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Vimy 2017 Day 11

Day 11 ladies and gentlemen. Time to go home. It’s amazing how fast times flies when you’re on a trip. I guess that’s why they pack so many things on to the agenda; if you did a tour like this at a leisurely pace, you’d never see anything. The only problem is now I need a vacation from the vacation. I’m obviously tired, there isn’t anyone who isn’t, but I’m sure I’d be better if my throat wasn’t so sore. Damn cold!

Alright, we’re in the air on our way back to Canada. I feel a bit better now that all of the kids and chaperones on are the plane. We had this morning, for lack of a better term, a gong show departure. Somehow we ended up with a bus for 49 people, but there 50 of us including Jason. On top of that, the luggage compartment wouldn’t hold all the bags, so not only did one person have to share a seat, we had to put about 10 bags in the aisle of the bus. When we arrived at CDG (Charles DeGaulle Airport), our bus driver couldn’t figure out how to get us to Terminal 2A. We, the tourists, had to point him in the right direction.

Inside terminal, it was a slow process getting checked in as the computers at Air Canada were glitchy. There were long lines at customs and security, so we made it to the gate just before boarding, albeit in groups or varying size. I’m trying to relax now as much as I can, since issues in Canada are much easier to deal with. Happy thoughts. I’m watching Rogue One (yay) and they are starting to serve lunch which will help. We’re approaching the coast of France…only 5800k to go!

Airport selfies, April 2017.

Airport selfies, April 2017.

Okay, lunch just came and went. It’s was much better than the last time; I’m in row 21, so I managed to snag some chicken. I didn’t care for the quinoa? salad, but the carrots and potatoes with it were good. We have six hours more flying time to Toronto, so I’m going to grab a nap when the movie is done. We’re on a 777-300, which seems fairly new and high tech, but steerage seems more cramped than the A330 we came on. I’m in a row with Stewart and Dawson, three bigger guys, and we’re shoulder to shoulder almost. I should be interesting try to get comfortable to sleep. Any case, I’m going to wrap it up so I can finish the movie.

Hey, I’m back, and guess what, we’re in Canada? Well, technically we’re in Canadian airspace, but I’ll take it. I don’t know how long I was asleep, but I do feel better. According to my nice little LED screen in front of me, we just passed over St. John’s, Newfoundland. We’ve flown over 4000km and have 2100km to go. We’ll land just after 1300, so that means we still have over 2.5 hours to go. I’ll be happy when we’re off the plane as I’m still feeling incredibly squished. In Toronto we have a 4 hour layover, so I’ll write more then; it’s hard to type on the screen (my Bluetooth keyboard won’t work on the plane) and I can’t move my arms properly.

Back over Canada, April 2017.

So we’re back in the air for the last leg of our journey back to Thunder Bay. It seems so surreal how fast one can move around; this morning we were in Paris and shortly we will be home. It certainly gives you a good idea of how small our world has become. In any case, it will be good to go back reality, even for the kids. Almost all that I talked, even though they are sad about the end of the trip, really want to see their families. And as great as they have been and as much as we have enjoyed travelling with them, the chaperones will be happy to be off 24/7 teaching duties. It’s rewarding, but very tiring.

On the way home, April 2017.

Speaking of the kids on the trip, I think that travelling like this has so many rewards beyond just seeing the sites of Europe. I already mentioned that for many, this was their first time away from their parents. All of them learned a lot about themselves, about being independent and responsible and that sometimes you need to take chances and try new things. Ya, riding the Metro is a bit scary and intimidating, but so is life. Trips like this not only teach academic things, but also life lessons.

One of the more interesting things that happen on these trips are the friendships that are formed. We have students from different backgrounds, different social groups and even different high schools, but after some initial hestitation, it’s neat to see them come together. Some may have even formed new long-term friendships. Even for us as teachers, we get to see the kids in a whole different light and it gives us a greater appreciation of who they are as individuals. I know that they are thankful for the time and energy it takes to plan a trip such as this and the fact we have to be away from our own families to do it. Being a stand in parent for a week and half is challenging, but dad, mom (Ms. Caza) and Uncle Marcon would it all again in a heartbeat.

It’s after 2100, we landed safe and sound and everyone is now at home with their families. It has been another long day; my body is still on Paris time and it is the middle of the night. I know it will take me a while to get back into the usual routine. On that note, I’m going to sign off. I’ll be back in a few days with some final thoughts on the trip after I have had some time to digest it all. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 1

So here we are…Day One. Hours from departure. I’m at home getting all the last minute packing done before I head over to the airport.

I am so unbelievably nervous. If you know me, it’s nothing unusual and par for the course. Do you know how many times I have to “go” before a football game? It’s ridiculous! It’s just who I am; I’m a worrier. I was wake this morning just after 4am and could not fall back asleep. I think everything is ready and I’ve done my best to make sure all the “T’s” are crossed and the “I’s” are dotted. I just need to relax. I’ll check back in once we’re on our way to Toronto…maybe I’ll feel better.

