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There’s places I gotta see…

There certainly are…many in fact. In less than 24 hours, I’ll be on my way to make it happen. If you’re wondering about the title, you need to listen to more classic rock. Connoisseurs will recognize the line from the iconic Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Freebird.”

So after nearly 3 years of planning, we are finally ready to go to Europe. I can’t believe we started all of this in the spring of 2014. Where has the time gone? It feels like an eternity ago. And it’s not just me; the students have grown up along the way. Those young Grade 9 or 10 students are now in Grade 11 or 12, some getting ready to graduate. What a fitting way to leave the school!

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I usual write about how busy I am and how crazy my life is. My last post ironically said exactly that. Well, when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I managed to find another gear. What an insane few days! So I guess I should tell you about it.

Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, I thought it would be great to have the media at the airport for our departure. Last Monday however, I received a call from our school board communication officer, Mike Thompson. He said he was in contact with our two local MPs, Patty Hajdu and Don Rusnak, and they wanted to visit with the students before they left. The trick was that it had to happen by the end of the week, as Parliament is back in session at the start of April. We settled on Friday, but a lot of work had to be done to prepare. Mike would look after the politicians and the media, but I had to find a venue in the school and line up some students to be present.

During our trip, we will be visiting two cemeteries; Tyne Cot near Passchendaele, Belgium and Bretteville-sur-Laize south of Caen France. At those cemeteries, we will honour the fallen but in particular those that served with the 52nd Battalion, CEF and the Lake Superior Regiment. Both were organized in Thunder Bay and are perpetuated by the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment (LSSR) today. I served in the LSSR in my teens. Therefore I thought it would be fitting to invite one of my former officers, David Ratz, who is now a Lieutenant Colonel and commanding officer of the regiment, to the event. It was great to to catch up with him and the students were very appreciative of his knowledge of the history and his stories.

I had to MC the event and scramble with some last minute issues, so I was extremely nervous and sweating like a hog. Fortunately everything went well, and I am very thankfully for that. The media interviewed some of the kids, and even though I knew it was coming, it was still so nervous to speak to them myself. You can read more about the media conference on TBNewswatchCBC and the TBT News.

MPs Hajdu and Rusnak visit students from St. Patrick & St. Ignatius, March 2017.

Probably the biggest source of my stress and the thing that had me running around the most was the tickets for the Vimy ceremony. For security purposes, everyone attending the ceremony has to have a ticket, which makes sense. However, the registration and distribution if said tickets turned into a bureaucratic boondoggle. There was a mad rush to register within a short window and with it came some technical glitches. Then there was the drama getting the tickets. I received my ticket in early March, along with one other chaperone and that was it. We kept receiving messages that because of technical issues, it would be delayed; March 21st, then March 27th and still only 2 tickets. Last Friday Veterans Affairs reported that at the behest of the French Government, all tickets would be reissued. Finally, tickets began to roll in. Cutting it a little close you think, especially since the tickets needed to be printed before we left!

In any case, it’s done, so now there’s just little things left to go. I still have some packing to do and if you know me, I started getting things ready weeks ago. I am not a last minute person; in fact I tend to be quite obsessive about this aspect of traveling, most likely due to the fact that I have some OCD. I don’t care though, better prepared and organized than not.

I have all the boarding passes printed, so we’re ready to hop those flights across the pond. From Thunder Bay we head to Toronto (of course), and from there to Munich. We have a fairly long layover at the Franz Josef Strauss Airport before we heading to Amsterdam, which I guess will give everyone time to nap, including me. I’ll probably be taking the time to blog as well.

Anyway, I better get going. You’ll probably hear from me again from Munich with details of our first day. Until then…

 

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Posted by on April 4, 2017 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Okay, enough already!

