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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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Bad for life, great for history…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CN Swing bridge over the Kaministiquia River, April 2020.

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

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

Twin City Junction, April 2020.

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

Stanley, circa 1900. (Duke Hunt Museum)

Stanley, April 2020.

Stanley, April 2020.

Stanley, April 2020.

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

High Track 1928 (GSC)

High Track, May 2020.

High Track, May 2020.

High Track, May 2020.

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

Moose’s Nose 1925 (GSC)

Moose’s Nose, April 2020.

Moose’s Nose, April 2020.

Moose’s Nose, April 2020.

Moose’s Nose, May 2020.

Moose’s Nose, May 2020.

Moose’s Nose, May 2020.

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

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

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

 

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It’s spring, but I’m stuck inside…

It’s spring, but I’m stuck inside…

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

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

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

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

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

Spring thaw, March 2020.

Spring thaw, April 2020.

Camp, March 2020.

Camp, March 2020.

Mount McRae, March 2020.

Mount McRae, March 2020.

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

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

Book files, March 2020.

Book files, March 2020.

Book files, March 2020.

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

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

Stanley, Ontario, March 2020.

Harstone Railway Bridge, March 2020.

Harstone Railway Bridge, March 2020.

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

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

Iron Range Hill, March 2020.

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

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

Gravel Lake Station, April 2020.

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

Gunflint & Lake Superior: Ontario’s Private American Railroad

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

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

 

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Port Arthur, Duluth & Western Railway MP 59-60.5

Video from Saturday’s hike at Iron Range Hill, between Mileposts 59 and 60.5.

Iron Range Hill, between Sandstone and Iron Range Lakes, had the heaviest grade on the line at over 2 percent. There is a famous series of photographs taken of the hill in 1915-1916 showing a train stuck in deep snow on its way to North Lake (MP 71).

In the video I mistakenly refer to the Height of Land as the end of this section. In fact, the Height of Land was further down the line, west of Iron Range Lake. The top of IRH and the Height of Land have a similar elevation.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2020 in Hiking, History, Railway, Video

 

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Wow, a quarter century?

Dedication-the act of being dedicated-to devote wholly and earnestly, as to some person or purpose. Passion-a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. If I was to pick two words to describe my history work related to this blog, these are the two I’d chose. Why? Well, there are no other words that better illustrate something that has been part of my life for 25 years. Twenty-five years? Really? Yup, you heard that right, 25 years. I’ve been at this for more than half of my life, which means: a) I’m old, and b) I might some new hobbies.

I’m back kids and it’s spring! Well, maybe on the calendar it is, but Mother Nature is not playing nice. I’d like to elaborate further, but this is a family-friendly blog, so I’ll keep my comments to myself. The transition into the season was progressing well, albeit slowly, until the other day. Last Thursday it was almost 20C, and then Monday we got a massive dump of snow. There was what I figured almost 20cm of wet, sloppy white stuff on the ground at my house. Grrrrrr…just go away already! The temperatures are supposed to rebound this weekend to near-normal values, however since this has happened now every year for the last bunch, it is clear evidence that climate change is at work.

April 28, 2019.

April 29, 2019.

April 30, 2019.

So now that we’re into May, it means that we are are in the last throes of the school year. Thank Jesus…or whatever deity you pray to! An atheist? Well you’ll just have to figure it out yourself. Anyway, the end can’t come soon enough. I’m tired. Yes, I know, colour you surprised. Don’t you always complain about being tired Dave? Yes, I certainly do…I don’t lie about these things. There’s just so many things going on right now and on top of it, I’m sick. Yup, it seems like this time every year, with the change in temperatures, I get sick and it sucks!

One of the things keeping me hopping right now if football. Football in May? Ya, why not? Everything else runs all year-long, why not football? In any case, my oldest, Ethan, has been been involved with the Under-16 rep team since February, and a few weeks back flag football started for my youngest, Noah. While I don’t coach Ethan, I get to play chauffeur and I am helping to coach Noah’s team. On top of that, thoughts are already beginning to wander to spring camps here at high school, which seem like a long way away in June, but will creep up fast!

