick away to the start of the school year (sigh). When I was looking at the document with the spurs, I noticed the 1100 foot one at Leeblain. I’ve never been able to locate it, as it is not marked on the 1911 map of the area. Google Earth to the rescue! After staring at my geographical saviour for a while, I think I have a probable location. So I’m off to Leeblain next week, not that I need extra incentive to go there. The plan is to stay in that one area and hopefully turn up more railway related stuff.

Well, I think 1400 words are good enough for today. On Wednesday I’m off to the states for a week, so my next blog will be from the wonderful city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The boys are really looking forward to the trip, but it’s sad that it will be the last hurrah of the summer. Anyway, time to go. Until then…

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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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Gunflint Day 2

Well, I’ve had a shower, I’ve eaten, washed the dishes and now it’s time to write. Sort of ironic that as I sit in the great room at the Cross River Lodge and write about my day hiking, I’m watching Owen Wilson run for his life in the movie “Behind Enemy Lines.” It has been a very busy day and I’m quite tired.

I thankfully had a good night’s sleep…I guess going to bed at 9:30 helped too. I slept pretty well until 6:30, and then lounged in bed for another half an hour before I got up. It was a nice morning on the lake, though I did notice that the wind was up which was not a good sign.

Sunrise on Gunflint, August 2012.

After breakfast I started my journey to the east. I was quite concerned about the state of the lake, as I could see whitecaps forming in the open water. Gunflint Lake is a very deep lake, surrounded by high ridges; when it’s windy the lake tends to get very nasty. It was going to be even more challenging since I was by myself, with no one else to help level and trim the boat. As it turns out it, my fears were confirmed and the lake was fairly tough to navigate. I was forced to creep along at half-speed (18kph), constantly watching my position in relation to the waves. So my 8km trip took quite a while!

When I arrived at the east end of the lake, I wanted to avoid some private property along the bay, so I was forced to beach the boat on a rather rocky shore. I had quite the struggle pulling up the boat, in the process smashing it into the side of my left knee. It’s quite swollen now and I’m sure it will be loads of fun tomorrow! Once that was all out of the way, I started walking.

My journey was going to take me just over 4km to the east, back to where I stopped my hike last year. I was immediately greeted by a number of rock cuts and embankments, which would set the tone for the rest of the hike. One of these embankments even had a very interesting culvert built into it. It appeared that they blasted a channel into the rock and the covered it with flat pieces of rock. Crude, but expedient…and it still works!

Rock culvert, Gunflint Lake, August 2012.

From there the grade crosses over what was a high bridge and then enters a wet, low area for 800 metres. Thankfully someone had recently driven along the railway which helped push down some of the new growth that has sprung up since the fire 5 years ago. It was really the only difficult section I had to contend with, and unfortunately kinda boring. Not much to see except chest/head high brush and burned trees!

After this tough stretch, the grade did improve. For the next nearly 2km the railway runs along the shore of the lake, about 100 metres or so from the shore and over 150 feet above it. With the trees gone, it provides an amazing vista of the lake. It was then on to the last major feature before my destination, another bridge crossing. I had visited this location in 1997 before the blowdown and fire, but I had high hopes with the trees gone. The drop to the creek from the grade is over 20 feet, but I wasn’t able to find any remains in the valley. With the rains in May and June the water level is a bit high, frustrating my search.

Gunflint Lake from the railway grade, August 2012.

Two hundred and fifty metres past the bridge I arrived at my turn around point, which was the intersection of the railway and the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. The G&LS was a logging line that was constructed in 1903 and used until 1909. The junction used to be very easy to spot and there was a trail leading down to the lake. Unfortunately it was probably not used after the blowdown and is littered with deadfall and burned trees.

My journey back was smooth, except for the threatening skies. The forecast called for a chance of showers, even thundershowers, and it looked like it was going to happen (it only spat enough to nake the leaves a bit wet). I couldn’t stop at my starting point though, as I had to walk approximately 800 metres west to cover a section along the lake that I did not get to last year. As it turns out, I went 250 metres further than I needed to!

When I got back to the boat, I was shocked to discover, despite placing the cover on it, that the waves had splashed quite a bit of water over the transom. It took me about 15 minutes to bail out the water (gotta get a bilge pump), made worse by my tightening hamstrings. I had walked nearly 11km! Then it was off to creep back to the lodge at half speed, trying to stay pointed into the waves and avoid the reef off the point near Leeblain. I couldn’t believe the canoeists were braving the lake.