Hey Old Man Winter! Ya, you! You’re a crotchity, cranky old buzzard and you suck! Geez, that’s a little harsh don’t you think Dave? Yes, yes it is and I mean every word of it. Hey, I understand that I decided to live in a northern climate, but this presses the limits of one’s tolerance. Really, could the weather be any worse? Well, the answer is yes, but not by much. The last month and half has been nothing but snow and cold. So yes, I am a bit bitter and rightly so. Am I pushing my luck with Karma? Maybe, but what have I got to lose?

Well, it’s been a month since my last post and the hot button topic has certainly been the weather. If you live anywhere in the central part of North America, you know exact what I’m talking about (Polar Vortex anyone?). The weather has been downright miserable of late, at times making me regret liking living here so much. Comes with the territory right? Yes, but come on? Does it have to be this cold? Last year I wrote that I had seen the lowest temperature I could remember; well guess what? Yup, it got even colder! Twice last week my home temperature record was broken; first at -38.2C, then a few days later at -39C. With the wind it was -51C one of those days! We were the coldest place in Canada! Seriously? Thunder Bay is at 48 degrees north…there are a helluva a lot of places farther north than us and we were the coldest place! I am certainly not alone in my current disdain for the weather, but hope is on the horizon. The forecast is calling for -2C on the weekend. -2! Holy crap! I might have to break out my shorts for that!

-38.2C, December, 2013.

-38.2C, December 2013.

-39C, January 2014.

-39C, January 2014.

So Christmas break has come and gone and I am now back at work. Ugh! It seems like every year the break goes by faster and faster; the two weeks seemed like a blur! I know the kids enjoyed it and Santa Claus was very good to them. I guess I can’t complain though, since Santa brought me a present too…I got the awesome Sean Lee throwback jersey I wanted! It certainly offset the fact that I passed a not-so-great milestone birthday. Yes, I turned the big 4-0! Everyone kept asking me how it felt to be forty; how do you answer that? I felt the same as I did when I was 39! It’s not like I suddenly became decrepit on my birthday. You’re only as old as you feel right?

Sean Lee throwback jersey!

Sean Lee throwback jersey!

The return to work has brought me back to that ever-present pile of marking that never seems to diminish. I know I’ll get it cleared up soon since exams and the end of the semester are just around the corner. Also keeping me busy is the fact that the Europe trip is coming up quick…March seems like a long way away but it isn’t. There is so much to do. I applied for a new passport over Christmas, and now I’m collecting forms, planning meetings and buying water bottles. Was I this busy the last time? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that in 2012 there were 7 students and now there are 22. I am very excited to go, but also nervous in the fact that I want to make sure all the bases are covered. 57 days until departure!

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, April 2012.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, April 2012.

The railway front has been a bit up and down since I last wrote. As usual, time is the biggest detriment in terms of getting anything substantial done. Over the break I finally finished posting all my summer/fall hiking photos and video to Facebook and YouTube, which was long overdue. Hopefully I don’t fall behind like that again. I did spend a little time doing some research during Christmas, mostly looking for some photos of people associated with the construction of the railway (George & Alexander Middleton, Ross Thompson). I certainly love the challenge of trying to dig up these images, but at times it can be very frustrating when you`re making no headway. Places like Ancestry are a very valuable tool, but so far the pictures are eluding me!

So my biggest piece of railway news is the anticipated release of the Thunder Bay Museum`s Paper and Records. I`m really excited to see my first published article in print! It should be ready anytime soon and hopefully it will be the start of more written pieces on my part. I was hoping to begin work on another piece about the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad, but I just didn`t get around to it over the break. I`m sure to find some time for it over the next few months. We`ll see what happens!

Anyway, time to go. I’ll have more to say in the coming weeks, but for now you can enjoy my 100th post! Until then…

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2014 in History, Railway, Research, Writing

 

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But I don’t wanna go back!

No this is not the end of summer, please don’t send me plea from my children; it’s actually mine. It’s quite unfortunately that summer is already over…didn’t it just start? It is amazing how quickly time flies. I’ll probably be saying the same thing in 10 months when it is June. The only solace I take is that I have yet to hear that annoying back to school Staples commercial. No, it’s not the most wonderful time of the year; if you don’t want you kids any longer, why do you think I do?

