Tag Archives: Whitefish River

Older, and unfortunately dumber!

Yep, that about sums it up! Older? Well, I am going to be 40 this year, but it is more of a reflection of the fact that I can’t do everything I once did effortlessly like I did in my 20’s. Dumber? How can you be dumber Dave? You are almost 40, right? With age comes experience and knowledge! Yes it does, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent me from being a bonehead. One can still be *gasp* middle-aged and still be astoundingly dumb…case in point. So, how were you a dummy Dave? Please, read on.

So summer is now in full swing, as we are now into the third week in July. The weather has been all over the place; one day hot, one day rainy…it just can’t make up its mind. Yesterday was just plain stupid hot. Stupid hot you say? Well, it hasn’t been anywhere close to that temperature all summer, then all of sudden it is 40+ Celsius with the humidity. Craziness! Hopefully this means things will start to settle down, especially with all the rain we’ve been receiving lately. The rivers and creeks are high, which makes my hikes a little more challenging (as mentioned later).

As I write this I am sitting in a hotel room in Sault Ste. Marie…Ontario. The family and I are on the first leg of our trip to Toronto and we’ll be in the centre of the universe by tomorrow afternoon. The boys are very excited for the trip; first to see their uncle, and second to experience all the cool things to see in the Toronto area. We’ve never come here as a family, and I have not been to southern Ontario since 2006.

Day One was fine, though eight hours behind the wheel was a bit tiring. I do love the drive though; the scenery is spectacular! What wasn’t exciting were the constant stops for construction. If you’ve never heard this one, the joke is that there are two seasons in Canada-winter and road construction! I’ll have more to say about our trip in my next post.

Things have been busy on the railway front. I did get out for a hike last week, which was much more successful than the previous week (which I’ll talk about shortly). We’re also slowly putting everything together for History Day, which is less than a month away. There are so many little things to plan and prepare. I’ll put up a copy of the poster once it’s ready.

Obviously the highlight of the past week was my hike at Leeper (mile 31 of the railway). Where is Leeper you ask? Well, it doesn’t really exist anymore, other than a road that runs off Highway 588. It is located about halfway between Hymers (mile 28) and Nolalu (mile 34). It is marked by several crossings of the Whitefish River, the remains of which are still very visible. I was last there in 2009, but I didn’t shoot any video, which was the reason for my re-visit.

The trick for this hike was going to be where to start. Leeper was located on the south side of the Whitefish River, just east of a crossing of the river. It has rained quite a bit lately, so I figured it would be a challenge to get across without getting wet (I hate walking with wet boots). So I decided to park north of the river, near the old highway crossing (the new bridge is about 85m east of the old one). From there I would walk to where the first bridge was located; what I didn’t take into account was how far away that bridge was. Thankfully there was an old road that brought me right to that spot after a 430m walk.

Finding bridge remains is always a challenge due to the shifting course of the Whitefish. It has moved quite a bit since the railway was built through the area in 1890, obliterating some sections of the railway. The crossing at Leeper is no exception. There are pilings and parts of the abutment in the west bank, but I cannot even find where the eastern side might have been. I have looked around on several occasions, but have come up empty. Right now the bridge looks to be about 60m long, but in actuality it was probably shorter than that.

Bridge crossing, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge crossing, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge remains, Leeper, July 2013.

Bridge remains, Leeper, July 2013.

Immediately west of the western abutment (about 50m), I encountered the first effects of the river erosion. The river has shifted again, but at some point after 1938 it washed out a 75m stretch of the rail bed. These detours make hiking a bit challenging, as picking up the grade on the other side isn’t always easy.

It was at this point that I realized that I had not calibrated my GPS for the altitude of Leeper station (I like to try to plot the rise in elevation of the grade). I didn’t have the number on me (it’s about 1000ft), so I thought I’d be smart and call my wife for it. Her reaction was quite interesting; after explaining what I wanted her to do, she answered with “why don’t you look it up yourself?” She did give me the data, and as I hung up I stared blankly at my iPhone in my hand. It took a few seconds to realize that I called my wife on a device that has a connection to the internet. I thought, “man, you’re a dummy!’

The major feature of the grade in this area (other than the bridges), are the near constant cuttings that are present. The railway skirts along the south side of a large ridge and the grade is cut into the side of that ridge. It makes for a very well defined, picturesque area.

Rail bed, Leeper, July 2013.

Rail bed, Leeper, July 2013.

Almost 500m past the previous washout, I arrived at yet another area of erosion, this one for about 90m. This area had fallen victim to the hydraulic effects of the river, but it was very evident that the railway engineers were concerned about this along the whole section. I passed several areas where rock fill had been placed at the bottom of embankments and it was clear that the river had once passed alongside.

