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Vimy Day Five

7:53, on the bus and ready to roll.

I didn’t think I could any more tired, but I am! I had some girls from another school in the room beside me playing music past 12:30 this morning. I was up at 6:00, so my eyes are rather heavy. I’m sure I’ll perk up at Juno Beach and the cemeteries we visit; should be another amazing and emotional day.

The graves of the Branton brothers.

Our first stop today was the Canadian War Cemetery at Beny sur Mer. There are over 2000 Canadians buried there and it was a very emotional experience again. I find it interesting that Beny, like Dieppe, is tucked away in a very quiet location. It is probably better that way. Unlike Dieppe, I did have a mission today, which was to find the graves of Gordon and Ronald Branton. Brothers from Lethbridge, Alberta, they are just one of several sets of brothers buried in Beny. Their inscription reads, “We left with a jest our home in the west. Now here with the best we lie at rest.”


A very short drive later we arrived at the Juno Beach Centre, which was built almost 10 years ago as a museum not only for D-Day, but for all of Canada’s WWII involvement. The Centre was interesting to see, but I really wanted to get to the beaches. The part of Juno Beach in front of the Centre was known as Mike Red sector, and it was where the Winnipeg Rifles came ashore. There was an observation post located just behind the beach, but our Tour Director Hugo was going to take us farther east where there was more to see.

It was very fitting that today was cold, misty and windy, much like it was on June 6, 1944.

German bunker, Nan White Sector, Juno Beach.

Our next destination was Bernieres-sur-Mer, where the  Queen’s Own Rifles came ashore at sector Nan White. The first house they captured is called Canada House and just down the beach is a preserved bunker adorned with the QOR logo. The Queen’s Own suffered the highest casualties of all the assault units, and looking from the bunker tells you why. Designed to enfilade the beach, it and others killed and wounded half of the QOR in minutes. I made a point of picking up some sand and rocks…almost like I’m taking pieces of Canadian history.


We spent our lunch in the town of Arromaches, which is in the Gold Beach area. After eating a baguette with jambon and frites, I wandered the immediate area for a while. There is a museum there, along with several vehicle and artillery displays. In the sea off Arromaches you can see the remains of the Mulberry artifical harbour system. I think the kids were more excited about the gift shops that sold WWII relics, like shrapnel and shell casings.

On our way back to Rouen, we made a detour to the Canadian cemetery at Bretteville sur Laize. It was quite the adventure getting there, driving all the back roads from Arromaches to Cintheaux. At one point we had to cross a two bridges right by each other with a wicked curve in the middle. Our driver had to get out and size things up; he figured we could make it. After a few tense moments, some skillful driving and a little scrape, we made it through. It earned him a well-deserved round of applause. 

The cemetery at Bretteville has almost 2800 burials and is absolutely huge. It was too bad we were pressed for time as the 30 minutes we had was way to short, but I really wanted to visit this cemetery and was glad that we made it. Our first order of business was to hold a short service in honour of those who gave their lives for Canada. Kudos goes out to our friends at St. Ignatius for organizing these little ceremonies…I think it makes it that much more significant for the students. 

Grave of Major Griffin, Black Watch.

For many years I have taught my Gr. 10 students about the fighting in Normandy, and in particular the Battle of Verrières Ridge . This battle was part of a larger, unsuccessful series of attacks called Operation Spring. More than 800 Canadians were killed in Spring, and they are all buried at Bretteville. In particular, I teach them about what happened to the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada) at Verrieres and how the entire regiment was wiped out. The commander of the Black Watch (who was an acting commander after everyone above him became casualties), Major Phil Griffin, was blamed for the failure of the attack; I wanted to pay my respects to him.I think that it will mean more to me now that I’ve visited his grave and saw the area that was fought over.


There was one more thing I had to do before we left. Prior to becoming a teacher, my career goal was to attend military college and enter the army. When I was 17 I

Grave of Major Styffe, Lake Superior Regiment.

joined the local infantry reserve unit, the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment. The LSSR perpetuates the Lake Superior Regiment, which fought in Normandy as part of the 4th Armoured Division. Forty-two members of the LSR are buried at Bretteville and I thought it was my duty to try and honour them. However due to our time constraints, I was only able to visit the grave of Major Edward Styffe, who was killed in action August 14, 1944. I did pledge to myself that I would return some day and do the fallen members of the Regiment proud.