Anyway, tomorrow I go back to work. At least I get to be eased back with a PD Day tomorrow. However, I know that day two will be hell, as I’m never tired on the first day, but rather the second. Going back to work is inevitable, but you know where I’d rather be!

Beach at Leeblain, August 2012.

My schedule is not too bad to begin the year; two Grade 10 Canadian Histories (Academic and Pre-AP) and a Grade 12 World History. I know I’m dreading it right now, but give me a day and I’ll be right back into the swing of things…it’s like riding a bike. My love and enthusiasm for teaching will come flooding back. I can’t believe that I will be entering my 16th year in the classroom…damn I’m getting old!

September also brings with it the start of football. We’ve already held our usual pre-season meeting and I’m certainly looking forward to getting out on the field. It is always a bit of a crap-shoot when it comes to the composition of the team; we do have a core of returnees, but we don’t know who will be coming up from Grade 8 and who did not play last year in Grade 9. I guess we’ll get an indication at Wednesday’s lunch meeting.

The last few weeks have been a very good and a great way to wrap up the vacation. I spent a good part of it in the states with the family (and unfortunately a technical glitch with my laptop prevented my usual blog post last week). I know the boys really enjoyed the time in Duluth and Minneapolis and so did I. I spent lots of time hanging out with Ethan and Noah, and in some cases, trying to keep my lunch down. The boys love the rides at the amusement parks and the propensity is for the ones that make me want to puke. Case in the point, the Splat-o-Sphere at Nickelodeon Universe; I spent this particular whirl with my eyes closed lest I blow chunks in front of a bunch of kids. Maybe I’ll get better with time!

Sunset in Bloomington, August 2012.

Upon my return, I made plans for one final summer hike on the railway. I had been itching to get back to Leeblain since my last visit in early August. This trip would be different though, as I was planning to take the boys with me on the long drive to Gunflint Lake. The 146km journey is certainly very interesting, and I forgot how brutal the last 30k was.

When we arrived, we met up with fellow researcher Harold Alanen. As an amateur archeologist, Harold has spent a lot of time around Leeblain looking for Native/Voyager artifacts. We were joined near the railway siding by a few Minnesota friends, John and Joel. John was my host on my Minnesota trip and it was good to see him.

After getting myself (and the boys) ready, we headed north 130m towards the northern rock oven. As we arrived, I happened to glance into the bush just before the oven. I immediately recognized the flat slabs of rock that make up the ovens. Calling everyone over, I charged into the deadfall to identify the “mystery” fourth rock oven. I say mystery because Harold had previously indicated that there might be another oven in the area. However, when he failed to locate it on a previous trip, I was a bit disappointed. I cannot believe that I had never seen this oven before, especially since the brush was thinner before the 2007 fire. Needless to say I am ecstatic over this great discovery.

Rock oven, Leeblain, August 2012.

From there we moved to the ovens closer to the town and eventually said goodbye to John and Joel. Then it was time to go to work. One of my main goals for the day was to locate the 1100 foot spur that branched off somewhere near the ovens. The spur was probably removed after Canadian Northern took over in 1899 as it is not shown on the 1911 map. Google Earth told me that the gravel pit across from Leeblain looked very angular and the distance from the end of the pit to the grade was nearly 1100 feet.

Our first search took us along the eastern side of the pit, where it became obvious that there were no traces of a rail line. As Harold fetched his metal detector, I had a hunch that maybe the spur was in the pit (throwing the gravel into cars beside you would be easier than throwing it uphill). In the northern (drier) end, I noticed a slight mound running down the middle of the pit. Harold arrived on scene with the detector and we immediately began to find spikes, bolts and other bits of metal.

Leeblain Spur, August 2012.