Well, we’re sitting here in the secure area of the Thunder Bay airport, patiently waiting for our flight. The kids are just wired, as I’m sure I was way back in 1992 on my school trip to Europe (and Ms. Caza too). I am feeling a little more relaxed, but I’ll breathe a sigh of relief once we are on the flight to Europe. I’m an impatient person (though I’ve gotten better since I became a parent) and this waiting thing kills me.

Our group, April 2017.

We’re in the air now, on the short flight to Toronto. One down, two to go. One of my biggest concerns of this whole trip is the time between our flights from Thunder Bay to Munich. We have just over an hour (depending on how long this flight takes) to get from gate to gate. It is a bit of a hike, since Pearson Airport is not a small place. My fingers are crossed that it will all be okay and we’ll get to the next gate with time to spare.

It’s funny, I was just thinking I that one thing I didn’t do before we left was to ask if we had any first time flyers. I can’t imagine all the emotions they are feeling. Most of our kids have not been away from home without their parents before, so I’m sure they are nervous. The excitement will take care of that though. Obviously I cannot remember all the feelings I had the first time I was away from home by myself (that was probably when I was in the reserves), but there was a lot going on.

Pearson selfies, April 2017.

Our ride to Europe, April 2017.

Whew! We are on our way to Europe. All 23 students and 3 chaperones are onboard this Airbus 330. Next stop, Munich! Wow, I feel like such a huge weight is off my shoulders, at least for the time being. I’m actually exhausted and want to go to sleep. The stress of the day and making sure we got on this flight on time has wiped me out. I’m sure I’ll perk up in a little while, especially after I get some food in my body. I had a granola bar, but nothing substantial since 1100. I wonder what’s for dinner?

I feel a little weird, since for the first time on an overseas flight I am not sitting in a window seat. I always like taking a shot of the rising sun over the ocean, but those are the breaks. Anyway, I have a nice spot. I’m in the middle section, but there wasn’t another passenger in the other aisle seat, so my next door neighbour moved. That gives us lots of elbow and leg room. Maybe I’ll actually get some sleep tonight, er morning. It’s 1900 eastern, but 0100 in Europe. Whatever.

So that was disappointing. Did I say I was hungry? Well, I was, and the food smelled so good. The choices this evening aboard AC 846 were chicken and pasta, and as is always my luck, they ran out of chicken just as they got to me. So pasta it was. I’m sure it was the chicken that smelled good. The pasta, or what passed for pasta, was definitely not to my liking. I’m not a big pasta person on a good day and if I wasn’t so hungry, I probably wouldn’t have touched it. I ate half and that was it. The coleslaw salad or whatever it was was okay, and I liked the bread and brownie. Thank God I brought snacks; that energy bar hit the spot. Besides, I can stand to lose a few pounds anyway.

Now that dinner is done, I’m going to finish my movie and try to get some sleep. We land in about 6 hours and it will be morning by then, so I don’t want to be too messed up. I’m sure I’ll grab a nap during our Munich layover. Anyway, I think this is enough for today.

I’ll post this as soon as I can and starting working on the Day 2 ramblings. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Dave’s Outdoor Adventures

Picture it. Three intrepid explorers, probing the wilderness of the Canadian Shield while battling the elements and conditions. It is a test of wills and endurance; a modern version of the Revenant if you will. Makes for an interesting story does it? Come on! Did you forget who’s writing this? It’s more like a dumbass dad and his two sons blundering around in the outdoors all the while being swarmed by hordes of blackflies. Sound intriguing now? Wait until I tell you the while story!

So here we are nearing the end of May? Where did the time go? Time does move faster when you’re on vacation. I have been making good use of every moment though: I can say that I’m almost too busy. There are way too many things to do, inspite of the fact that I am on sabbatical. What have I been up to you ask?

Well, if you recall from my last post, I was a few days away from a trip to Toronto and my brother’s wedding. As you can imagine, that week flew by in a heartbeat. It was a great time, but insanely busy. It was an honour for my family to part of this event, and if I do say so we quite a good looking bunch all dressed up. We also had some family visiting from Italy, so some time was spent showing them around the city, which is ironic since I was a tourist too.

Part of my plan for this visit to the provincial capital was to sneak away for a few hours and look at some files at the Archives of Ontario. It was quite an interesting mix; a map, some photos and an Order in Council. What I thought would take me a morning took me less than an hour to get through. The map answered a few questions and the photos were very pretty cool, having been taken during a highway survey along the railway right-of-way in 1930. There were shots of Mackies, the rail line and narrows between Little and Big Gunflint Lakes.

The Orders in Council, there were actually two, provided the biggest challenge of the day. I first had to locate the docket number from a microfilm in the reading room. I thought it would take me forever, but mercifully I happened on the right page after a short search. Then I had to request copies of them and then have them emailed to me. Both documents, dated 1900 and 1903 respectively, related to the Pigeon River Lumber Company receiving permission to do business in the Province of Ontario. Not anything I didn’t know, but important information nonetheless.

