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Vimy 2017 Day 7

Day 7 boys and girls. Yes, I’m a little more awake today, but barely. I still feel like I’ve been run over by a dump truck, but at least I got some sleep. The key is to be so comatose that you blackout the moment your head hits the pillow; I’m not sure if that is good or bad. We’ll see how tonight goes for a full scientific assessment.

Okay, we’re on the bus, heading toward Normandy. It’s another beautiful morning and it should be a relatively nice in the Calvados region. This is the point where, for the most part, we switch emphasis on the tour. So far we have been visiting sites associated with World War I, but today and tomorrow we will be focussing on World War II. We also see more of the French countryside, and Normandy is a particularly scenic place.

So after two hours of driving and a mandated 45 minute stop, we’re back on the road. We pulled into a Shell Station east of Rouen literally 5 minutes before a bunch of other buses showed up. What fortuitous timing! However, it does make you realize how many other groups are doing the same thing you are. With 260+ EF groups, I would imagine that there are quite a number doing the Beaches & Battlefields Tour; Arromanches is going to be overrun by Canadian teenagers today!

Gas station selfie, April 2017.

We’re back on the bus after a get on get off day. We rolled into Arromanches just after 1300 and made our way down to the main strip just behind the beach. Arromanches is a pretty little town, maybe a little too commercialized, but nice nonetheless. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, it was the site of the Gold Beach, which was assaulted by the British 50th Division. Once it was secure, engineers began construction on the Mulberry, one of two artificial harbours created by the Allies to land supplies. Reminants of the concrete sections are still visible in water, but unfortunately the tide was too high for us to walk out for up close visit.

Myself and Ms. Caza wandered around to some of shops and picked up a few things for our kids. I’m sure the food and souvenir retails made a killing with all the Canadians wandering around. After just over an hour in the town, we hopped on to the bus for a short 5 minute (well, we did get lost, so it was more like 15 minutes) ride to a theatre to watch a short 360 degree movie on the Normandy Campaign. It was a well done film.

Arromanches, April 2017.

Arromanches, April 2017.

From Arromanches we drove 45 minutes to the southeast, past the city of Caen to the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery. It’s one of the two Canadian cemerties in Normandy, and contains the graves of over 2900 Canadians, mostly killed fighting in July and August 1944. We held our usual prayer service at the Cross of Sacrifice, and then proceeded to visit the graves of our assigned soldiers. We decided to have the kids visit those belonging to the Lake Superior Regiment, which was from the Lakehead. Today, it is perpetuated by the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment, which I served in during my teens.

Compared to our stop at Tyne Cot, this was a much more intimate and personal visit. Save for a couple of other people, we were the only ones there; it is certainly a sad and lonely place. However, the very act of remembrance that the students carried out brought life to the sadness, for it is through our youth that their memory lives on. The students were very moved by the cemeteries. I find the WWII cemeteries much more personal as most of the graves are identified and bear family inscriptions. They convey, in words, the immense loss and sorrow felt by the families of

 

those that fell. They cut very deep and I always get emotional, as were many of the kids. It is so unfortunate that many of the mothers, fathers, spouses and children of those interred at Bretteville were never able to mourn their loss in person.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

In about 40 minutes we’ll arrive in Honfleur, our last destination of the day. It is located northeast of Caen, just up the Channel coast. It’s a small fishing town of approximately 8100 people, but apparently very picturesque. We are for sure going for a quick visit tomorrow and maybe even tonight. We’ll see how things go once we finish dinner.

Dinner tonight at our hotel in Honfleur was fantastic. They faked us out a bit first by bringing salad and some quiche; we thought that was it. However, they rolled out a full plate of roasted chicken and potatoes as a second course, which were awesome. It was by far the best meal on the trip so far. The hotel is quite interesting, more like a motel, with the doors opening out in a dual-building, two-storey configuration. We were a bit worried about how we would keep the kids contained, but they seem to be respecting the boundaries so far. We did a room check and many are already prepped for bed. They know tomorrow will be another busy day, with visits to Honfleur, Juno Beach and our transfer to Paris.