Erosion, Leeper, July 2013.

Erosion, Leeper, July 2013.

One hundred and eighty metres past the erosion I encountered an approximately 20ft creek that appeared to have been ravaged repeatedly by torrents of water; what remained of the bridge or culvert was displaced and pushed downstream several feet. Again I had to fuddle around trying to pick up the grade on the west side.

From here the railway continues another kilometre to the second river crossing, dominated by very long cuttings and embankments. In many places the grade opens up and is very easy to walk along. In my head I thought about how it would have looked when the trains were running and how pretty it must have been alongside the river. It would make an awesome hiking trail!

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

Cutting, Leeper, July 2013.

One of the other reasons why I wanted to return to this section was that it contains a few well-preserved telegraph poles. I had found two on my previous hikes and I was hoping to find more. Locating them is a bit of a challenge, especially given their age (it’s been 75 years since the line was abandoned). I found the remains of a few more, but they were both in very bad shape.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, July 2013.

My original intention for the hike was to push about 500m past the second river crossing to the third crossing, but my efforts were thwarted by the river. It was much higher than I expected (higher than it was in 2009 and that was high) and would make any attempt to ford very dangerous. I’ll have to cover this section when I do part two of the hike, this time coming in west from Nolalu…I can’t wait!

1960 Ontario Geological Survey.

1960 Ontario Geological Survey.

Anyway, time to wrap up. I have another long day tomorrow and I need my rest. I’ll be skipping a post due to the trip, so I’ll be back in a few weeks. Until then…

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Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Hiking, History, Railway, Travel, Writing


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Here we go again…

Yep, I am officially sick again. I feel like a big pile of poop! Who came up with that analogy by the way? Did someone do a scientific study comparing the feeling you have when you’re sick and fecal matter? Gee, too bad I wasn’t part of that! All kidding aside though, I do feel quite lousy, but I did suck it up and dragged my butt into work. Hopefully I get better soon as I hate this feeling.

Now one of the reasons I’m praying for a quick recovery is that I’m going to have to play a bit of football on Thursday. Since both the junior and senior teams are done for the season, it is time for our annual wrap-up. This means that we’ll be playing a little two-hand touch football and eating some pizza. It’s bad enough that I’m out of shape, but it will kill me when I’m less than one hundred percent. Let’s hope I don’t break anything important!

So this week I did have a bit more time to devote to railway matters, but certainly less than I hoped. I had wanted to at least get in a bit of writing on the Leeblain article, but things just didn’t pan out that way. Maybe this week?

On Saturday I took some time to tidy up my office and file a lot of information that had piled over the summer and fall. While I was at it, I decided to convert the last segments of old video that I had of my railway field work. This particular footage was shot in the summer of 1997, and was taken around Nolalu, Wolfe Siding and Mackies. I put the first video on YouTube on Sunday, and I hope to get the others up in the next few weeks.

The subject of this video is the area between Leeper (mile 31) and Nolalu (mile 34), which is one of the most unique from a historical perspective. It contains many telegraph poles and the remains of four bridges over the Whitefish River.  The most amazing of all is the third crossing, as it is the only bridge on the entire railway which has concrete abutments. Why this was done for this and this only bridge remains a mystery. I was last there in 2009 and I’m anxious to get back as soon as I can as I did not shoot any video on that hike; I’m sure much has changed it that time.

Rail bed, Leeper, August 2009.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, August 2009.

Telegraph pole, Leeper, August 2009.

Bridge remains, Leeper, August 2009.

Bridge remains, Leeper, July 2012.

Most of my railway time however was once again taken up by the Silver Mountain Historical Society. Our incorporation meeting is coming up in less than a month, and there’s a lot to do in that short period of time. I have a presentation to put together and there’s also the matter of recruiting as many members as possible.

In conversation with my fellow co-chair Shelley Simon (who’s also the proprietress of the Silver Mountain Station), we decided it was time to look into a website. I’ve registered the domain name and started work on the site. Web design unfortunately is not among the many skills in my repertoire, so I had to resort to using the provided web builder. It looks decent, but it could be a bit better (I am somewhat of a perfectionist though, which does colour my opinion). I want to unveil the site by the end of the week, and hopefully this will lead to some increased publicity for the society. Fingers are crossed!

Anyway, I’m kinda out of gas, so it’s time to wrap things up…more to say next week as usual. Until then…


Posted by on November 13, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing


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I could talk for hours!