Since returning from TO, I’ve kept my nose to the grindstone with projects around the house. Our office is almost done-it’s just waiting for a final coat of paint on the door and then the installation of the pocket door latch. My wife then decided that she needed to do something about the lack of counter space at camp; cue Pintrest…again! So we’ve been looking for a while for the right dresser that could be converted into a kitchen cart. Turns out, we had one right here. It’s taken a little bit of work, and a few bucks, but when it’s done it should look pretty good. We ordered a countertop for it today and its paint transformation will begin tomorrow. I’ll post some pics when it’s done.

Now speaking of camp (yes, camp…let’s not have this conversation again), we have been spending a bit more time out there as we move toward summer. This winter we inherited the camp from my wife’s parents and we’ve been doing clean-up work and some upgrades. Last Friday we brought a new fridge out to supplement the original tiny 11 cubic foot one that was way too small for our needs. We were back on Sunday to Monday cutting down a big pine tree in the yard that was slowly dying. Using the chainsaw made me feel very outdoorsy, though I did learn an important lesson; don’t cut pine trees without long pants on. Really, I should have been wearing long pants from a safety perspective, but it was bloody hot on Sunday and I was trying to keep cool. What I ended up with however, was sap stuck to my legs and leg hair. Rubbing alcohol usually gets it out, but since we didn’t have any out there, I tried a bit of vodka. While my logic seemed sound, the execution left a lot to be desired. Second lesson learned!

Sandwiched in between those visits to camp, was my first hike of the year. Yes, I finally got out there after months of talking about it and boy was it a doosy! I think you might have gotten that impression by my introduction, but I guess I should elaborate.

The plan for my first piece of field work of the season was to travel to the east end of Gunflint Lake, staying on the Canadian side of the border. Since I was staying north of the international divide, I thought it would be easier to get there via North Lake than travelling into Minnesota and directly into Gunflint Lake. The drive is a bit shorter, though it probably works out to be the same since the boat ride is much longer. Speaking of which, getting to Gunflint from North Lake is a bit of a challenge, as you have to cross not only North Lake, but then Little North and then Little Gunflint before you reach Big Gunflint, a distance of nearly 11 kilometres.

We arrived at North Lake by 9am and quickly had the boat in the water. The first thing we noticed, or rather was impressed upon us, was the clouds of blackflies in the air. It was unbelievable how bad they were. If you’ve never had to deal with blackflies before, count yourself lucky. Anyway, within a short amount of time we were zipping across the fairly calm waters of North Lake and were making good time.

North Lake, May 2016.

North Lake, May 2016.

The first trail of the journey comes when you enter the narrow channel separating North from Little North. With Ontario on one side and Minnesota on the other, the waterway is less than 70 metres wide at points. At its end, when you enter Little North, it drops to 25 metres and is very shallow, necessitating a cautious approach. You can pick up speed on Little North, but it’s only over a kilometre to the portage to Little Gunflint and there are rocks in the water, so you need to be careful.

The watercourse that separates Little North from Little Gunflint is extremely narrow and runs for about 50 metres. It is little more than a creek, and due to it’s location over the continental divide, its waters run west, eventually making their way into Hudson’s Bay. The creek itself appears to have been modified by human hands, most likely in 1892 during the construction of the railway. From our best understanding, the engineers laid down a small marine railroad on the Minnesota side of the narrows, which, using a small cart and capstan, were able to haul boats and supplies from one lake to the other. It was maintained by locals until the early ‘70s, but now sits as a stark reminder of the labours of centuries ago.

Railroad Portage, May 2016.

Railroad Portage, May 2016.

I’ve been through the creek when there was less than a foot of water in it; this time, given the fact that it is spring and there was an attempt by a beaver to dam it, several feet of fast-flowing water courses its length. It made for a crazy, bumpy and somewhat concerning journey downstream. Little Gunflint was much less dramatic, though there are several rocky and shallow sections that require a slower speed.

My course of action for the visit was to walk the 400 metres of the Gunflint & Lake Superior in Ontario (technically it was only branch of the Canadian Northern since the G&LS started in Minnesota) and explore the location of the Canadian customs houses near the grade. The land in this area is actually privately owned so I had to check with the new owner to do this work.

I’ve walked the Ontario portion of the G&LS grade many times before, the first time was back in 1994. However, I’ve never been there without leaves (or many leaves), so I was curious what I’d see. It was pretty warm as you moved away from the lake, and of course the blackflies were swarming anytime you stopped. I didn’t take us long to get to the PAD&W grade and then start working our way back. We came across a neat pile of spikes, which made me wonder if it was done when the rails were being removed or later.

PAD&W-G&LS junction,, May 2016.

PAD&W-G&LS junction,, May 2016.

Spikes, May 2016.

Spikes, May 2016.

Little-Big Gunflint Narrows, May 2016.

Little-Big Gunflint Narrows, May 2016.

When we returned to the beach, the boys decided it was lunchtime and I pulled out the metal detector to see what I could turn up. My first area to explore was the point of land where the two lakes meet and where the G&LS crossed into Minnesota. I wasn’t really holding out hope of finding anything, but as it turns out I made a critical discovery (actually two).