I’ve also started the planning and recruitment for our next EF tour of Europe, which will take place in March, 2021. This next trip will take us to Italy, the home of my ancestors, which I have not seen since 1992. Ironically, that last time happened on an EF tour, when I was a student in high school. We have 6 travellers enrolled, with more on the way; one of those travellers is Ethan. I am very excited to be able to share this travel experience with him where he can see new places, cultures and history.

As you can expect, with all the other craziness, I haven’t really had any time to devote to railway matters. I did do a little writing on the book here and there after I got back from Europe, but nothing substantial. My main focus has been preparing for the spring-summer season, which has several things on tap.

In a few weeks I’ll be heading down to Gunflint once again for some field work. With no USFS involvement this year, all I can do is more mapping and examination of the site of Camp 8. The plan is to mark important locations that are obscured in the summer and fall with high grass, as well as explore more of the site to see if there is anything I have yet to discover. With the way things have been going weather wise, my fingers are crossed that Mother Nature cooperates.

In July, I have another speaking engagement scheduled for the Chik-Wauk Museum. I guess they like me so much, they keep inviting me back every year. I am really excited about the opportunity, especially since I get to speak about something different than my current project. The subject of the talk is on the ghost town of Leeblain, which has certainly garnered a lot of interest on social media. By the looks of things, it might be the most attended presentation yet.

I want to end with a rather happy story regarding an email I received last week. Sometimes you wonder if what you do, in this case promoting railway and local history makes a difference…if you’re really reaching anyone. Do people care or am I just wasting my time? This is especially true since, as I indicated earlier, I am marking 25 years of researching the PAD&W and its associated history. I had no idea in April of 1994 that a trip to the library to find some information about this obscure railway would lead to a lifetime of work. After the thousands? of hours, substantial amounts of money and a lot of sweat (and some tears), it hard to believe I’m still at it. My wife thinks I’m crazy, and I very well may be, but it’s become part of who I am and there are no regrets. Well, maybe I wished I had done more years ago as time has not been kind to some of the places I have visited.

I was contacted, out of the blue, by a Ms. Edward, a librarian who runs a railroad history and beginner train modelling class for 9-13 year olds. She wanted to let me know that they found the links page on my old website (www.padwrr.ca/links) very useful for their last project. She did not say where they were from, but based on her email address, I want to say Salt Lake City? It is so impressive that people that far away first of all found one of my sites, and second, were able to do something with the information.

She went on to add that one of the youngest students, a boy named Avery, wanted to share with me a site where he first became interested in railroad history and trains. He wanted me to include in on my links page. I am so flattered, I thought I do one better and post it here plus give him a big shout out. Here’s his link: https://bit.ly/2VJDlNz Avery, thanks for putting a smile on an old history teacher’s face. Keep being passionate about railroads and trains and you’re never too old to appreciate some good history!

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll be back in a few weeks after my trip to Gunflint with a full report from that adventure and all the latest news. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2019 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel

 

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That moose gave me a heart attack!

Well, not literally, but it felt like it. You could imagine the headline though, “Moose gives man heart attack!” Not that I want to joke about something like that; first, because heart attacks are not something to joke about and second, I guarantee you, it’s happened before. Probably in Canada…I might just Google it. Anyway, I’m sure it took a few years off my life!

Wow, its almost June kids! That means school will be over in month, so another year bites the dust. Unfortunately there is still a ton of stuff to do between now and then, so much that I don’t want to even think about it. This is on top of everything going on at home. Football is over, but Noah’s baseball is in full swing, which occupies 3-4 nights a week. I’ve also spent the last few weekends at camp, as there are quite a number of things to do there. It never ends!

Fortunately the weather is cooperating. Up until a few days ago, we haven’t seen very much rain. We still need more, as it is still very dry. It’s been the nicest spring we’ve had in a number of years, especially compared to last year. I hope it continues, and we have a warm summer. Last summer was okay, but it wasn’t particularly warm by any stretch. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.