Well, it’s time to turn in. We are not leaving as early as we have been the last few days, but I’d to get up well before the kids so I can shave. My hair is starting to look a little hippyish. The wifi here in Honfleur is decent, so I’m hoping it’s just as good in Paris, so I should be back tomorrow with more news and photos. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Dave’s Outdoor Adventures-Episode III: The Cruise Control Aversion

It’s something that some us use quite frequently, while others do not. At one time it was regarded as a luxury, a piece of technology that a few had while the majority did not. Today however, it has become a standard component in automotive offerings, so much so that it is often overlooked. Yes, I’m talking about cruise control. Huh? Yup, that little collection of buttons located somewhere near your vehicle steering wheel, subject to the variations of makes and models. Why am I talking about this you ask? Well, it seems to me that some people out there have forgotten that this technology exists; I guess we’re too worried about Bluetooth connections, LCD screens and in-car wifi to remember about something so trivial. Still confused? Yes, you’re probably wondering what my point in all of this is, but rest assured, as always, I will explain myself.

So 2600km and many hours of driving later I have returned ladies and gentlemen. The vacation is over; well, at least part of it is…I’m still on leave however. It’s amazing how much distance you can cover in a short period of time. Probably the best example was on the return trip, when we had to cross the entire state of Wisconsin from Beloit to Superior, all 600km of it. It took the better part of 5 hours to complete that leg of the 1000km trek home. It’s surprising how sitting in a vehicle that long can completely wipe you out. I definitely would not make a good long-haul truck driver!

So when we last left off I had arrived in La Crosse, Wisconsin on the first leg of our trip. The whole purpose of visiting La Crosse was to examine files belonging to Pigeon River Lumber Company Vice-President Frank Hixon, housed in the archives of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. There was palpable mix of excitement and apprehension before my visit; I couldn’t wait to see what I find but I was also worried that the volume of information would overwhelm me.

I had quite a number of email exchanges with the staff of the Special Collections Center at the Murphy Resource Library well in advance of my arrival. They had graciously examined many of the files in the Hixon records, so I knew that this would not just be a wild goose chase. The archives did not open until 9:30, so I had plenty of time to make sure I arrived on time.

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Archives, Murphy Library, June 2016.

Archives, Murphy Library, June 2016.

The first files I planned to investigate were financial records belonging to the PRLC. While it turned out that most were for the years after 1909 (the year that the logging operation at Gunflint concluded), there were a number that fell into the appropriate timeframe. These documents gave concise information on the financial situation of the company, as well as the importance of the Gunflint operation to the PRLC.

From there I began an examination of Hixon’s letterbooks. These books, similar in nature to the Arpin Papers, contained copies of all Hixon’s outgoing letters to his many contacts and business partners. I was hoping that they would shed some light on the end of the Gunflint logging efforts, since the Arpin Papers do not go past April 1908. I found exactly the information I was looking for.

After looking through the 1908-1909 letterbook, I moved on to the unbound correspondence from the same period. Essentially these folders contained all the incoming letters that Hixon received, which proved to be even more useful than the letterbooks; they were a gold mine of information. Letters from President D.J. Arpin and Secretary/Treasurer William Scott, in addition to copies relating to company business, shed a tremendous amount of light on the day-to-day operations of the PRLC.

By focussing on the periods where there were gaps in the Arpin Papers coverage, and utilizing the assistance of my wonderful wife, I was able to make substantial headway in my examination of the records. When all was said and done, I had gathered over 600 photographs various documents in the collection. The haul of information made the time and expense of the visit to La Crosse well worthwhile.

Hixon Letterbook, June 2016.

Hixon Letterbook, June 2016.

PRLC Letterhead, June 2016.

PRLC Letterhead, June 2016.

When I initially planned the trip to La Crosse, I had figured that two days would allow me to make a full examination of all the files. Later on, I became convinced that a return visit was inevitable given the amount of information in the archives. Surprising, I was able to complete everything in one day.

I found La Crosse to be a beautiful town, and despite my good knowledge of geography, I did not realize that it lay on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. However, with my work completed, Jo-Anne decided that we should leave a day early and therefore have more time in Chicago. This was done, and early on Tuesday morning we began the four-hour drive to the Windy City.

Mighty Mississippi, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Mighty Mississippi, La Crosse, WI, June 2016.

Like the drive to La Crosse, I thought the journey across Wisconsin was equally as picturesque. Four hours and a bunch of change later, we were in Chicago. Neither my wife nor I had ever been to the Land of Lincoln before, so it was going to be a whole new experience. In the end, it was great; the only blemish, the damn toll highways. I’ve been on them before, but nowhere near that many. The real frustration comes when you miss one (or a couple…long story) and need to pay them later on. Apparently it’s quite easy. Just go on the web and pay online; the part they leave out is that it doesn’t work for non-US residents! What a pain!