If you read this blog on a regular basis you’ll know that one of goal of my field work on the G&LS is to discover how far the telegraph line extended along the line. Last year I found a coil of wire on the Little Gunflint, though I could not find any evidence near the junction of the two railways. After turning up a long-lost tent peg, I uncovered a 50+ cm length of what I believe to be telegraph wire (I didn’t excavate the whole thing). Working off of that, I found another section of wire several metres further back on the grade. So I think I can say with some certainty that the line at least crossed into Minnesota.

Telegraph wire, May 2016.

Telegraph wire, May 2016.

After that, I turned my attention a little way up the beach to the north to where two buildings were once located; I presume that they were once the Canadian customs houses while the railroad was in operation. I’ve never really explored this site before, so I was curious what I would turn up. The detector immediately lit up and I could see several depressions in the ground. I’m not a trained archaeologist, nor do I want disturb any potentially important artefacts in the ground, so I treaded very lightly. I picked one spot and carefully dug down several inches to see what was there. What I had stumbled upon was either a garbage pile or a fire pit. There many nails of various sizes, assorted bits of metal and iron, pieces of glass and even a spent rifle cartridge (.30-30 I think). Some of the glass appeared to be fused together, which is why I thought it might be a fire pit. After photographing the items, I returned them to the ground; hopefully I can get some real archaeologists to the site to do the job properly.

Customs items, May 2016.

Customs items, May 2016.

All in all it was a successful trip, but the fun didn’t really start until the ride back. When we reached the aforementioned Railroad Portage, I then realized the challenge it would be trying to get the boat upstream into Little North. I thought I could pull it along the shore but the current was having nothing of it. Even jumping into the frigid, waist deep water to try to move it along did not help. It was going to be tough.

My next move was to lose some weigh, which meant putting my youngest, Noah, ashore. He became quite upset, convinced that we were going to be stuck there. Unfortunately that didn’t help much; the current was still pushing the boat back and on to the rocks. I was getting tired, the blackflies were eating us alive, and my oldest, Ethan, was even getting a bit rattled. It wasn’t until I decided to use the anchor rope to secure the boat farther upstream that we started to make progress. It took us more than 30 minutes, a ton of exertion and a bunch of bruises to get through. I learned a valuable lesson that day; never go though that creek in the spring…and I have all the blackfly bites to prove it.

Stuck in the creek, May 2016.

Stuck in the creek, May 2016.

I told the boys on the final leg of the boat ride back that they would remember days like this one many years from now. The more eventual trips with my dad are the ones that stick out in my mind. They can look back with fondness on all the stupid stuff their dad got them into, even though at the moment it didn’t seem so humorous. Honestly I was a bit concerned for a few moments myself, but hey, a little excitement makes life that more interesting. I’m sure there will be more well though-out moments in the future.

Anyway, it’s time to get rolling. Ironically, I’m off again for my next hike tomorrow morning. This time there is no boating involved, just more walking. I’ll be in Minnesota, hiking the Border Route Trail near Crab Lake. Hopefully it will be just as productive as the one I just described. I’ll be back again next week with all the details.Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Travel

 

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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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The things we do!

My dad told me it would happen at some point in my life. He even guaranteed it. At the time I refused to believe it was possible; I probably told him he was making it up. Why? Most likely it was because I did not know any better. Oh the foolishness of youth! My dad is probably watching me right now and laughing. If he were here he’d tell me I told you so. Karma right? Totally one hundred percent!

If you’re looking for the answer to that cryptic series of sentences, you’ll have to keep reading. In the meantime, let’s get up to speed shall we?

So we’ve arrived at the midway point of July; wow, that was fast! Time flies when you’re having fun right? The last time I posted was the end of June and I was getting ready for the end of school. A lot has happened in that time. The football trip to Duluth was great, and the team certainly enjoyed themselves. It was also a good time for the coaches, though it was hard to get my brain into football mode at this time of the year. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to go back next year.

Yesterday we arrived home from a fourteen-day trip to Toronto. My wife was taking an AP math course there and the boys and I headed down on the 2nd. It was an interesting road trip to since I had never taken the boys that far by myself. It went well though, and we eventually met up with mom on the 4th.

Old Woman Bay, Lake Superior, July 2014.

Old Woman Bay, Lake Superior, July 2014.

Our first weekend was taken up by two trips down to Hamilton and the Niagara region. On Saturday we visited the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, located at the Hamilton airport. We were supposed to go there on last year’s trip, but it was closed due to a freak storm that caused damage to the facility. By fluke the museum had a special visitor, which was a B-17 Flying Fortress “Sentimental Journey” from the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Arizona. For $5 we got to tour the plane, which really made you appreciate the challenges the crew faced manning the plane. We did not see it take off, but the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster was waiting on the tarmac sporting its special D-Day anniversary markings.

B-17 "Sentimental Journey," July 2014.

B-17 “Sentimental Journey,” July 2014.

Mynarski Memorial Lancaster, July 2014.

Mynarski Memorial Lancaster, July 2014.