The break at the lodge was a brief one; enough time for a quick snack and to prepare my GPS for the next adventure. My host, John, was going to take me to the Narrows to look at the railway there and hunt for an “interesting” treasure.

Our first stop was at the home of one of the local residents; Jerry and Sharon had spoken to their neighbours and had agreed to take us for a look around. I was able to photograph and video the Narrows in the afternoon light as I wanted to. Our search for the mystery item was unsuccessful; we had the general location, but sometimes it’s like the proverbial needle in the haystack. Jerry has agreed to take me back on Wednesday morning so I can get some proper data and more images.

Well, I need to post this blog and turn in. Tomorrow should be a less strenuous day, with a visit to Leeblain and the Ontario side of the Narrows. There will certainly be a lot less walking, which is good since my knee isn’t too happy. Hopefully I’ll return with good news in my search for rock ovens and building remains. The forecast calls for a high of 24C and lighter winds…well see what happens!

Until then…

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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel


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Gunflint Day 1

Greetings from Gunflint Lake! I am sitting here in the great room of the Cross River Lodge watching football as I write this. If it weren’t for the pounding headache that I have, life would be awesome. I’ve had a good day for the most part and I am certainly looking forward to tomorrow.

So this week has been a very busy week for me. This is my second kick at some fieldwork in less than a week. On Tuesday I decided to take the boys with me and walk a bit of the railway near the former village of Flint. I mentioned in my previous post the Flint is a village no more since most of the area has been washed away by the Whitefish River.

We started our hike where Diana Road ends along the river and headed north. It was going to be a 3km round trip, which I thought was well within abilities of the boys. It unfortunately was a cool night, so there was a heavy dew which made everything dripping wet. In areas the grass and vegetation growth was much thicker than I expected, but the boys took it in stride (much to my shock) and were real troopers about it.

When we arrived at our destination, which was a crossing of the river west of Harstone, we spent some time examining the remains of the bridge there. We then headed back and checked out some of the eroded sections of the grade. In one area it there was what appeared to be the remains of a diversion of the river. The engineers diverted the river is several places along this stretch of the railway and this could very well have been one of those locations.

When we passed through Flint we made our way down to the river to see what might still be lurking in the area. We could see some of the remains of the bridge across the river but no traces of the former village. From there we crossed the Silver Creek and finished our little adventure.

So that brings us back to Minnesota. I made the drive down to this very beautiful area today to give a talk at the Chik-Wauk Museum on the railway and the Paulson Mine. I’m sticking around for a few days to do some hiking on Gunflint and hopefully Mother Nature cooperates!

After stopping for some supplies in Grand Marais, I arrived at my “home” for the next few days, the Cross River Lodge. I’m staying in the main lodge and my room is amazing. Even as I sit here on the main floor I’m struck by how well appointed this resort is. What is even better is the hospitality of my hosts, John and Rose Schloot. They have been nothing short of fantastic and the staff is equally wonderful!

The presentation today had the makings of an interesting experience since it was outdoors and I had no technology assistance (other than my tablet for my notes). It was well attended (I didn’t count the number of people) but I’d have to guess there were about 50 people. I managed to stay within the one hour time frame and I fielded many questions about the railway and the mine. I’m looking forward to doing it again at some point in the future!

Following the presentation I returned to the lodge for a bite to eat and then headed out for a bit of exploring along the Gunflint Narrows Road. My main goal was to try to locate the turning wye that was situated just north of the crossing of the Cross River. I had spent a bit of time examining the area on Google Earth and I was pretty convinced that I would easily find this unique feature. Unfortunately as I began to walk it became apparent that I would not find it. I crisscrossed the site many times but I could not see any definitive traces. I guess the wye is where we thought it was all along, obliterated by a gravel pit.

Well, I’m heading off to bed since my head is still pounding and I have a long day tomorrow. I will hiking the eastern end of the lake and let’s hope I don’t get rained on. Then my host John will be taking me to the Gunflint Narrows to look at the railway there and maybe even see something neat!

Until tomorrow…

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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel


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I could talk for hours!

In case you’re wondering, I can…seriously. If I’m talking about something I’m interested in! One cannot be a history teacher and not like to talk; it’s kinda like being a comedian and not telling jokes. So I literally make a living by talking, a lot. Now don’t get me wrong, I can shut up if I need to, but I rather enjoy the one way conversation. And I do like to take my time with my explanations. When my wife asks me a question, she always finishes her request with the statement “…and in 20 words or less!” Unfortunately I find it very difficult to provide a sufficient description in such a limited context. Brevity is just not my thing; once when I was a kid a friend of the family offered me 25 cents to stop talking!