Even though things are crazy, I was finally able to some railway work done. I had been looking forward to my first hike of the year from quite a while, and it was critical for my research on the Gunflint & Lake Superior Railroad. I decided this year to plan my hike for the Friday before the Victoria Day long-weekend, which would give me the whole weekend to go to camp.

So I headed down to Gunflint on Thursday after work. With everything going on lately, it was nice to not think about it for a while. I’ve always thought of the North-Gunflint area as one of my happy places, somewhere I can decompress. It was also nice to visit my good friends John and Rose at the Cross River Lodge…it’s like a home away from home.

Sunrise, Gunflint Lake, May 2018.

The goal of the hike was two-fold; finish locating the grade of the G&LS and explore more of Camp 8. It was a beautiful morning, and I had a long walk ahead of me. From the parking area, it was a 6km walk to where I would start my work. As I walked east along the Border Route Trail, I could already feel the heat building and I knew it would be a very challenging day. It was about two-thirds of the way to my destination that it happened.

Whisker Lake, May 2018.

I was in a hurry to get to my starting location, so I was walking quite quickly along the trail. And then I heard it…the distinctive “crack” of a branch breaking. Small animals don’t break branches like that, so my mind starting racing; bear? Proceeding slowly forward, my heart stopped when a large moose wheeled about 25 feet in front of me and took off through the bush. It took quite a while for my heart rate to recover from that!

Once I reached a point just northwest of Topper Lake, I proceeded south to where I thought the railroad grade would be. It was strictly a hunch; the previous year I had lost the line well to the west and hoped by starting further to the east I might luck out. Turns out, I did. Not far from the trail, the area was flooded by a large beaver pond, and fairly quickly I found the first trace of the railroad, a spike. That forced me into a tough decision; keep going west or try to see if there were more traces to the east. I decided on the latter.

Within a short distance I had located a couple of fishplates, which were used to join sections of rail together. Metres away, I made an amazing discovery; an axe blade. To find something like this away from any camp or settlement I would imagine is rare and it happened just by fluke. It made me wonder though, how did it end up there? Was it forgotten, abandoned…I’m sure if axes could talk! I so wanted to pick it up and get it to a museum, but I promised the guys at the Forest Service (these are Federal lands) that I would not remove anything.

Fishplates, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Axe blade, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Farther east, past the beaver dam, I located another couple pieces of fishplate and a mystery object. It was in the creek flowing into Topper Lake, so I root around in the mud to find it and when it emerged, I had no idea what it was. I figured it was something from a horse harness, which as it turns out, it was. Closer to the lake, I came across a coil of wire, which resembled some of the “telegraph wire” I encountered along the grade. This means the railroad grade actually corresponds with what is shown on a 1926 map of the area.

Horse harness piece, G&LS Grade, May 2018.

Turning around, I retraced my steps back to where I started and continued westward. I located another spike a hundred metres or so from my initial find, and that was it. From there it was a difficult slog more than 700 metres to where I had last found traces the previous year. It was a wet, swampy area, full of thick bush and deadfall, which made the going very challenging. On top of that, the temperature was climbing the whole time, so I was sweating like a hog and getting winded. It is at times like these that you wonder why you put yourself through this type of abuse. Like, why can’t I be normal and sit on my deck and drink like other people on their day off? Then I remember that conforming is boring!

Once I had re-acquired the grade, it was another few hundred metres to reach the site of Camp 8 (which I am pretty sure was renumbered Camp 11 in February 1908). I hoped to have a decent amount of time to explore the old logging camp, which has seen little human interference since it was used from circa 1906 to 1909. After my visit last year, and a quick examination by technicians from the US Forest Service a week later, I had a better idea of what was at the site.

My first goal was to try and pinpoint each structure. In 2017 I had found 3, and the Forest Service guys had located another 3; from some research I did, I believed there were 2 more, raising the total to 8 (which would match the same number at Camp 4 on Gunflint). I would then attempt to measure each structure and the distance between them. This was rather tricky to do by myself, but I think I did an okay job.