Sunday we were back in Niagara, this time very close to the falls. After dropping my wife and my brother’s girlfriend off at the outlet mall, the boys, my brother and I headed to the Battle of Chippawa Historic Site. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battles of Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane from the War of 1812, the park would be hosting a re-enactment of Chippawa on July 5th, and then a re-enactment of Lundy’s Lane on the 6th (which really happened on July 25th).

Entering the site you were greeted by various historical vendors, which was rather neat to see. Passing the “gates,” there were rows and rows of tents of the re-enactors and their families. It was fascinating to see so many people dressed in historical attire, though watching them eat potato chips and drink bottled water did solicit a bit of a chuckle on my part.

The festivities began with an artillery demonstration by the six cannons that would be taking part in the re-enactment and then followed by a performance by The Drums Crown Forces 1812 band. The Battle of Lundy’s Lane was one of the bloodiest battles of the War of 1812, and most likely the bloodiest battle ever fought on Canadian soil. The re-enactment was fantastic; the volleys of musket fire, booms of the artillery and the blinding smoke really gave you a sense of what an early nineteenth century battlefield was like. I’ve already made one video of the event with more in the works.

Artillery demonstration, Battle of Lundy's Lane, July 2014.

Artillery demonstration, Battle of Lundy’s Lane, July 2014.

Battle of Lundy's Lane, July 2014.

Battle of Lundy’s Lane, July 2014.

Battle of Lundy's Lane, July 2014.

Battle of Lundy’s Lane, July 2014.

Monday the 7th was a rainy day in Toronto, which was the perfect weather for what I had in store for the day. I had decided a long time ago that if we did this trip, I wanted to pay a visit to the Archives of Ontario, which are now located on the campus of York University. It was a short bus ride from my brother’s house to the Archives (due to new subway construction on Keele Street, I walked from Finch Avenue to the Archives).

Back in 1999 I made my first to the Archives to examine a very important file associated with the sale of the railway. I had made some notes from this legal suite that went to the High Court of Ontario, but I felt that I needed to go over it again to find more specific details. It’s funny on how our perceptions can change over time and when I opened the file it seemed to me that it was much larger than I remember. Since I’m not a lawyer, and obviously there is a lot of legal stuff in the file that I don’t quite understand, I ended up photographing the whole thing with my iPad so I could go over it later. It probably saved me a lot of time, but it still took me almost 3 hours to go through the whole thing and left me with some very sore shoulders!

Another highlight from the trip was the celebration of Noah’s 7th birthday. After looking at a number of venues, we settled on a trip to the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. Other than my brother, none of us had ever been there, but I had heard a lot of good things about it. It was pretty cool from start to finish. We were seated in one of the front rows of the blue section, and in between some great performances we enjoyed the very “medieval” meal served to us on pewter bowls and plates; the soup, chicken, ribs, potato, bread and dessert were all consumed without the aid of any utensils. Our knight was not champion on the evening, but I would definitely go back again.

When we travelled to Toronto last year, Noah had unfortunately broken his left arm only a few weeks before the trip. This left him unable to really enjoy one of the great attractions of Toronto, which is Canada’s Wonderland. It would be different this time around, which brings me to the title of today’s post. You see, my oldest son Ethan has evolved into quite the thrill-seeker. He decided, much to my chagrin, that he wanted to do all the crazy coasters at the park (Noah isn’t quite tall enough yet). The problem is that his dad isn’t very good with heights and I have never been a really been a fan of these crazy rides. But, like any good dad would do, I choked back my fears and jumped in with both feet.

After a couple tame rides, Ethan decided it was time to take on the Leviathan; it is the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Canada, with a height of 306 feet and speeds approaching 150kph. I actually felt ill as we approached the front of the line and it got worse as we climbed that first big hill in the car. The initial drop is near vertical and the speed is numbing. As I fought hard to control my fear and panic, all I could hear was Ethan screaming “this is awesome!” When it was over, it was great to get back on to solid ground, though my fingertips were white and my legs were like Jello. In spite of those things, I later got on the Behemoth and was a bit more relaxed. The things we do…

So other than the trip to the Archives, things on the railway front have been quiet, having been in Toronto and all. However, that is about to change very soon. On Sunday I will be giving my first lecture of the year at the Chik-Wauk Museum at the end of the Gunflint Trail. My first presentation there in 2012 was very successful so they have asked to me return and speak again on the front porch of the museum. This time my emphasis will be more on the Paulson Mine end of things, which means I have a bit of work to do to modify my usual lecture to be ready.

I’m planning on spending a few days on Gunflint Lake after Sunday; if the weather cooperates I’ll be doing some field work in the area. I did have to modify my plans somewhat, since the bush is still a little wet from all the rain we had in the spring. I’ll be focussing my attention on the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, which was a small logging line that branched off the PAD&W at Little Gunflint Lake and ran about 4 miles into Minnesota. It was owned by the Pigeon River Lumber Company and operated from 1903 to 1909. This visit is actually some preliminary work for a trip I have planned for Thanksgiving weekend in October when the leaves are down and it is easier to see things.