Anyway, so why the commentary on talking? Well, talking was one of the biggest highlights of my week. As mentioned in my previous post, last Wednesday I delivered my first public lecture on the railway since 1998. Fourteen years…that was certainly a long spell between talks! It was also my only railway related event of the week since I didn’t want to push my luck and go for a hike too. Gotta make time for the family first!

Speaking of which, I did get my share of family time in. We have been spending a fair bit of time at camp (the cottage, the lake…we’ve had this conversation) this year and this past weekend was no exception. I know that my boys enjoy it out there and my wife LOVES the sauna. I can be a bit of a chore though, since it is like having a second home. I spent most of Saturday morning cutting the grass (my fav) and I know that I’ll have to finish the rest when I’m out again. This also means that I haven’t had a lot of time at home, and the grass here has gone a few weeks without a trim. Thankfully it has been pretty dry so the growth has been rather slow.

Boating at camp, July 2012.

So, the presentation. Well, I can honestly say that it went fairly well. I was a bit nervous; it is very different talking in front of a bunch of adults than a classroom of teenagers. I was also unsure what the turn-out would be like. The last thing you want is to be giving a lecture in front of 5 people. In the end, there were 80+ people in the audience, which is a pretty decent crowd for a Wednesday night. It did feel the pressure at the beginning, but then I settled down into a nice comfort zone. Part of my apprehension stems from the fact that I’m way more knowledgeable with the material in the latter half of the presentation.

Duke Hunt Museum, July 2012.

The only bad part I can say was that I went over time-go figure! I thought I’d talk for about an hour, but I finished after one hour and forty minutes. I like to talk! I did not get any negative feedback and it seemed as though everyone was very attentive through my extra-long rambling. I’ll have to make sure I stay on track for this weekend.

On Sunday I’ll be making my first “international” presentation as I head down to the Chik-Wauk Museum at the end of the Gunflint Trail to give a lecture very similar to one from last week. Obviously the audience will be a bit different, so my emphasis will be more on the Paulson Mine and less on the railway. It is of no consequence to me however, as I feel very confident with both areas.

Gunflint Narrows, 1911.

The only weird part of Sunday’s talk as that it will be outdoors, therefore I will not have access to any technology. I spend every day during the school year talking in front of a Smartboard, but I will have no visuals to assist me there. It will be a very strange feeling. I’m sure my power to blab will carry me through…as long as I stay on time.

Following the presentation I plan to spend a few days on Gunflint Lake completing some fieldwork that I started last year, particularly on the eastern end of the lake. I’m also going to spend some time at Leeblain, as well as on both sides of the Gunflint Narrows. Should be a good time if Mother Nature cooperates!

Gunflint Narrows, August 2008.

On the topic on Gunflint Lake, I did receive some interesting news pertaining to the work at Leeblain. My local MPP cc’d me a letter that was sent to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, which oversees such things as historical preservation and archeology. Hopefully the government takes an interest in protecting the railway and such rare treasures as the rock ovens near Leeblain.

In the last few days I’ve also discovered some very important information related to the railway. Since I began my research 18 years ago, I believed that the railway still owned the right of way. Much of this stemmed from some old documents that I had, and information provided to me by some property owners. After I received the letter, I was then advised that the grade was in fact Crown Land. I did some digging of my own and I came to the same conclusion. The big question that now lingers is has any of the right of way been sold off, or is it all still public land? Hopefully I will find out soon enough.

Tomorrow I am heading out for another hike, the last before I head down to Gunflint. It’s going to be a short one, probably only 3k and so I am going to take my boys with me. We will be walking the grade near the old village of Flint which lies between Harstone and Hymers. It is a rather interesting spot since the majority of the land on which Flint sat at one time has now been obliterated by the Whitefish River. As you can see in the rough Google Earth overlay (not everything matches up), the river has shifted some 80+ metres to the east since 1960. I haven’t been there since 1995ish so I’m interested to see what I’ll find. I’ll certainly get some video and I can post it with my flashy new intro. I had a former student of mine create the introduction and so far I’ve uploaded one video with it; makes me look kinda professional!

Flint, ON.

Anyway, gotta get going. My next post will be on Sunday night from the Cross River Lodge (they do have internet) and I’ll try to have some pics of the presentation. Until then…

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Posted by on July 30, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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Good dog, bad dog.

So, I have a dog. Rather I should say my wife has a dog. His name is Loki, who was the Norse God of Mischief. Today I will begin with his story.