On our return to Rouen we went to dinner, which was an okay meal of pasta with chicken in a sort of Alfredo sauce. We did take some time to celebrate the birthdays of Matt J. and Cassie who were both turning 16 during the trip. After dinner we had a bit of free time, so the kids could relax, look around the square a bit and unwind. Tomorrow is Easter, so we are heading off to mass at 9:30; I’ve never been to church in another country so I am looking forward to the experience. I’ll finish this off after we return.

The church was locked, so I guess there wasn’t mass. Can you cancel church?

Tonight I had the chance to speak to my wife Jo-Anne and the boys for a bit. Although I am enjoying myself immensely, I do miss them very much. I really want to take my boys here one day to see this for themselves…I think it is something that all Canadians should do. It really makes you thankful for the life we enjoy. After to speaking to my boys tonight and experiencing all the history over the last few days I wanted to leave you with this. I thought it would be a fitting way to end given the purpose of this trip. It was pointed out to me by my colleague Sara at Bretteville. Please click on the photo and read the inscription at the bottom; I became so choked up I had trouble taking the picture. Until then…

Grave of Rifleman Janson, Regina Rifles.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy Day Four

7:15am. Showered. Packed. Fed. Ready to roll for the day.
Today is Good Friday, the most solemn holiday in the Christian calendar; somewhat fitting that we are headed to Dieppe, scene of Canada’s worst military defeat. Visiting the graves of Canadians killed on the beach is probably a good way to remember the crucifixion of Jesus. Sacrifice.
I am a bit tired today; I was up to midnight finishing yesterday’s blog. Then it was an unending parade of people, conversations, door knocks and door clicks in the hallway. I don’t know which school these kids were from, but it was very annoying since my alarm was set for 5:50. The 2:00am phone hang up was the coup de grace (I thought it was the wake up call). Needless to say I’m a bit tired. Probably why I started off the day in fine form. As I finished my first helping of food at breakfast I then remembered it was Good Friday…as a practicing Catholic, today is one of the few days of abstinence left on the calendar. So I guess I blew it with the sausages I ate; I think God will understand.
While we drive to Dieppe I wanted to comment on one of those curiosities of Europe that I experienced yesterday. I’d never been in a “unisex” washroom before, so I shall explain. Basically guys and girls enter through the same door; the guys go to the urinals one way and the girls have stalls the other. However, the girls walk by the guys who are only covered by a chest high wall. Kinda awkward watching ladies walk by and vice versa while you do your business. Interesting.
So we were almost an hour and a half late getting to Dieppe because of the traffic in Paris, but we were all excited go be there nonetheless. I’ve taught Gr. 10 students about the Dieppe Raid  for almost 10 years now, but it was an amazing experience to actually walk the beaches. Standing on the shore you are just awestruck by the huge headlands to the east and west. You can feel the shingle underfoot that disabled the tanks. You’re amazed at the distance the soldiers had to run to get off the beach. It was just an experience to walk on a beach that so many Canadians died on. I picked up a few rocks for myself and my boys.
The city of Dieppe itself is quite pretty and I wish we had more time to explore it. I didn’t eat lunch today, choosing rather to spend some time by myself. I went back to the beach and walked around a bit more, just soaking in the experience.

Beach at Dieppe from the West Headlands.

From the beaches we visited the castle on the west headlands; from there it really gives you an idea of how difficult the landing was. I wish we had more time to explore the castle, but we were pressed for time. There were some bunkers on the cliff we looked at and it gave you a view from the German perspective. We couldn’t dwell though, as we needed to visit the cemetery before heading to our hotel in Rouen.

The Dieppe Cemetery is tucked in a quiet little corner away from the city; maybe it was better that way. I’d never been to a Canadian war cemetery before and it was an eye-opening experience. There are over 700 burials in the cemetery and I was proud to be there. After taking some pictures and video, I began to walk around and look at the graves; there were

Unknown Canadian burial, Dieppe Cemetery.

so many names. As I circulated, I started to read the inscriptions on the headstones (families could add text to them for a fee). Overwhelmed, I tried to do it again and I had to walk away…it was way too emotional. So I sat down on a bench and played with my phone to distract myself. The best part of the experience was watching the kids…watching, reading, crying…I was proud.