So I was able to determine, at least in my mind, that there were in fact 8 structures. There are 5 located just north of the grade, 4 of which are fairly large. The two westernmost are approximately 33 ft. x 52 ft. and are situated close together. Their berms are not well pronounced and they are 50 ft. away from the other buildings, so I am assuming that these might be the horse stables. According to statistics, there were 19 teams of horses working at the camp in the winter of 1908.

The next three southern structures are about 20 ft. from each other, with two larger ones bookending a small one and have very well defined berms. Both larger buildings are approximately 35 ft. x 60 ft., though the eastern one has a 20 ft. x 20 ft. section on the back. The middle building of the three is considerably smaller at 24 ft. x 26 ft. If I had to guess, I would say that they are, from west to east, the bunkhouse, van (office) and cook house. The only way to know in any certainty is to do some excavations inside the berms. The same 1908 data quoted previously states that there were 55 men living at the camp.

PRLC Statistics, February 1908.

That leaves 3 structures just to the north. One, off by itself between the stables and bunkhouse, would in my estimation, be the blacksmith shop. I don’t have any definitive evidence, but my assumption is based on the debris located close by. The two other buildings are close to each other and are north of the bunkhouse and van. One is very small, 12 ft. x 14 ft. and has a deep hole in the centre of the berms; there can be no doubt that this is the outhouse. The other is slightly larger, but its purpose is a mystery. Again, the only way to make a determination would be to dig, but that not a decision I can make.

Outhouse, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Outhouse, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Glassware & pot, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

Building foundation, Camp 8 PRLC, May 2018.

I wish I could have lingered longer, but I had a long walk back to my truck and a 2.5-hour drive home. It was 24C and I could feel the exhaustion setting in. I am planning to go back next May and devote the whole time to exploring the camp. Hopefully the archaeologists from the USFS can join me so there can be a more thorough exploration. I certainly have the knowledge of what was in a logging camp, but I lack the train eye and background to understand everything I see on the ground. My fingers are crossed that we can make it happen.

Anyway, it’s time to go. With all the craziness, it might be a while before I’m back. Hopefully I’ll have more news to report. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2018 in Hiking, History, Railway

 

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Tag, you’re it!

Who’s it? You’re it. Or is it me? I don’t know anymore, I think I lost track. I guess it doesn’t matter, since it’s not a real game of tag anyway. Well, why does someone need to be it if it’s not real? It complicated. Complicated? Yes, complicated. Just as complicated as pushing a small button on your steering wheel or column. Huh? You’re not making any sense Dave, you’re way too confusing. Exactly my point! This is how I felt on my recent road trip to Minneapolis, as I played the proverbial game of tag with people who refuse to use their cruise control. Speed up, slow down. I pass them, they pass me and then repeat. Why do people not want to use this piece of technology? Are they that enthralled with pushing the gas pedal continuously? It’s not like I haven’t complained about this before. I guess it’s all too logical.

Welcome to May kids…thank Jesus for that! Boy are things stupid busy right now. The last month was an absolute blur, which I’ll talk about a little later. I can’t believe there is only 8 weeks left of school. Not that it’s a bad thing, as I am quite looking forward to summer, but the pace of things is brutal. There is still so much to do and there is so little time left. I’m getting tired just thinking about it all.

One of the things keeping me hopping is football. Football? It’s May. Yup it is, but that doesn’t stop things though. This year, instead of the usual skills and drills, Thunder Bay Minor decided to run a flag football league. The one hour practices/games run Mondays and Wednesdays, and both of the boys are participating. I’m coaching Noah’s team and helping out with Ethan’s when they are short, so there’s no slacking. I’ve also had to take some certification classes, one of which is done and the other is coming up this weekend. No wonder April is flying by!

Thankfully, after a cold start to April, the weather has begun to turn. It now definitely feels like spring. Most of the snow is gone in town and things are starting to dry up. With all the cold weather we had, it will take some time for the frost to come out of the ground, but it’s just a matter of time. Many of the lakes are still frozen over, and a lot of people are hoping it goes before the fishing opener on the Victoria Day long weekend. As long as things stay relatively dry so I can get out hiking in a few weeks, I’ll be happy.