So this visit to Minnesota reminds me of my trip to hike there in 1998. Since it’s been twenty years of work on the railway, it seems appropriate to take another stroll down memory lane. At the time I was not yet 25 years old and had just completed my first year of supply teaching. I would be heading down at the end of June, since it was the only time I could fit it into the schedule of my other part-time job. Since money was tight and I couldn’t afford a lot of extravagances, my accommodations for the trip were my small tent and a camp site at the Gunflint Pines Resort.

After stopping for some provisions in Grand Marais, I headed up the Gunflint Trail for the first time ever and made my way to Gunflint Lake. After arriving, I spent the afternoon walking along the Gunflint Narrows Road from the Cross River right up to the Narrows. It had rained earlier in the day, but thankfully it held off and let me accomplish all of my objectives. It wasn’t a super adventurous hike, but it was amazing to see some of the big rock cuts on the road. At the Cross River I could see a few traces of the trestle that once spanned the river.

Gunflint Narrows, June 1998.

Gunflint Narrows, June 1998.

Gunflint Narrows Road, June 1998.

Gunflint Narrows Road, June 1998.

The next day I headed over to the Round Lake Road to try and trace the railway as it passed through a switchback and made it’s way to the Paulson Mine. I initially had some difficultly finding the grade as it looped through a swamp (I would have the same problem years later) so I ended up searching for a rock cut that was supposed to be just beside the road. I did find it and followed it along to the location of the first of two trestles in the area, but I could not find the western side (in 2011 I would determine that there were in fact two rock cuts and two trestles, one slightly above the other). I picked up the grade a little farther west and could see the lower arm of the switchback under the forest canopy (my plan to follow it later in the day would be frustrated by rain).

Rock cut, June 1998.

Rock cut, June 1998.

The railway took me along the north side of a ridge, through a number of small rock cuts until I reached a long rock embankment. From there it was into a long, dark rock cut, which is now a big attraction on the Centennial Trail, but back then very grown in and difficult to navigate. A short time later I reached the eastern side of a 400 foot trestle; unfortunately, owing to the very thick forest growth, I could not locate where the western side resumed. Today I know that it is blasted out of the side of the ridge but at the time I had no idea where to look. I had to head south to skirt the valley and at the same time try to locate the grade. I ended up on the top of the opposite ridge with the railway nowhere in sight; I actually got lost for a while try to figure out where I was. I eventually located the grade on the north side of the ridge and worked my west until I found a spot where there was a manageable descent. I planned on locating the western side of the trestle on my way back.

As I headed west the weather took a turn and it began to drizzle; I’m not sure if you can picture what it was like, but hiking along this overgrown railway, soaking wet and tired was not a nice position to be in. A short time later I entered a long rock cut and was amazed to find ties still in their original location. After that I was along the north shore of a small lake, the grade barely above the waterline. On the western shore of this lake was the site of Gunflint City, which was the camp for the mining operations in the area back in 1892-1893. After another 400 metres or so, I found my way blocked by a flooded rock cut, so I headed north and got on the Kekekabic Trail. With the rail coming down and thunder booming in the distance (and also being completely drenched), I decided to call it a day and make my way back via the Kekekabic and the Gunflint Trail; the missing parts would have to wait for another time.

Rock cut, June 1998.

Rock cut, June 1998.

Grade and Gunflint City, June 1998.

Grade and Gunflint City, June 1998.

After drying out back at the resort (the sun came out later in the day), I was back in the same area the next morning. It was bright, sunny and warm and my plan was to explore some of the sites along the Kekekabic Trail, Gunflint City and hopefully locate the Paulson Mine. I made a quick stop at one of the test pits located alongside the trail (mislabelled as the Paulson Mine; now it is the third of five test pits in the area) and then headed toward Gunflint City. It would be a bit of a hike over the ridge between the trail and the mining camp, but I eventually made it. There I found some remains of the buildings that were at the site and it was interesting trying to envision what it would have looked like back in the 1890’s.

From Gunflint City it was back over the ridge toward the Paulson Mine. Finding the shaft, I was a bit disappointed at the state it was in. Surrounded by a green snow fence, the opening was completely blocked by several trees that had fallen across the collar of the shaft, shielding my view of the inside. I was able to explore the site a bit, finding some pieces of machinery and seeing the piles of oxidizing tailings excavated from the shaft.

Once I was back on the Kekekabic Trail, I headed west about 1.5 kilometres to Mine Lake (known historically as Akeley Lake). On the western side of the lake was a shaft that was sunk around the time as the other locations. I found what would turn out to be the best preserved mine in the area (which has changed today-see my June 25 post) and a lot of machinery scattered around the site. All of my time for the day was used up by that point so I had to sadly head back to the resort. The last day of the trip was spent on the lake doing a little exploring and taking some pictures.

Anyway, it’s time to get rolling. I will be back next week with some posts about my presentation and field work. Until then…

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Are we done yet?