On the bus again, we drove to Rouen and our hotel. There wasn’t time to check in, so we walked to our restaurant for dinner. Tonight our restaurant was called “69,” which solicited laughs and smirks from everyone on the bus. The meal was roast pork and potatoes (again), which was good, but the portions were to small! The creme brulee desert was awesome!
After eating we made our way to the hotel, visiting a few places along the way. The best by far was the Rouen Cathedral…Gothic architecture at its finest! We went inside the church, trying not to disturb mass. What a spectacular interior! We didn’t make mass for Good Friday, but at least we got into a church.
So it’s already past midnight and we have an early morning again to go to Normandy.
Until then…
 
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Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy Day Three

Ok, it’s 7:15 and I’m here in the lobby waiting for breakfast. It’s amazing how good a decent night’s sleep feels; hopefully by tomorrow I’ll be caught up. The bed felt great, and the hotel is pretty nice. We’ll see how breakie measures up! Today we’re going to be on a tour of the city, and whatever else comes up.

Well, I’m sitting on the bus back to the hotel trying to type with frozen fingers; I’ll explain later. Today was another busy but exciting day. I have a lot to tell about so hopefully I warm up in the process.

After we left the hotel and drove downtown again. We picked up a local guide and did a driving tour of Paris. We saw somethings we didn’t see on our walking tour. After that ended, the bus left us near the Eiffel Tower.

We spent some time taking photos at the Trocadero Esplanade before heading down to near the tower itself. We stopped for a bite to eat and this time I actually had something resembling French cuisine, though I’m not sure a panini “Italien” qualifies-it was good, but only wops know how to slice prosciutto! After we ate it was time to visit the tower.

The line to take the lift up was about two hours long, so we decided to walk up to the first level. 5€00 to walk up a few hundred feet…my fear of heights loved that. It was quite the view, but unfortunately the sun disappeared and it got very hazy. It also became very cold; I dressed for 14C it was supposed to be. Therefore the short-sleeved shirt I was wearing and just my Vimy jacket left me rather chilly! Actually I was more like frozen.

I even ventured to the second level, which did almost make me nauseous. Some of the kids took the elevator to the third level and said it was great experience…I’ll take their word for it! When the clock ended our visit, we still had free time left, so we had to figure out what to do next. Hugo had given us Metro passes, so the plan was to try and get to the catacombs before dinner.

This wasn’t my first time on a Subway, but Toronto is a bit different from Paris. Trying to navigate around with 7 kids in tow is a bit of a challenge as well (St. Ignatius has 18 kids, so we were one big caravan). We took the number 6 subway to the catacombs, but got there at 4:00, just as it was closing! So we had go back on to the subway and take the B line to our next destination.

After being frustrated in our initial quest, we thought we would head to Notre Dame again, which was near our meeting place. Some of us (me included) were too tired yesterday to stand in line to get in, so we thought this time would be better. Well, our luck held, so the line was ten times longer than the last time! Some of the kids did a bit of shopping while a few of waited near the cathedral. At 5:30 our trudge to dinner began.

Today we ate at a place called “Flam’s.” I was a bit worried when the hostess led us past the tables and into the basement. Down a few windey staircases led us into a series of very Gothic looking rooms, which was a rather interesting dining experience. They served us Flammekueche style pizza, which is made with a very thin, stone baked crust, something like alredo sauce, cheese and either bacon/onion or bacon/mushroom topping. Along with some plain salad, it was a very good meal. Desert was the same crust with either apples or chocolate on it. Yum!

Eiffel Tower at night, April 5, 2012.

We decided in the morning that since dinner was early, we would take a boat ride on the Seine at night. We had to go back on the subway, taking the number 1, then the number 6 again to Bir-Hakim station. It was a bit crazy since it was rush hour, but we made it okay. From there we walked to close to the Eiffel Tower again, and boarded the boat. It was busy, so we didn’t get good seats and the boat had glass sides and roof, but it was interesting nonetheless. I think I got some good video. The best part was when we got back and the tower was all lit up-wow! I got some great shots…you’ll have to make due with one from the Playbook!