Spring, May 2018.

One of the reasons I’ve been so busy is that I’ve been out of town a lot. Our board decided to send me, our principal, vice-principal and a number of the teachers in my department to a conference in Vancouver. I’d never been there before, so Jo-Anne decided to join me and we left a few days early so we could see some of the sights of the city before the conference started. We left early on a Saturday morning, 5am to be exact, which was way too early, and arrived in Vancouver by 10:00 local time via Toronto.

Foothills of the Rockies, April 2018.

We had most of the day Saturday to explore, which took us from the downtown to Granville Island. It was an interesting place to visit and see some of the local shops and markets. On Sunday, we did a hop on, hop off bus tour with some of our colleagues. Our first stop was Gastown, which is one of the oldest parts of the city. It was neat to see some of the older buildings as well as the Steam Clock, which is one of the few operating steam clocks in the world.

False Creek, Vancouver, April 2018.

Setting out on our own, Jo-Anne and I jumped back on the bus to Stanley Park. We stepped off near HMCS Discovery and proceeded to walk over 6km around the perimeter of the park to Third Beach. What a beautiful place! I took a lot of pictures and it was amazing to experience this amazing part of Vancouver. At Third Beach we hopped back on the bus and rode all the way back to Gastown, which was only a short walk to our hotel.

Lions Gate Bridge, April 2018.

Siwash Rock, April 2018.

The conference ran Monday to Wednesday, though we had to leave early on Wednesday to catch our flights back home. The conference was on NPDL, which stands for New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, a global initiative that involves teachers in many countries such as Canada, the US and Australia. We began working on this concept in September, and it involved our school and several of our elementary schools. It is designed to enhance learning by providing more student voice, and co-constructing goals and activities. It was great to see what other schools and teachers are doing in their classrooms and to meet educators from all over the world.

High over the Border Lakes, April 2018.

A week after we returned, we were back on the road again, this time driving to Minneapolis (and playing tag with all the people who hate their cruise control). My wife is a huge Bon Jovi fan, so I promised to accompany her to the concert. I had been to 3 previous concerts with her, during one of which I got to shake Jon Bon Jovi’s hand…it was definitely more of a life moment for Jo-Anne than for me. Anyway, this time we would be sitting 4 rows back from the stage, which would be the closest either one of us have been. It was good, but I was certainly not emotionally spent like my wife, although I could not hear out of my right ear from her continual screaming during the concert. The things we do for our spouses!

Bon Jovi, Xcel Energy Center, April 2018.

Needless to say, with all of the things going on lately, I haven’t had much time to devote to railway work. I did manage to squeeze in a presentation on the railway last week at the Rosslyn Community Centre. It’s been quite a while since I did anything strictly related to the PAD&W (it’s all been Pigeon River Lumber lately), so it felt good to get back to talking about the railway. I played to a full house and the crowd was very interested to hear about the early history of the PAD&W. Soon enough I’ll be gearing up for the next presentation which will be in July at the Chik-Wauk Museum.

Since it’s May, it means that I’m only a few weeks away from my first field work of the year. I’ll be heading down to Gunflint right before the Victoria Day long weekend to complete my explorations of the Gunflint & Lake Superior and Camp 8. Hopefully the weather cooperates and I’ll be able to get everything I want to done. Fingers are crossed!

Anyway, I better get moving. I’ll be back in a few weeks with a full report of my hike. Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2018 in History, Railway, Travel

 

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Stress is a bad thing right?

Stress [stres]- is a response to environmental pressures or demands (“stressors”), in particular when we feel they are a threat to our coping strategies or well-being. Well, the clinical definition certainly makes it appear a lot better than it actually is, but unfortunately, as we all know, it’s not. People everywhere are either thriving from it, managing it or floundering in it. And the worst kind, mental stress, just doesn’t go away very easily. Dealing with the stress in our lives can be one of the most important things we do.