The southern part of the pit is flooded, so our only recourse was to move farther north toward the main line. It was clear that the grade here had been disturbed by the logging following the 1999 blowdown, but the general outline of the spur could be made out. We continued to find items, including piles of spikes and even what appeared to be part of a handwheel. I even found some pieces of coal! It was a very productive day and I’m hoping that Harold and I can team up again to locate more items in the area.

Leeblain Spur items, August 2012.

The boys wanted to spend some time on the beach, so that gave me some time to shoot some video of the “mystery” oven. I then chilled out while Ethan and Noah played for a bit; I wish I could have stayed a lot longer…and so did the boys! The drive home would take 2.5 hours, so we had to get rolling early. We were actually making good time until it happened.

As we neared the intersection of the Gunflint Road and Highway 588, it noticed a slight vibration in my truck. I just assumed that my boat rack was loose from the rough road. The vibration got worse and I suspected something was up; it was at the same time that Ethan shouted, “there’s black stuff flying up from the tire!” My driver-side rear tire was a smoking, shredded mess. I lost 40 minutes putting the share on, but Harold happened to drive by and gave me a hand. I’m now on the hunt for some replacement tires; thankfully I have no hikes planned for the immediate future.

Blown tire, August 2012.

Anyway, I better rolling since I need to be up early. As usual I’ll have new stuff to report next week. Until then…

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing

 

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Leavin’ on a jet plane…

Don’t kiss me though, but you can smile for me! (and I’ll be back next Tuesday).

Yes, that time has arrived. This time tomorrow I’ll be on a plane headed to Paris. It’s hard to believe the time has already arrived…wasn’t it just December and I was having the first parent meeting? I’m both nervous and excited for the trip; I’ve never taken students on anything like this before. However, I know that I have a good bunch of kids so things will be okay. Just my usual pre-event nerves! I still have some packing to do, but otherwise I think I’m ready to roll.

Yesterday our Tour Director Hugues or Hugo sent me the tentative itinerary; it looks awesome! In Paris we’ll visit the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower and whatever else comes up. Then we’re off to Rouen, from where we will visit Dieppe and Normandy (there will be a tour of Rouen in there somewhere). The trip to Normandy will take us to Juno Beach and the Canadian cemetery at Beny sur Mer. I think we’ve convinced Hugo to take us to the Bretteville cemetery south of Caen near Cintheaux as well. This will be an interesting visit for me, as fallen members of the Black Watch and Lake Superior Regiment are interned in this cemetery. I’ll explain if the visit happens.

From Rouen we go to Amiens, which allows us to get to Passchendaele and Ypres. We’re going to attend the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, which should be quite the experience. The Last Post has been played there for almost every day at 8:00pm since 1928. The next day we head to the ceremony at Vimy Ridge. I think we need to be up at 5:00am…that’s crazy even for me! That should be quite the experience, though I usually hate big crowds so we’ll see how I do.

In other school related news, it is now April so that means we’re getting closer to football spring training. Where does the time go? Geez this has been a busy year. Last week I finally found some time to re-edit the highlight video from the fall and get it posted on YouTube. Turns out (which I didn’t know) that the folks at YouTube are in a spat with Warner Bros music; you can’t upload anything with their music on it. So that’s why my video never worked…the only problem was finding non-Warner Bros music. Anyway, it’s finally online and you can watch it here.

The unfortunate side effect of my busy past few days is that I didn’t really have any railway time. There was no research…I’m sure I’ll get back at it when I return. I did do a little revising on the article, adding a couple of things here and there, but nothing substantial. Hopefully I can get this sent in soon and that will be one last thing to worry about.

So I need to get rolling. For those of you who read this blog for railway news, I will be hijacking it for the next week to blog from Europe. I’ll also be missing my usual Monday entry since I’ll be away.

Until Wednesday…

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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I can see that on Google Maps?

Why yes you can! If you have no idea what I mean, which is probably the case, I’ll explain later. Patience!