It was freezing cold again, and my finger were borderline numb, so I guess now things make sense. Anyway, I need to get to bed since we’re up at 6:00 to head off to Dieppe, Rouen and a new hotel.

Until then…
 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy Day Two

So I’m sitting here on the floor just outside of the Denon Gallery of the Louvre. I am completely exhausted! What a day!

So our plane arrived almost an hour late, and then we have to wait forever for our bags. Of course mine was one of the last, coming out almost 15 minutes after everyone else got there’s. Then we met our Tour Director Hugo, boarded the bus and went to our hotel. As we expected, we could not check in and instead stored our bags until tonight. After a quick meeting and bathroom break, we were on the road again.

It took us almost an hour to navigate the streets to reach the Louvre. Paris is a beautiful city, but I would never want to drive here; talk about insanity! We almost got into a dozen fender-benders by Canadian standards, but I guess people are used to it here.

When we arrived at the Louvre, it was lunchtime, so Hugo gave us an hour to eat. The food court was insane! There were a lot of choices, but I was too tired and hungry to bother…I ate at McDonalds! Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but it was the easiest choice. Only Matt J tried some local fair; everyone else opted for McD’s or pizza. I did promise myself that tomorrow, when I’m rested and have time, I’ll eat better!

Now the Louvre. Wow, what a place! We only visited the Denon Gallery, but it was amazing! I’m sure it would take days to fully visit this place…unfortunately everyone is exhausted, so that’s why we’re chilling on the floor. I’d love to take my Gr. 11 history class here when we do the Renaissance. The only bad part was that we kinda got lost, and couldn’t figure out how to get to the lobby. It didn’t help that they closed one of the floors we came in through, so we couldn’t just backtrack. Obviously it all worked out in the end.

After leaving the Louvre, we did a “little” walking tour of the area. It was more like a two hour power walk, which was especially nice on a couple hours sleep. We did see some great stuff, but it was all too fast. There was finally a 30 minute break near Notre Dame, which gave me a chance to wet my parched whistle to the tune of 2.70€. Need to bring the water bottle tomorrow!

Notre Dame Cathedral, April 5, 2012.

Notre Dame was magnificent…too bad I could not see the inside (we are going to come back tomorrow). This week is holy week, so there are masses every night and the cathedral was full. It is truly a architectural marvel.


Within walking distance was our restaurant for the evening Lodies. We had a nice dinner of salad, whipped potatoes and roast pork. The chocolate mousse desert was a nice touch. Now we’re on our way back to the hotel to check in and hit the hay…I think everyone is falling asleep on the bus. I have to upload these latest blogs and then retire myself as we have a 6:30 wake up.

Until then…
 
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy Day One

Well we’re on our way! We just took off from Thunder Bay and now headed for Pearson Airport in Toronto to make our first connection. There’s only 55 minutes between flights, so we don’t have a lot of time to hang around before we head to Montreal.

Some of my initial nervousness has dissipated, but I’ll feel better when we get to Paris. The kids are very excited, and it is contagious! We are travelling with a group from our sister school St. Ignatius, so it’s nice having some familiar adult faces around. I know we’re going have a great time.

I’ve already started the Tweeting, and it will continue once we get to Toronto. I’m going to sign off for now, since it’s hard to type in these cramped seats (never flown on a Q400 before).

On our way to Montreal…late. The flight was supposed to leave at 5:00, but because of a catering delay, we left behind schedule. The flight we are on continues on to Brussels, so I guess the food is important. Apparently we are supposed to fly a bit faster than usual (595 mph)to make up time (I think our scheduled arrival is 5:30, which still gives us an hour layover).

So we spent a lot of time standing around at the gate, but at least there is some elbow room on this 767. Before we know it we will be landing and hustling to our gate. Hopefully there will be time to grab something to eat…I’ve only eaten a granola bar since 11. I’m dying of thirst more than anything else; between this cold I’m getting over and the dry air it’s horrible! Anyway, going to sign off again until we’re over the ocean.

Air France A380 beside us in Montreal.