In case you’re wondering, I can…seriously. If I’m talking about something I’m interested in! One cannot be a history teacher and not like to talk; it’s kinda like being a comedian and not telling jokes. So I literally make a living by talking, a lot. Now don’t get me wrong, I can shut up if I need to, but I rather enjoy the one way conversation. And I do like to take my time with my explanations. When my wife asks me a question, she always finishes her request with the statement “…and in 20 words or less!” Unfortunately I find it very difficult to provide a sufficient description in such a limited context. Brevity is just not my thing; once when I was a kid a friend of the family offered me 25 cents to stop talking!

Anyway, so why the commentary on talking? Well, talking was one of the biggest highlights of my week. As mentioned in my previous post, last Wednesday I delivered my first public lecture on the railway since 1998. Fourteen years…that was certainly a long spell between talks! It was also my only railway related event of the week since I didn’t want to push my luck and go for a hike too. Gotta make time for the family first!

Speaking of which, I did get my share of family time in. We have been spending a fair bit of time at camp (the cottage, the lake…we’ve had this conversation) this year and this past weekend was no exception. I know that my boys enjoy it out there and my wife LOVES the sauna. I can be a bit of a chore though, since it is like having a second home. I spent most of Saturday morning cutting the grass (my fav) and I know that I’ll have to finish the rest when I’m out again. This also means that I haven’t had a lot of time at home, and the grass here has gone a few weeks without a trim. Thankfully it has been pretty dry so the growth has been rather slow.

Boating at camp, July 2012.

So, the presentation. Well, I can honestly say that it went fairly well. I was a bit nervous; it is very different talking in front of a bunch of adults than a classroom of teenagers. I was also unsure what the turn-out would be like. The last thing you want is to be giving a lecture in front of 5 people. In the end, there were 80+ people in the audience, which is a pretty decent crowd for a Wednesday night. It did feel the pressure at the beginning, but then I settled down into a nice comfort zone. Part of my apprehension stems from the fact that I’m way more knowledgeable with the material in the latter half of the presentation.

Duke Hunt Museum, July 2012.

The only bad part I can say was that I went over time-go figure! I thought I’d talk for about an hour, but I finished after one hour and forty minutes. I like to talk! I did not get any negative feedback and it seemed as though everyone was very attentive through my extra-long rambling. I’ll have to make sure I stay on track for this weekend.

On Sunday I’ll be making my first “international” presentation as I head down to the Chik-Wauk Museum at the end of the Gunflint Trail to give a lecture very similar to one from last week. Obviously the audience will be a bit different, so my emphasis will be more on the Paulson Mine and less on the railway. It is of no consequence to me however, as I feel very confident with both areas.

Gunflint Narrows, 1911.

The only weird part of Sunday’s talk as that it will be outdoors, therefore I will not have access to any technology. I spend every day during the school year talking in front of a Smartboard, but I will have no visuals to assist me there. It will be a very strange feeling. I’m sure my power to blab will carry me through…as long as I stay on time.

Following the presentation I plan to spend a few days on Gunflint Lake completing some fieldwork that I started last year, particularly on the eastern end of the lake. I’m also going to spend some time at Leeblain, as well as on both sides of the Gunflint Narrows. Should be a good time if Mother Nature cooperates!

Gunflint Narrows, August 2008.

On the topic on Gunflint Lake, I did receive some interesting news pertaining to the work at Leeblain. My local MPP cc’d me a letter that was sent to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, which oversees such things as historical preservation and archeology. Hopefully the government takes an interest in protecting the railway and such rare treasures as the rock ovens near Leeblain.

In the last few days I’ve also discovered some very important information related to the railway. Since I began my research 18 years ago, I believed that the railway still owned the right of way. Much of this stemmed from some old documents that I had, and information provided to me by some property owners. After I received the letter, I was then advised that the grade was in fact Crown Land. I did some digging of my own and I came to the same conclusion. The big question that now lingers is has any of the right of way been sold off, or is it all still public land? Hopefully I will find out soon enough.

Tomorrow I am heading out for another hike, the last before I head down to Gunflint. It’s going to be a short one, probably only 3k and so I am going to take my boys with me. We will be walking the grade near the old village of Flint which lies between Harstone and Hymers. It is a rather interesting spot since the majority of the land on which Flint sat at one time has now been obliterated by the Whitefish River. As you can see in the rough Google Earth overlay (not everything matches up), the river has shifted some 80+ metres to the east since 1960. I haven’t been there since 1995ish so I’m interested to see what I’ll find. I’ll certainly get some video and I can post it with my flashy new intro. I had a former student of mine create the introduction and so far I’ve uploaded one video with it; makes me look kinda professional!

Flint, ON.

Anyway, gotta get going. My next post will be on Sunday night from the Cross River Lodge (they do have internet) and I’ll try to have some pics of the presentation. Until then…

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Posted by on July 30, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Travel, Writing


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