We’ve all been there before. You know what I’m talking about…that feeling. What feeling you ask? It’s that I’m at the end of my rope, there’s nothing left in the tank feeling. I am so there and beyond. I’m like a little kid waiting in eager anticipation for something that cannot come soon enough. What is it you ask? Well, here’s a hint-rocker Alice Cooper wrote a pretty great song about it 😉

So if you have not guessed it (and you should since I’m a teacher), I’m talking about the end of the school year. Hallelujah! Yes, we have finally reached the end of the year! I know, poor teacher right? Such an easy job and now you get two whole months off to relax. Well, if you’ve never done it before, you don’t know how mentally (and physically) draining it can be. I am pooped! As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I’ll be using this time to “recharge the batteries” and prepare for the start of another year in September. For now however, I am not thinking that far ahead and I’m focussing on the foreseeable future.

Even though we are days away from the end of the year, my work is not done yet. Yes, all my exams are done and marks have been submitted, but I still have one more thing to do. Believe it or not, this task is actually going to involve me putting in some overtime. I am supposed to be done on Friday, but I will not officially be done until Saturday night. Confused? Let me explain.

So I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that I would be travelling to the University of Minnesota-Duluth with the football team to participate in their team skills camp. Well, that time has arrived! We leave tomorrow morning bright and early (7am to be exact) for the 3.5 hour drive south to Duluth. We’ll be taking 23 players (4 Gr. 9’s, 17 Gr. 10’s and 2 Gr. 11’s) down to the camp, along with 7 coaches on a charted bus. I’ll be taking my own truck though as I need to pick up a few things on the way home. It’s been four years since we’ve gone to this camp, and based on our past experiences, it should be a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved.

So if everything goes to plan, it will be a short turn-around once I get home from Duluth. My wife is scheduled to do the Advanced Placement Math course in Toronto on July 1st, so we decided to make a trip out of it. She’s flying down on June 30, and I’ll follow her down a few days later with the boys in the van. Ethan and Noah are really looking forward to the trip, especially since were planning to go back to Wonderland (Noah couldn’t do much last year because of his broken arm), visit the Medieval Times and watch the Toronto-Calgary football game.

If anything, this trip will be a good start to my much needed vacation, but it will also get me away from the depressing weather around here. Now I’m sure you’re probably tired of me bitching about the weather, especially since I’ve been doing it for the past year. I can’t help it though…it’s bloody awful! All it does is rain. The ground is still very wet from all the snow we got over the winter and it hasn’t really dried out. It’s rained the past few days and I’m sure everything is saturated by this point. I don’t really care if this summer is really hot, but it would be nice if it could just dry out.

Now you know why I want things to dry out…it makes it really hard to do any hiking if the bush is wet. Right now all the creeks and rivers are high, as are all the swampy areas which the railway does run through. I’m hoping that by the time I get back from Toronto it will have dried out a bit. I’m scheduled to do a presentation on the Paulson Mine and the railway on July 20 at the Chik-Wauk Museum and I’d like to get some field work in after that. Fingers are crossed.

Now speaking of hiking, I did get some in a couple weeks ago. I was back in Minnesota with the idea of exploring some of the mines and test pits along the Centennial and Kekekabic Trails. I had not been to one mine shaft, located (ironically) at Mine Lake, since 2010.

I was up bright and early on Friday the 13th for the 2+ hour trip down to Gunflint. I would be by myself for this hike, since the boys were on a PD day from school and wanted to spend the day at my mom’s house. I was a bit concerned about how things would go, since it did rain a bit the day before and the ground was very wet. By 10:30 I was on the trail heading west toward the Mine Lake shaft, 3km away. It was a bit cool that day, but the strong wind mercifully kept the swarms of black flies and mosquitoes away. It was nice to be out in the bush, especially as I passed by all the history in the area.

After about an hour of walking, I arrived at the west end of Mine Lake; during the time of the railway it was known as Akeley Lake. On the way in I had attempted to look for a series of test trenches that were supposedly located at the east end of the lake, but I was not really sure what I was looking for. I did make one surprise find about 50m from the shaft, which was an adit along the north side of the trail (I had been there in 1998 and 2010 and missed it both times). That led me to explore a mass of rock work that was located just west of the adit and on the opposite side of the Kekekabic Trail from the shaft. It appeared that a whole section of the ridge had been subjected to a massive amount of blasting.

Railway grade near the second switchback, June 2014.

Railway grade near the second switchback, June 2014.

Adit, Mine Lake, June 2014.

Adit, Mine Lake, June 2014.

After carefully exploring the blasted area, I moved south to visit the shaft. Unfortunately I was disappointed with what I saw. The Akeley Lake shaft was the best preserved mine shaft in the whole area and now it had become the worst. The 1999 blowdown and the 2007 Ham Lake fire removed all of the forest cover in the area and now it has all begun to grow back. The opening was so wide open and easy to see into before, but now it is clogged with deadfall and trees growing along the shaft collar that you can barely see into it.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, June 2014.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

Akeley Lake Shaft, August 2010.

On my way back to the Gunflint Trail I spent my time shooting some new video of the test pits alongside the trail. I even went on a little adventure to look for what I thought were some other test pits but came up empty. I am looking forward to heading back down to Gunflint after my return from Toronto. In the meantime you can watch my videos from the hike here and here.

Iron rocks, June 2014.

Iron rocks, June 2014.

Test pit #5, June 2014.

Test pit #5, June 2014.