So the extra time we had would allow us to explore the city in a bit more detail. Unfortunately we were staying in the suburbs, closer to where the National Archives were located. Thankfully we were able to determine that Rock Island District Metra line would take us right into the heart of the city in less than an hour. So, with oh so much irony, I rode the train into downtown. And what did I do along the way? I took pictures of some of the old stations along the line! I am very impressed that they were able to preserve all of these historic stations. While it appears that many are no longer in use, it is amazing to witness their unique architectural style…they don’t build things that way anymore.

Oak Forest Metra Station, June 2016.

Oak Forest Metra Station, June 2016.

115th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

115th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

99th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

99th Street Metra Station, June 2016.

91st Street Metra Station, June 2016.

91st Street Metra Station, June 2016.

To help us explore the city better, we purchased a get on, get off bus tour for the day. The first thing we had to do was walk though, from the La Salle Street Station two and a half kilometres to the Hard Rock Café on Ontario Street where the tour departed from. Our first stop after embarking on the bus was the Willis Tower, which many still know as the Sears Tower. The Skydeck at the tower gives an impressive view of the city and surrounding area, though the highlight is going out onto “The Ledge.” While I have walked, apprehensively albeit, on the glass floor of the CN Tower, nothing prepares you for the experience of stepping out into a glass box 1353 feet above the ground. Have I ever mentioned that I’m terrified of heights? And not only did I do it once, but twice, since Jo-Anne wanted to get the “official” picture as well.

chicago, June 2016.

Chicago, June 2016.

The "Ledge," Willis Tower, June 2016.

The “Ledge,” Willis Tower, June 2016.

The rest of the bus ride was great, including a stop at the Field Museum near the waterfront. We concluded the tour by disembarking near the Hancock Tower, at the northern end of the famous “Magnificent Mile.” We then made our way along Michigan Avenue toward the train station, stopping for some deep-dish pizza at Giordano’s before heading back to the hotel.

Field Museum, June 2016.

Field Museum, June 2016.

Giordano's Pizza, June 2016.

Giordano’s Pizza, June 2016.

The second part of my research adventure took place on Thursday morning with a visit to the National Archives and Records Administration repository in Chicago. Unlike the La Crosse archives, I was quite unsure what I would find at the NARA facility; I was rolling the dice here. What I was after were any records pertaining to the US customs house located at Gunflint Lake. Government records have yielded information on the agent, salary and duties collected for the Canadian customs house at Leeblain. However, US records only list the agent and salary; I was hoping that I could fill in the gap in Chicago.

Unfortunately my search that day was over very quickly. The documents in their collection primarily dealt with the vessel traffic in the port of Duluth. While the staff rendered their utmost assistance, this search is going to require a bit more digging to determine if this information is available.

Friday and Saturday were both spent downtown again, this time in some blistering temperatures. A heat wave had embraced the Midwest states, pushing the mercury in Chicago, even near Lake Michigan, above the 40C mark with the humidity. While I appreciated the fact that it was hot, it was not the ideal weather to be plodding the streets of Chicago in. We logged more than 25km over the two days and I must have sweated out several pounds of perspiration. The worst was during our architectural boat tour of the city, where I felt like I was going to pass out with the sun beating mercilessly down on us as we plied the shade less waters of the Chicago River.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

Chicago River, June 2016.

All good things must come to an end, so on Sunday we left for home. During the drive I began to think about something that has bothered me every time I have taken road trips over the years, and is the inspiration for the title of this post; why do people hate cruise control? Am I being completely anal-retentive and unreasonable? It’s a no-brainer to me; you get on the highway, set your cruise control and away you go! It makes me mental to be behind someone on the road and have their speed fluctuate, sometimes quite wildly. Speed up, slow down and repeat. The best however, is playing tag with people on divided highways. You go by them, only to have them blow past you a few minutes later and then invariably you catch and pass them once again further down the road. I passed the same car from Maryland three times on the way home.

I’ve also noticed a propensity for this behaviour south of the border (mind you, I have done more trips there in recent years). Do Americans hate cruise control that much? Does my Canadian nature and mild OCD make me desire order and uniformity over chaos? Is it un-American to use cruise control? Maybe some people feel it unconstitutional, a slap in the face of freedom like wearing a motorcycle helmet (I really don’t get that). It could be that they’re afraid the government will revoke the second amendment if they use it. Obviously I’m being quite facetious here (or am I?), but it’s just something that catches my attention (and nerves) every time I hit the road.