So, on that gloomy note, what’s stressing you out Dave? Well, I guess the answer would be what isn’t stressing me out. I can tell you for one, it’s not the weather. We’ve officially made it to spring, which is a very good thing and for the most part, it’s been decent month. There’s been a few hiccups here and there, but I am really looking forward to the day all the snow goes, hopefully sooner than later.

Now, I usually complain how busy things are and how tired I am, but lately it has become nuts. The source of a lot of my anxiety is work, more so than usual. What’s the deal you ask? Partly the everyday stuff-classes, marking, you know. However, we are less than two weeks away from our trip to Europe and there are so many little (and big things to worry about).

We had our last parent meeting on Tuesday, and yesterday I spent almost half an hour Skyping with our Tour Director Jason on some details of the trip. We have a few more student meetings coming up before we leave and I need to start the process of packing. The “big stressor” though, is something that is completely out of my control. For security purposes, anyone attending the ceremony had to register with Veterans Affairs Canada who is running the event. We did have some issues with the registration process, but now only 2 of the 26 in our group have received the entry tickets. They were supposed to be sent out by the 21st, but apparently due to computer issues, they are delayed. The revised date in now early next week, which is cutting it close to our departure date. Once they all arrive, and I have them printed out, I will feel much better.

I must say that I am getting excited for our journey in spite of all the issues. The kids are getting very pumped up too, though I can imagine there are some nerves as well. For many, this will be their first trip away from home without their parents. For 11 days, I am “in loco parentis,” which makes me nervous! Amsterdam, Ypres, Vimy, Beaumont Hamel, Normandy and Paris…it’s all going to be great. Having visited many of these places before, I can’t really decide what is my favourite. If I had to choose though, I would certainly say Ypres; I specifically asked to visit the city after our stop at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passchendaele. It is such a beautiful and historic place. As I have done in the past, I will attempt to blog everyday on the trip. I’ll also be posting updates to social media, so you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

EF Backpack and Jacket, March 2017.

With all of the school-related things going on, my railway work seems to be a bit of an afterthought. However, I’m still plugging away on the book, albeit more slowly. I have nearly six chapters done, totalling some 18,000+ words. As I have described before, it is a challenge at times. Sometimes I’m on a roll and the words just fly onto the pages. and other times I can stare at the screen and barely manage a few sentences. I think part of my struggle of late has been that the subjects of the chapters have become more complex, which requires me to spend more time revising and clarifying my outline. I just need to remind myself that there is not a huge rush and even Rome was not built in a day.

With the onset of spring, my thoughts have also drifted towards the upcoming hiking season. I still have a number of field work sessions that I need to complete, in particular my plan to locate the final pieces of the Gunflint & Lake Superior grade. I am scheduled to do this during the Victoria Day long weekend, which seems like a long-way away, but will be here before I know it. I do have a few others to complete, but this is the important one which will help my finalize details for the book. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and keep things fairly dry to let do what I need to do.

Anyway, I better get rolling. Lots of things to do. I’ll be back right before we leave for Europe with my final thoughts on the trip. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2017 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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If they don’t find you handsome…

They should find you smart? Reliable? Funny? Come Dave, tell us! What, you couldn’t think of any other adjectives? I’ll give you a hint; it’s from a TV show. Still stuck? Maybe you aren’t Canadian, because most people who live in the top half of North America would know it. Need another clue? The guy who quoted it was the King of Plaid, the man who introduced duct tape as the handy-man’s secret weapon. If you didn’t recognize Red Green from The Red Green Show, you need to watch some syndicated TV. The program was a parody of other shows, notably home improvement ones, and the most memorable quote from Red himself was, “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy!” Consider yourself educated.

So here we are in May; it’s kinda one of those good thing bad thing situations, this year anyway. Why what do you mean Dave? Well, I’m very happy that it is now May and we’re that much closer to summer, but that also means my leave is going by very quickly. Sigh. Thankfully I’ve been enjoying every minute of it.