So what’s new Dave? Well, I’ll tell ya. As of today, there are only 8 more sleeps until I’m on a plane headed for France. As you can tell, I’m getting pretty excited. Even though there is a bit of nervousness for this experience, the thought of visiting some new places overrides it all. The only big concern I have so far is the flight. We fly from Thunder Bay to Toronto, then catch a quick connecting flight to Montreal and from there to Paris. We only have a 55 minute layover in Toronto, which is tight, but we are flying Air Canada the whole way so the transfers are all in the same terminals. There is also the benefit of flying with other people, as we are travelling to Europe with our sister high school St. Ignatius. In Toronto I’m assuming we’ll meet up with the third group that is on tour with us, a school from St. Catherines.

I guess the biggest concern right now is some of the labour issues ongoing with Air Canada; fingers crossed I’m hoping all will be okay! I know that the kids are getting pretty pumped as well and part of my excitement stems from their enthusiasm. It will be amazing to experience the history we talk about in the classroom. From what I’ve heard, there will be over 150 schools from across Canada converging on Vimy Ridge on April 9th. Representatives of the government will be attendance, as well as His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet the GG!

On the railway front, I finally have finished my half of the Minnesota History article. It only took me two months, but I’m pretty proud of myself. There are still some tweaks that need to be made, but there’s nothing major left to do. The final word count is 3200, which is over my limit, but there is so much to talk about. I’m not sure how things will make it through the revision process, but I guess I will find out. Not having written anything of this nature does make me a bit nervous, as you do worry how people will receive your abilities and writing style. It will probably be fine, but I’ll be very happy when it makes it to print!

So, the Google Maps thing. I happened to be looking on Google Earth and noticed that they updated some of their maps of the area. Google Earth/Maps has been great in the past for helping me locate the railway and plot the data to my GPS, especially along areas like the Whitefish River that have been eroded over the years. I want to hike the area around Hymers this summer, so I thought, “hey, what if I do an overlay and see how they match?” Well, it isn’t the first time that I’ve tinkered around with Google Earth and map overlays, but probably the most successful I’ve been at it. Some of you may be baffled, so I’ll explain.

Map overlay of the Hymers-Sellars area.

Google Earth has a feature that allows you to overlay or superimpose scans of paper maps onto the satellite photos. It does take a bit of work, as you have to line up key geographic features between the two, but once it’s done it yields awesome results, especially if you are doing historical research.

So I took a copy of the 1960 Geological map of the Hymers-Sellars area, scanned it and did the overlay. It is a good quality map and lined up quite easily. I was amazed when I began playing with the transparency of the map and comparing the current topography with the one from 52 years ago…what a difference! The technology certainly gives you an appreciation of the forces of nature and changes it undergoes. The Whitefish River has changed its course significantly and it makes me wonder how things looked when the railway was built in the early 1890’s. When I hiked the railway back in the 90’s I would often lose the grade where it had been eroded by the river; now with this overlay I can mark the data points on my GPS and hopefully track the railway without any complications. I’ll be trying this overlay with other map areas in the future.

The main reason why I was playing with the maps was due to a request I received last week via email. The Municipality of Oliver-Paipoonge is looking into creating some recreational trails within their boundaries and contracted a landscape architecture firm to do some consultations. I was contacted by a gentleman at the firm who saw some of my photos on Google Earth and was looking for more information about the railway and the old grade. I dug up some of my maps of the railway for his research, and that got me looking at them. You know the rest of the story.  I will be attending the open house meeting on the trails that is being held at the Murillo Town Complex (4569 Oliver Rd) tomorrow from 4-8pm as the architects have some questions for me.

Last tracks of the PAD&W Railway, Rosslyn, ON.

Now because of the meeting and the recent mild weather we have been experiencing, I decided to take a little

drive yesterday (though the warm temps seemed to have disappeared). The real motivator however was the 74th anniversary of the last train run on the railway. On March 24, 1938 engineers discovered that several bridges near Hymers had been weakened by high water on the Whitefish River. No passenger trains would ever travel the rails after that day. Faced with increasing competition from buses and trucks, CN had lost $79,000 over the two previous years. The line was probably in poor shape due to years of neglect so the decision was made to abandon it in October. The rails were taken up the next year.