Anyway, I best wrap things up. I have a plethora of things that require my attention. I’ll be back soon enough with the all the latest revelations. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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It’s like riding a bike…right?

I’m sure we’ve all heard this saying at one point or another in our lives. If you’ve done it once before, then it should be simple to pick it up again later on…in theory. I’m sure life has taught us that it isn’t as simple as that. Sometimes things don’t come back to us as easily as we would like, and at times it can be very difficult, or even downright frustrating. That’s what I feel like right now. How and why do you ask? Please, read on.

So I’m back! Yes, I’ve made my epic return to the keyboard after an extended absence. If you’re keeping track, this is my first post since July 31st and my first regular post since July 17th. So it’s been a while. I had a very busy summer, especially with travelling, so it didn’t leave me a lot of time to write and this fall has been just utterly insane! But I hope to reverse that trend starting today. It has been tough however to get back into the “saddle” per se. It’s almost like I lost a little bit of my mojo by not writing in so long. Hence the title of the post; you’d figure it would be very easy to get back into the swing of writing, but it really has been a struggle to resume my ramblings. I guess this is a start in the right direction. We’ll see how it goes!

As I mentioned earlier, this fall has been extremely hectic; well, maybe the previous metaphor of insanity is better suited to describe the situation. I had hoped that when the summer of travel was over, I would be able to resume my blogging, but that hasn’t been the case. I just haven’t been able to find the time. Between work, family and three football teams (school, Ethan and Noah), I just don’t have the time or energy to write. So what’s different about now you ask? Well, I shall tell you.

I guess first of all I’m on Gunflint Lake as I write this post. I know that it is Thanksgiving, and what the heck am I doing down here right? Well, I’d been planning this trip for over a year now and it’s coming at a very fitting time. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to swing it, but my good friend John Schloot at Cross River Lodge found me a place to stay and I jumped at the chance. I needed the break, and it’s given me the opportunity to spend a little time writing.  I’m here to do some field work on the railway (go figure), but also to spend a little time with the boys…mom gets the weekend to herself! Don’t worry, we’ll be back for Monday dinner, but it lets me have some bonding time with the boys for a change. It’s rather fitting since we just passed what would have been my dad’s 85th birthday, and certainly fall makes me think of the time we spent together. I know he’s right there with us in spirit.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

Gunflint Narrows, October 2013.

I really don’t have the time to fill in all the blanks with what has gone on in the last few months…I’d need to be much better at typing! Football has certainly kept me very busy over the last month, especially since I’m also helping out with Ethan and Noah’s teams as well. Our junior team is doing well, though we only sit at 1-2. We’re getting better every week and hope to even our record with our final regular season game this week. It’s been very tough shuttling between practices, as Ethan usually practices right after the high school team. It leaves me pretty pooped once I get home. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to make it to very many of Noah’s practices because of the conflicting schedules, but I’ve been there for the games. Both their seasons are wrapping up soon, so there is some respite on the horizon.

As you can image, with all of these things going on, I haven’t had a lot of free time to devote to the railway, but I’ve done my best. I have managed to go on a few hikes since my last post; one kinda railway related at Gunflint Lake, and the other along the grade west of Mackies at Sun Hill. Obviously I’m excited to get out this weekend, since this will probably be my last hikes of the year. Hopefully I’ll be able to accomplish my objectives!

Rock oven, Leeblain, August 2013.

Rock oven, Leeblain, August 2013.

Cutting, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Cutting, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Embankment, Sun Hill, September 2013.

Embankment, Sun Hill, September 2013.

The most important railway related news I have is regarding Leeblain. On September 24th I gave my first ever lecture at the Thunder Bay Museum on the ghost town, which was very successful. There was a good turnout, and I even had people asking if I recorded it since they were not able to attend. With the blessing of the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, I put it up on YouTube for the general public to view.

On a similar note, my article on Leeblain has been submitted to the TBHMS for publication. I literally had one weekend to make the necessary revisions to it based on the reviews that were done, but I pushed through and hopefully everything was okay. I have not heard back since it was sent it, so I’m taking that as a good sign. I’m really excited to see it published and have some of my “blood, sweat and tears” make it into print. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, I gotta wrap up since I’m off exploring very soon. I’ll post again tonight with some thoughts about the day’s adventure. Until then…

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Hiking, History, Miscellaneous, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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