Now, one of the things that has brought immense joy to me is the weather. I know I gripe a lot about it, but when you have as long as a winter as we do, I think there is a good excuse. Anyway, conditions have done a complete one-eighty since my last post; it’s like someone finally remember to flick the switch and turn the heat on. The snow went away very quickly, the ice has left the lakes and the grass is starting to turn green. Hallelujah!

April 2016.

April 2016.

The only blemish on this otherwise great situation is my health. No, I’m not dying, but there was a point that I felt like I was. What is ironic is that you often have a short memory; it was at this time last year I was complaining how sick I was. Thanks to our friends at Facebook and their handy “You have memories to look back on” feature, I looked at my post from April 2015 and read about how awfully afflicted I was. Talk about déjà vu!

One thing that has me feeling better though is the fact that our school trip to Europe is less than a year away. Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s coming up that fast! While there has been some ongoing planning, things will start to get more hectic in the fall. I know I have been on similar trips twice already, but this is the big one. The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge will be one of the most important events in recent Canadian history. Estimates put the number of people who will be attending in the 10,000 plus range. It will be an amazing experience.

Despite being somewhat handicapped by whatever plague I mean virus I contracted, I have not stopped making effective use of my time off. There are a lot of projects that need to be completed around the house and there is a ton of work to do out at camp. The ones at camp will have to wait until we get closer to summer, but we did get a bit of a head start last week. Meanwhile at home, a lot of my efforts have been dedicated to completing our basement office.

Camp, April 2016.

Camp, April 2016.

Back in March, Jo-Anne and I finally installed some bookshelves we ordered from Ikea, which allowed us to empty some boxes of books that had been in storage for many years. The next step was to try and hide two big, ugly filing cabinets that need to be in the room; some spray paint and some fancy wheeled platforms I whipped up took care of that while still allowed them to be moved around. The desk was going to be another story.

My wife spends time browsing Pintrest for ideas (shocking), and she came up with the plan of using kitchen cabinets and a simple countertop to make a desk. We were going to buy pre-finished cabinets, but then we came across a truckload sale of unfinished ones at Home Depot. The trick was that I now had to add panels to the sides and then stain and seal them. I really enjoy carpentry, and I’m getting pretty decent with fine detail work (except baseboards…I flipping HATE baseboards and trim). Anyway, things went great until it came time to stain. So I’ve learned that staining wood a very dark black-brown colour is not easy; it made me want to drink. I’ve put off the varnishing until I’m back from Toronto…I think I had enough stress for a while.

So with all of this time spent trying to be the next Bob Villa, I have not had a lot of time to work on any railway stuff. I also learned a long time ago that it is important to step away at times, take a break and come back refreshed. My last foray was about three weeks ago, when I made my last trip to the Thunder Bay Museum. While I did not uncover a whole lot of material, the quality made up for the lack of quantity; in actuality, my discovery was a game-changer.

Back about a month and half ago when I was transcribing letters from the Arpin Papers, I came across references to a “Camp 8,” which by all appearances was situated along the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad. It is commonly known that the principal camp of the Pigeon River Lumber Company was Camp 4, located on the southwest shore of Gunflint Lake. I wasn’t really sure what to think until a couple of things fell into place.

On my visit to Duluth during March break, I had chance to sit down with Lee Johnson, whom I’ve known for a number of years now. Lee is the head archaeologist for the Superior National Forest and during the course of our conversation, Lee described a site he located while battling the Ham Lake Fire in 2007. It sounded a lot like a camp of some sorts. The second piece came while searching the newspapers at the museum; I found an article that described “Camp 8” in the Gunflint Lake area. Hopefully I’ll be able to confirm a location in the next few months.

This week I’ll be departing from my brothers wedding in Toronto. I do have some research time scheduled for Thursday morning when I will be visiting the Archives of Ontario. I have three things to take a look at; one related to the PRLC and the two others are of the PAD&W. I’ll provide a full re-cap in my next post.

Anyway, I should get rolling…I need to finish packing and I have a busy day ahead. I’ll be back soon enough with the latest news. Until then…

 

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2016 in History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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