Tracks and switch, Rosslyn, ON.

I drove to Twin City Crossroads, which is just east of the village of Rosslyn. Here can be found the last remaining tracks of the railway. They are not the original steel (dated 1903), as they were replaced when Canadian Northern took over in 1899. However, they are the closest one can come to the old railway. After photographing the tracks, I drove further west, past Rosslyn to the site of the old Brick Plant. More tracks can be found here, along with a switch that allowed rail cars onto the factory spur. From there the rail bed continues west, just south of Rosslyn Road until you reach the intersection of Fraser Rd, at which point the road becomes Harstone Drive and sits directly atop the grade. I went about 2km west, to where there was a spur that ran to the Stanley Ballast Pit. I think I found the spur, but it was too wet and cool to do any real exploration.

Anyway, until next week…

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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March break already?

Wow, we’re a week away from the break and it feels like the semester just started. The last four weeks have flown by! I guess like the saying says “time flies when you’re having fun.” I wouldn’t say that it has been all fun, but I’ve certainly enjoyed the last month. My classes are settling in and hopefully this one absence per week craziness will abate.

I’m certainly looking forward to the break and I know my boys are very excited. Our usual March break routine involves a trip to the States, with stops in Minneapolis and Duluth. Last year we tried driving through to Minnie from home on Friday after work, which is a tiring 6 hour slog. However the trade-off is well worth it, leaving us more time in Minneapolis to shop and have fun. I know the boys are pumped to visit the Lego store in the Mall of America, since there are new sets to be had. I must admit that Dad is excited to check-out the new X-Wing and Y-Wing too! We have to throw in some stops for mom at the Albertville Outlet and every Kohl`s we can find, as well as celebrating Ethan`s 7th birthday at the Rainforest Café. Then it`s off to Duluth for a few days before heading home.

Now speaking of travel, the calendar tells me that we leave for Europe and Vimy Ridge in 29 days! It`s hard to believe that it`s coming up so fast…kinda makes me a bit nervous. I think that I`m taking care of things as they come up, but there`s always that bit of the fear of the unknown. Things will be fine, but I want to make sure it`s all done right.

I know that I`m very pumped to go and I`m sure the kids are equally excited. Our slick jackets arrived on Friday, black for me and red for the kids; I think that we will certainly look good if anything else. I`ve definitely made up my mind to take the Playbook with me to blog, which I will hopefully do on a daily basis. Camera, video camera, Blackberry, tablet…I`ll having everything covered in detail for sure!

Last week I did spend quite a bit of time working on the article. I’m now up to 1800 words, which is just short of the limit for my portion. I think that I’m going to have to do a bit of trimming when all is said and done to stay below 2500 words. I actually pretty excited up for this article since it will be my first published work and it will allow me to say that I’m a “historian.” The most important part however, is the valuable experience it will provide me with in the area of historical writing.

It’s also great that I’m re-visiting some of the research that I did many years ago. There is so much information associated with this project there are many things that I had forgotten; it almost like I am relearning the material all over again. It is certainly helping me understand the history of the railway in a completely new perspective. Maybe historical research, like life, is about maturity. The older and more experienced you get, the more things make sense. In a few years I’ll really be smart!

Obviously the writing left little time for research, and I doubt I’ll get much done this week. A break is good too, time to recharge and refocus. Makes me think of how many hats one has to wear when doing investigation of this nature. I really want to get to that High Court of Justice file at the Archives of Ontario because it contains a plethora of information. However I feel as if I need a lawyer to help me interpret some of the material! I guess you can’t be an expert at everything, but one can try. I’m not a civil engineer, nor have I ever built a railway, but comprehending the intricacies of it is critical. Therefore my current bedtime reading is a book on how to construct a railway…its scandalous!

Anyway, time to go. Next week’s blog will be on location in Minneapolis.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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