Back in the air again, this time 40 minutes late! The joys of air travel I guess. This time the issue was an Air France A380 that was preventing us from backing up. I didn’t even realize it was an A380 until after I had taken a picture of it. This time we’re on a 777, the newest plane in Air Canada’s fleet. Cruising at 32000 feet and at 621 mph…very cool, especially since the air temp is -49C!


Our flight is pretty much full of students going to France, which might make my prospects of getting some sleep slimmer. I wonder if they are doing the same tours as us, just with a different guide? That would make some of these places we are visiting insanely busy! I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

They are probably going to serve some food soon, which is great since we did not have time to eat between the connecting flights. Hopefully it’s good! After that will be sleepy time…I’m exhausted! I’ve been going since 6:00am and at airports since noon. Tomorrow will be another crazy day as we’re not expected back at our hotel until 10:00. I’m going to be bagged! 

So dinner was not bad, for airline food. Chicken breast in some sort of mushroom sauce, with wild rice pea carrot something or other. There was a bean corn carrot salad that wasn’t bad either. The brownie was very good! Anyway, I’ll shut it down for now and get back to this before we land.

Sunrise over Ireland, April 5, 2012.

Wow, that was the best, most restful four hours of sleep I’ve ever had! Good Lord! I have certainly forgotten how much flying across the ocean sucks! Boy am I exhausted. I just couldn’t find any comfortable position. Maybe I could have been more like my seat partner Allister who managed to sleep with her head on the tray table. I’m obviously awake right now, and just finished devouring the blueberry muffin and apple juice they gave us for breakie. 


Since we’re going to be landing in a bit, I guess this wraps up day one (even though it technically is day two already). I’ll start today’s adventures with our arrival in Paris.

Until then…
 
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Miscellaneous, 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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Shorts in March?

Yes, you read that title right. So, you’re probably saying, “it’s March, in the northwestern Ontario…what is he thinking?” Well, I’ve never worn shorts in March, but there’s a first time for everything right? I guess it all started last week when we were in Minneapolis and the mercury climbed to +18C; things only got better from there! Yesterday the temperature rose to +21 and I couldn’t help myself…actually I got too hot in pants. So I broke out the shorts and made history! Needless to say I feel very proud of my accomplishment. I even Tweeted about it 🙂

Today unfortunately it was back to work and boy was I dragging! Teaching is a great profession with some good holiday time, but coming back from vacation is always tough. This is especially difficult when you have to jump right back into the swing of things such as the Battle of Passchendaele and the Enlightenment. I’m certainly going to sleep well tonight!

Now speaking of sleeping, there are only 15 more sleeps until Europe! Can you tell I’m excited? Tomorrow I am having the final meeting with the travellers and their parents, so the reality is really setting in. Last week I picked up a new suitcase and some travel adapters so I think I’m ready roll. I am a little concerned with the current Air Canada labour issues, but fingers crossed everything will be okay.

I’ve been looking at our hotels and where we are heading from those locations. After our two days in Paris, we move to Rouen from which we visit Dieppe and Juno Beach. Then we’re on to Amiens which is close to the Beaumont Hamel and Ypres, as well as the culmination of the trip, Vimy. On paper they seem so far away, but they are really only an hour to an hour and half apart. Anyway, enough about that; you’ll be reading about it soon.

So, what about the railway? Well, there’s a lot to report on that front. I worked more on the article last week and I’ve almost reached 2800 words. I’ll try to get more writing done tomorrow and hopefully I can wrap things up next week. Since I’m almost done, I need to start thinking about pictures and maps for the article. I think I’ve got the pictures covered, but I’ll need to try and find some decent maps. I might have to make a few phone calls and see what I can dig up.

Last week I also received some good news regarding my presentation at the Chik-Wauk Museum. After the exchanging a few emails with Ada from the museum, I’ve been confirmed for Sunday, August 5th at 2:00 pm CST. I will be talking about the railway and the Paulson Mine…obviously pretty pumped for this event! It’s been a while since I did a public lecture on the railway so I’m great to get back into the saddle so to speak.

I managed to get that Wikipedia article on Leeblain finished as well. Quite proud of myself; it was actually a bit of work to put that together, especially with all the research involved (well, more like digging through my files). Maybe this will lead to more Wikipedia stuff, though I don’t want to get too carried away…I have anough on my plate. Paulson Mine next?