We got Loki in 2004 as a puppy. When my wife was growing up, she was not allowed any pets other than birds. We had always had cats around my house, so when we got married we ended up adopting two cats, Odin and Aurora. However, my wife had always wanted a dog. I was agreeable to her request with one small provision; if we were to get a dog I wanted a real dog, not an oversized cat. We spent some time looking around for puppies and finally found some for sale near Upsala, which is about 1.5 hours west of here.

When we arrived there were 11 puppies in the litter! Overwhelmed at which one to take, we chose the runt of the litter. That runt is now 8 years old and weighs 92 pounds. And what was supposed to be my wife’s dog has now become my dog. Not that I mind though; I never had a dog as a kid and Loki has become my constant companion. I have become so accustom to his company on my hikes that it will be a very sad day when he cannot tag along any longer. I’m actually quite disappointed that he will not be coming with my on my upcoming visit to Gunflint Lake-it will feel very weird without him.

Loki, July 2004.

Anywho, I guess I should get to the title shouldn’t I? Well, the good dog part happened last week during my hike on the railway (obviously you’ll hear more about it later). I had just reached the halfway point of the hike at Hymers and I was preparing to turn around and head back. Suddenly I heard a splashing sound in the river and then I saw something that shocked me. Bounding down the river was a young buck deer, completely oblivious to my presence. I immediately reached for the video camera and was able to record about 30 seconds of this awesome sight. The deer only stopped and then bolted when he saw Loki move, and I was surprised that he listened to my command to “stay.”

On Sunday we were at camp and Loki reverted to the dog that I am more familiar with. I spent a good part of the day cleaning the outside of the camp with the pressure washer and I was very tired afterwards. For supper that day I had taken four striploin steaks out of the freezer and had them thawing in a bowl on the front deck. When I finished my job, I headed inside for a drink and I noticed that the bowl was empty. At first I thought I was imagining things, but then I figured my wife had taken the steaks inside. I then spent the next few minutes hunting through the fridge for them without much success. The boys told me that they saw Loki licking the empty container; now I knew why I had seen him hiding outside. He knew he was guilty. So that day Loki enjoyed a wonderful meal of steaks while the rest of the family ate hot dogs and smokies since there was nothing else to cook!

Well, besides the dog excitement, it has been a typical busy week. The temperatures have still been high, though I think my body has gotten more use to this weather. We spent a half of last week at camp with friends, then back home for a few days, then back to camp. I also had to work on my presentation that is happening tomorrow (hence the late post) and I also spent yesterday entertaining our Italian visitors.

We finally we able to visit one of Thunder Bay’s premier attractions, Fort William Historical Park (Old Fort William as it used to be called). It is a re-creation of a 19th century fur trading outpost belonging to the North West Company. The fort is a living museum that attempts to demonstrate life as it was in 1815. I had not been to the fort since 2001 and my kids had never visited it in the summer season, so it was a very worthwhile trip. I know that our guests certainly appreciated what they saw.

As they are departing for Toronto tomorrow, I decided that there was one last place they needed to see; the Hoito. For those of you not familiar with Thunder Bay, or who have never visited our city, the Hoito (which means care in Finnish) Restaurant is a cultural icon here. Famous for its “Finn” pancakes, one can often find a huge line-up there that stretches out the door. Today was no exception. We had a party of eight, which made seating a bit difficult. It was insanely busy, which led to a bit of a wait for our food, but it was well worth it…I was stuffed most of the day!

So, on to the railway stuff. I mentioned earlier that it has been a very busy week, but I also said that I did get a chance to fit some hiking in. I wanted to take a look at the section between Hymers and Sellers, as I had not been in this area since 1995. I thought my best course of action was to park at Sellers along Dave’s Road (very fitting) and work my way east. I had mentioned this area in a previous post and that it would be a bit challenging due to some erosion of the grade by the Whitefish River.

My road, July 2012.

I began my hike and I immediately ran into some difficulties. In the past few years there have been some heavy rainfalls that have resulted in high water on the river, which has caused some washouts in the first section of line. I had a bit of hunting around until I re-acquired the grade. Once I did I was rewarded with a bit of a prize; a standing telegraph pole. I remember seeing this back in 1995 and was surprised to see it still up. A short distance away I found another and spent a bit of time following the wires to see if it led to anything else. It didn’t, but both poles still had fragments of the insulators on the wooden pegs.

Tekegraph pole, Sellers, July 2012.