Test pit #1, June 2014.

Test pit #1, June 2014.

So since it will be a while before I’m able to do more field work, I’m going to be doing a “different” type of field work while I’m in Toronto. What kind of field work could I possibly do in Toronto you ask? Well, the archival kind. Yes, for the first (and only) time since 1999 I am paying a visit to the Archives of Ontario. The Archives has some really important files pertaining to the railway and I can’t wait to take a look at them with a more mature and discerning eye. I’ll be sure to write all about it in my next post.

Anyway, I better get rolling. I’ll be back in a few weeks with the latest news. Until then…

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing

 

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Europe 2014 Day 10…The Lost Post

This was supposed to be posted at the end of our trip, but due to a little glitch, I was not able to retrieve it until now. It seems so long ago, but I think there are some things that need to be said even if they are a bit late.

Day ten. This is it…back to Canada. I think there isn’t one person who isn’t sad about our departure; the trip has been awesome. However we have consumed our time in Europe and we now need to return to reality, which for us includes snow and cold! We all have fond memories of the trip and I guess I’ll share some as I write this blog today.

I really have only one negative thing from this adventure, which has been the wifi at this hotel in Paris. I thought I was going to be able to post two days worth of blogs last night, but after being on for a while, I was disconnected and could not reconnect. It is very frustrating from a blogging sense, but it also made it hard to stay in touch with the boys. We should be able to get some FaceTime in today, especially since it is Ethan’s birthday…9 already!

Alright, so we’re in the air now; next stop Toronto, seven and a half hours away. I wonder when lunch is…I’m hungry! I’m also curious as to what type of gastronomic delight is on the menu for today, hopefully it something good. Well, I’ll come to back to this later, after I eat and have a nap. For now, I’m going to enjoy a little Star Trek action on the TV.

So here we are, half way across the Atlantic. Up here, above the clouds might be a good place to reflect on the past 10 days. I’m tired, and really need some sleep. Even though it is way colder than what I’ve experienced while over in Europe, I miss home. And I really miss my boys; I’m sad that I’m not there for Ethan’s birthday. Despite all of this, I’m glad we went.

To me, teaching is more than just a job; I probably wouldn’t do it if it was just a job. It is about making a difference, and sometimes we have to sacrifice a bit to do that. This trip at times has been exhausting and stressful, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I was fortunate enough to travel to Europe when I was in high school (way back in 1992) and I relish all the memories I have of that trip. Twenty years from now these kids will not remember what they learned in my classroom, but they will remember this journey. They will remember when they look at the photos and when they tell their kids about it. It is then they will have understood what learning is all about.

The fact that these students have the good fortune to be in a classroom and have opportunities like this is due in part to the sacrifice of people not much older that them a long time ago. I hope that visiting the battlefields and cemeteries have taught them that the life they enjoy is not free; it was bought and paid for by the blood of Canada’s youth. Each one of them has a story and our remembrance ensures that they will never be forgotten.

I guess you can say that in many ways this trip is like when I coach football. Well that’s an interesting analogy isn’t it? Football and European travel…yes, I did get a good nap in. What I mean to say is that this trip allows you to make more of a personal impact on the kids, much like what happens when you coach. You can see the impact of what you’re doing more easily than in the classroom…or at least I hope!

Extra-curriculars like this also allow you to get to know the students better, which certainly helps with that connection is just spoke of. At times I did feel like a bit of a taskmaster though, the one who makes all the rules and cracks the proverbial whip. But I guess that comes with the territory of being the group leader…with great power comes great responsibility right? Parents are trusting you with their most precious possession and safety comes before everything.

We’re back in the air now, on our way to Thunder Bay and home. The layover in Toronto was a nice little break, though it was a bit stressful finding the shuttle to the hotel and getting everyone there. Thankfully EF had everything taken care of and there wasn’t much we had to do. Dinner was at the Mr. Greek restaurant attached to the hotel. The food was good and everyone ate their fill.

From Lake Huron, March 2014.

From Lake Huron, March 2014.

Frozen Lake Superior, March 2014.

Frozen Lake Superior, March 2014.

Since we were in Toronto for the evening, my older brother Dominic joined us for dinner; it was good to catch up with him since I had not seen him since Christmas. A few of the kids left the hotel to meet up with family. After we ate, we went up to our room where we were able to FaceTime with the boys and wish Ethan a happy 9th birthday. We’ll be having his party next weekend.

I’m sure all the kids are anxious to see their parents and tell them all about our adventures. As great and fun it’s been travelling with the kids for the past 10 days, I’m glad we’re going home too. Looking after 23 teenagers is at times exhausting and stressful; my wife Jo-Anne commented that she now knows what it feels like to be the Duggars and travel with 20+ people. However, I do it all again in a heartbeat…and we will.

My colleague at St. Ignatius Alicyn Papich and I have already begun looking forward to the 100th anniversary celebrations of. Vimy Ridge in 2017. I know that EF has the gears rolling as well, since Felicity told us she has been working on scouting hotels in anticipation of the arrival of thousands of Canadians for the event. It should be awesome!

 

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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