Joseph Fisher Eby

For my closing comments I thought I’d mention the busy week this is going to be in the history of the railway. Here’s the list:

Thursday-Gunflint Lake Iron Company is organized in 1892 by John Paulson, Kristian Kortgaard and Orrin D. Kinney

Friday-Investor Joseph F. Eby is born in Berlin, ON in 1844 and Canadian Northern VP Donald Mann is born in Acton, ON in 1853

Saturday-the last train runs on the Canadian National Railway-North Lake Sub-Division in 1938

Of all the events, the last is probably the most important, but I`ll save my comments for next week.

Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in 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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The Alberta Clipper Strikes Back!

So I awoke this morning to a winter wonderland. We had the pleasure of being hit by an Alberta Clipper yesterday, which is a very fast-moving weather system that packs quite the punch (follow the link if you don’t trust me). The clipper apparently dumped 32cm snow according to the media, which unfortunately was not enough to close the schools. The trend lately is to cancel the busing, but leave the schools open. The side effect, in high schools at least, is that hardly anyone shows up.

So after clearing a path at the end of the driveway to get out, I drove to work with the truck in 4×4 (always fun). I had a meeting for part of the morning at

My front yard after the Clipper, Feb 2012.

the board office, but then I spent the rest of the day marking. I guess that was okay, but I would have rather been at home. There’s still hope though; forecasts are calling for another possible dump in a few days. Maybe they’ll call in the army like they did in Toronto in 1999!

Now in case you’re wondering (again) why the title, I was trying to think of something clever to do with the weather. This weekend my boys watched a couple of Star Wars movies while my wife and I worked on the basement and it just popped into my head. Now speaking of the basement, there was no trip up the mountain this weekend because we finally got around to installing the laminate floor. Jo-Anne and I started this basement reno (really a completion since we didn’t have it finished when we built the house) in 2009 and we’re now approaching the end. All that is left after this is the baseboard and trim around the windows (in the rec room only-office needs furniture and the bathroom is unfinished).

I’d never installed laminate floor before, so this was quite the learning experience. It took us almost 3 hours on Saturday just to get the pad down, but once that was done things moved fairly quickly. There were lots of cuts to make, especially angled cuts, which was a bit tedious. My wife really flexed her handy-lady skills, laying the boards while I did the cutting. We managed to get the rec room done by last night; now we just have to do the office and stairs and the floor is in. The only downside of this whole process is that I am extremely sore today-I guess I used a lot of muscles that I don’t normally do. The hour of snow blowing after school didn’t loosen them up either!

You would think that with all of these things going on that there was very little railway work, but I did manage to make time for that too. I spent a few hours working on the article in the middle of the week and I made good headway. I am now up to 1300 words, which is more than halfway through my portion of the article. It’s also a perfect spot, since it gives me a lot of room to write about the building of railway. There is still the struggle about what to include and what to leave out, but I am feeling a lot better regarding the directions things are headed in. In the end this process will give me some excellent experience writing for a historical audience and maybe it will lead to more opportunities in the future.

I’m hoping to have a rough draft ready for Lee to take a look at in a few weeks as I know that I will be busy as spring approaches. The calendar tells me that I depart with the students for Europe and Vimy Ridge in 36 days. It’s hard to believe that the date is so close; I think that I am on top of everything but I still feel apprehensive. My jitters probably stem from my lack of experience and that I want to make sure everything is done properly. I did decide that I would like to take my Playbook with me so I can blog along the way; almost like a travelling journal (Playbook OS 2.0 is pretty awesome btw). I’ll be sure to confirm if the tablet will make the trip for sure before I leave. I definitely will have my phone with me so I can post to my Twitter wherever we are ( @Padwrr ).

With my limited time I also accomplished my usual spat of research, probing whatever ideas jumped into my head. This week it was information about efforts to link the railway to Duluth during the Canadian Northern years prior to WWI. I also dug-up a few articles on the planned reconstruction of the abandoned rail line to the Paulson Mine in 1921. It seems as though there is always something new to discover. What will this week hold?

Anyway, guess I should wrap things up. Until next week…

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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