The grade then settled into a nice straight section for about a kilometre before there was another washout. I had to detour about 150 metres along the river bank before finding the grade again (which was a chore). Ninety metres and then it was another washout, then a 600 metre section and yet another washout. It was then a tough 400 metre walk (the grade was heavily grown in) before arriving at the remains of the bridge that spanned the river at Hymers. It was there while photographing the pilings that I saw the deer.

Bridge pilings, Hymers, July 2012.

The return trip was much easier since I now had all the washouts and the grade marked on my GPS. That gave me more time to look for any goodies. I didn’t find anything spectacular, but in addition to the two standing telegraph poles, I found the remains of another 7. I also found what seemed like miles of wire, some of it hung up in the trees, in one spot even grown into the bark of a tree.

Erosion, Hymers, July 2012.

After 6+ kilometres of walking I finished the hike. That was very fortuitous since my legs were beginning to cramp up in the heat and the constant climbing over deadfall. I certainly cannot wait to get out again, but I will have to wait since my railway time this week will be consumed by the presentation at the Duke Hunt Museum.

Speaking of which, I have spent the last few days working very feverishly to complete the PowerPoint for the lecture. It is surprising how long it takes to put together sometime that will be over in an hour. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked though; the number of hours it takes to prepare for a school lesson far exceeds the time it takes to teach it. It’s all good though, and I hope those that attend will take something away from it. I’m still nervous though. My whole career revolves around talking in front of people, but talking to a room full of adults is very different from a room of teenagers. I know I will be fine, but I always get lots of butterflies before something like this!

Anyway, gotta run. Still have a bunch of things to do for tomorrow so I better get to it. I’ll have a full report of how things went next week. Until then…


Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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Back to God’s Country

Catchy title huh? Betcha you thought I had this great enlightening moment when it came to me right? Wrong…I stole it! Back to God’s Country is the title of a of 1919 Canadian silent film which was based on a short story written by James Oliver Curwood (there were remakes in 1927 & 1953). Ironically enough, Curwood wrote several novels with the same theme, one of which, The Country Beyond (1922), specifically mentions the railway in it. Curwood spent a lot of time along the railway dating back to the 1910’s, which influenced his writings. So, why did I pick this as the title for this week’s blog? Well, you’ll just have to keep reading.

So, what’s new? Well, it’s still stinking hot. But it’s summer, what’s so unusual about that? It is unusual because we seldom get this many days of solidly hot weather; it has been close to, or over 30C for the past 10 days. That is very weird for our area. Global warming? Probably, but that doesn’t exist right? Anyway, it has been both a blessing and a burden. I certainly appreciate the warm weather, but at times it has just been hard to bear, especially the humidity. You have to remember that it gets down to -30/-35C in the winter; that’s almost a 60 degree temperature swing!

In the meantime I have been very preoccupied with the visiting relatives I spoke about last week. On Tuesday we travelled down to Grand Marais, Minnesota which is a picturesque little town about 1.5 hours south of here. While I was there I paid a little visit to the folks at WTIP radio since I’ve had several conversations with the news director at the station regarding the railway. They are going to do a few little radio promos for my talk at the Chik-Wauk Museum on August 5th.

I also had a chance to stop by the Cook County Museum and meet up with an old friend, former museum director Pat Zankman. Pat and I met back in 1997 after I had written to the museum looking for information regarding the railway and the Paulson Mine. It had been a long time since we had spoken so it was good to re-connect. Pat has already prepared some writing work for me about John Paulson…I could make this gig a full-time job!

Anyway, the relatives enjoyed the trip and it was nice to beat the heat along Lake Superior. Yesterday we took them back to camp, with a short trip to Ouimet Canyon. Unfortunately it was scorching hot, but I was able to cool off with a nice dip in the lake. Then it was back into the heat for a refreshing sweat in the sauna! The time at camp also gave me time to try out the “new” boat we bought to take the kids around the lake (it obviously is used). Runs very nice…can’t wait to get it on to Gunflint Lake in August!

Well, what about the title Dave? Okay, I guess it’s time to talk railway. So on Thursday I decided to take a journey to the Canadian side of Gunflint, which is a rather interesting ordeal since it involves a 150km drive over some very rough road. The last time (and the first time) I did this drive was in 2008. I had recently heard that sections of the road had been repaired, and more importantly, that some work was being done along that lake near Leeblain. As I mentioned last week, I am very concerned for the preservation of the rock ovens near the ghost town and any potential remains that might be located there.

So my journey began very early, since the drive would be long and I wanted to beat the heat. The trip started with a very unique twist in fact. As I was passing Iron Range Lake and some road work, I noticed a guy walking along the road. It is very unusual to see someone walking along the road in that area since it is very remote, especially since it looked like the guy belonged in a metal band and not walking a gravel road. About 10km or so up the road the story got even better; I see a SUV on its side along the road. Then I realize the guy I saw was the driver of said vehicle (he had probably lost control and rolled), but he made no attempt to flag me down or anything. The plates were from Virginia, and the message written in the dirt on the rear window said “I’m fine, gone up the road.” What a bizarre episode.

Flipped SUV.

Eventually the gravel road became even rougher, and I entered the area burned by the 2007 fire. As I approached Gunflint Lake my thoughts were that people would have to be nuts to drive into the lake on that road on a regular basis-it was insanely rough! However, once I reached the area just above Magnetic Lake, the view was worth the drive. The surrounding ridges sit some 200 feet above the lakes, and a beautiful panorama unfolds before you. It is very breathtaking, even with the burned nature of the forest.

Magnetic Lake, Gunflint Narrows and Gunflint Lake, July 2012.

As I was descending the hills toward the lake, I came across several heavy machines heading north. I stopped and chatted for a while with the driver of a large dump truck. He told me that they were done working and were leaving the area, which was much to my relief. He also informed me that they were aware of the rock ovens and that there were currently no plans to develop that area. I certainly felt a big weight lifted off my shoulders, but I did want to check the ovens over for myself.

The ovens are located approximately 300m northeast of the newly graded road along the railway right of way. I drove to the spot and quickly found the undisturbed oven with my GPS. I decided to take a few minutes and poke around to see if I could locate the other oven that was nearby. To my surprise I may have located it buried in sand that was placed on the grade back in 2000 when the area was logged. I’ll have to go back with a small shovel to investigate further, but it appears it is in the right spot.

Rock oven, Leeblain ON, July 2012.

I then drove a little further up the road to where the RV sites had been created and near where the grade crosses a small creek emptying from an unnamed lake. From there it would be nearly 4km to our destination at the Gunflint Narrows. Almost immediately it was obvious that some work had been done to the grade, as the workers had replaced a burned bridge over the creek with a culvert and had bulldozed the right of way. They did muck some stuff up (ie. disturbing some of the drainage) but they also turned up things that had been buried like dozens of spikes.

Unamed Lake, July 2012.

After the small lake, the railway passed through a number of small rock cuts before the grade and the road split. When the area was logged in 2000, they chose not to follow a 600m section of the grade and instead built a new road around it. About 300m is through a swampy area, and the remainder encompasses an embankment and a rock cut. The road then intersects the grade, and afterwards there are several long embankments (they are not particularly high, but made of a lot of crushed rock). The second embankment is followed by a 150m long, 20 foot high rock cut.

This cut is of particular importance since it is the location of the Gunflint Cross. I made mention of the cross in a previous post and although this was my third visit to the site, it is still interesting nonetheless. The cross is a memorial to a worker named Joseph Montegia who was killed in a blasting accident near the spot in October 1892. In his memory, his fellow workers carved the cross near where he fell, and today it remains there 120 years later. The cross sits almost 5 feet above the grade, and is easy to miss if you do not know where to look (it was actually obscured by bushes growing at the sides of the cut).

Gunflint Cross, July 2012.

From the cross, the railway passes through several more rock cuts before it reaches the site of a 250+ foot trestle. Most of the eastern side has been obliterated when they created first the snowmobile trail and later the logging road. The trestle sat probably 30-40 feet above the valley, and it is neat to see the remains of the western abutment, with the massive amounts of rock fill that was used. Beyond that there are a few more rock cuts and embankments before the railway reaches Gunflint Narrows. I didn’t walk all the way to the Narrows since I will be returning in August and I knew that it was nearly noon and getting hotter by the minute (the temperature peaked at 36C with the humidity). Poor Loki was feeling the heat!

So I guess I didn’t explain the title did I? Well, this area is so beautiful and remote it is like the God’s country that Curwood spoke of, and it wasn’t my first trip there. As I walked the grade, I did what I often do in the quiet silence; I imagine what it would have looked like all those years ago. It would have been something to ride the train through that remarkable and untouched wilderness. Maybe someday they’ll invent a time machine that will let me do that…maybe in a hot tub!

Anyway, enough for this week…I’m had back to camp today so I have to get going. I’ll be back next week at the usual time. Until then…

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Posted by on July 16, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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