Aerial view of Geraldton circa 1950, looking west.

Aerial view of Geraldton circa 1950, looking west. Marian Childs photo.

When I entered high school at age 13, I had not the faintest idea that history mattered. The people that lived and events that happened before I was born, and when I was growing up, had a tremendous impact on my life, but I had no idea. As we grow older, we all become historians.

I have never seen this view before. It is of personal interest because it shows the location of the high school, which I began attending as a Grade 9 student in September 1953, when I arrived in Geraldton.

The high school building in 1953 was originally the public school, a one-storey structure of 4 classrooms. By 1938, the board had added a second storey. In 1940, the Town of Geraldton had appointed a high school board, which proceeded to construct a one-storey building of 2 rooms immediately south of the public school, on the same grounds. The new high school opened on September 3rd with 46 students, Grades 9 to 12. When I started high school in 1953, this building was called “the annex”; it stood empty except when the girls used it for gym classes.

For September 1942, the high school board rented the Ukrainian Hall, a one-storey building which stood on the corner of Hogarth Ave. and First Street East. It became the Junior High School. It had two outdoor privies, and sometime later, chemical toilets. Today it is a two-storey apartment block.

By 1944, the high school board had to rent more space, this time in the T. Eaton Co. building (when I returned in 1970, this was the town office) on the corner of Hogarth Ave. and Main Street. Both school boards began casting about for more classroom space.

In 1946, the school boards acquired two buildings from the Bankfield mine, no longer operating. The smaller bunkhouse (28 by 56 feet) was relocated immediately north of the public school (as you see in the photo) and was named “the public school annex”, having 2 classrooms (the original two-storey public school then had 8 classrooms).

The high school board relocated the two-storey bunkhouse (30 by 90 feet) next to the high school (see the photo), and its original one-storey building subsequently acquired the name “the high school annex”.

Meanwhile, still in 1946, the public school board acquired a 10-acre parcel of land where the public and high schools are currently located. You can see the immense cleared acreage in the photo. The board forged ahead with plans for a new public school building with 16 rooms.

In September 1949, the public school with its 10 rooms had an enrolment of 510 pupils. How everyone managed is not clear. Fortunately, everyone was able to move into the new public school (see the photo) by December.

On January 12, 1950, B.A. Parker Public School was officially opened, with principal “Bert” A. Parker and vice-principal Miss Beatrice Webster. The high school was now installed in the old public school building. When I started high school in 1953, there was no evidence of both the old public school annex (to the north in the photo) and the old two-storey frame building which was formerly a bunkhouse.

Today, the Geraldton Branch of Greenstone Public Library occupies the site of the old two-storey high school that I attended. The Association for Community Living (formerly Beehive Enterprises) is now located on the site of the original two-storey frame high school, formerly a bunkhouse at the old Bankfield gold mine. The old Ukrainian Hall is a two-storey apartment block. The old T. Eaton Co. building was razed, and in later years, a construction supplies business, Got Wood, utilized the site until it relocated recently to the old Errington Arena building. The photo also shows some key landmarks from that era, including the palatial Thunder Bay Hotel on Main Street, the Ball Park residential circle, and the railway station.

A friend (with no connection to Geraldton) sent me this photo with this note: “The photo is actually a post card that my parents sent to me while I was visiting my relatives in Josephine in July 1953.    My parents had gone on a fishing trip from Fort William and accidentally ending up in Geraldton as they just kept driving.   The card is like an actual photo, but made into a postcard.” The photo depicts Geraldton circa 1950.

The geographical reference is to the Josephine Mine townsite (now erased from the landscape) near Wawa. As I said, this photo is new to me, and I am constantly amazed and humbled by the mysterious ways in which history is preserved and cherished.

I’m hoping some readers can share their memories of those old-time buildings now erased from the landscape.

In 1938, the one-storey public school stands in a clearing on the edge of town.  Looking southwest from Main Street.  Greenstone Historical Society photo.

In 1938, the one-storey public school stands in a clearing on the edge of town. Looking southwest from Main Street. Greenstone Historical Society photo.

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Ski runs overlook Blue Mountain Resort, the third-busiest ski resort in Canada.

Ski runs overlook Blue Mountain Resort, the third-busiest ski resort in Canada.

   Just the other day, I reached Collingwood by traveling on a paved road all the way from Greenstone. Collingwood is a community of 19,500 on the shore of Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. Then I took a paved road to The Big Stink, also spelled T-O-R-O-N-T-O.

One hundred forty-six years ago, Colonel Garnet Wolseley left Toronto to quell the Métis Resistance in Red River, North-West Territories. He and 1,200 armed men travelled by rail to Collingwood to embark on steamers bound for Prince Arthur’s Landing on the west shore of Lake Superior. They wanted to arrest one man, or hang him, whichever came first.

My sister, Grace, lives in Collingwood.

Grace at the entrance to the condo units.

Grace at the entrance to the condo units.

She has retired there. She doesn’t remember Col. Wolsely, but she has never forgotten the magnificent ski runs that attracted her to Collingwood many decades ago. The historical record shows that Wolseley was not interested in the skiing.

I, on the other hand, have long been interested in Col. Wolseley. And when I saw those ski runs, well . . . wow. But, a country boy like me is easily impressed.

Going to and from T.O. (The Big Stink), I spent a few hours in the Georgian Triangle, not to be confused with the Bermuda Triangle. In the G.T., people mysteriously disappear for just a few hours. Because. There is just so much to see and do. Bear with me as I roam through orchards of country, culture, and history.

By the way, the G.T. offers orchards for over 30 different species of apple, including its signature Honeycrisp. And I never got to taste one. So much to see and do.

When I arrived on Sunday, September 18, Grace whisked me away to The Spit (more on that later), the interminable shoreline of Georgian Bay, and the Wasaga Blues Festival (more on that later).

View of Blue Mountain from Collingwood. Google image.

View of Blue Mountain from Collingwood. Google image.

Monday morning, she introduced me to Blue Mountain. The mountain, as it happens, is green, not blue. It is a section of the Niagara Escarpment, probably the predominant geological feature of all of Eastern Ontario, let alone of the Collingwood country. The Escarpment begins in the east in New York State, allows five of the six Great Lakes to cascade over its lip at Niagara Falls, and extends westward to the Illinois-Wisconsin border. And there it sat on Monday morning, smiling greenly on the city, and gazing out fondly over the great inland sea.

When we zipped along the foot of the mountain, I fairly gasped. Mile after mile of ski runs. Great green swaths of lawn tumbling down the slopes, intercut with great green swaths of forest. She pulled up at Blue Mountain Resort, perhaps the area’s premier recreation facility. It could accommodate every soul in Greenstone, and still have room for several other villages. Innumerable multi-storey edifices, a conglomeration of hotels and condos and apartments and shops and pubs and restaurants, with rental paddle boats and a golf course and a conference centre in the mix. The heart of the resort is called Blue Mountain Village, such a quaint and inappropriate label for a mini metropolis.


The Mill Pond, with the Village in the background.

The Mill Pond, with the Village in the background.

We strolled around the village, meeting a lot of

The gondolas shuttle bikes & riders to the summit.

The gondolas shuttle bikes & riders to the summit.

strollers. Most activity seemed to focus on the ski lift, for gondolas were shuttling mountain bikes and their riders to the top of the hill. Some would scatter along the trail network on the summit; others would scoot down invisible trails in the forested strips to do it all over again.

The Village Square.

The Village Square.





We headed back to the parking lot via a path around The Mill Pond, an artificial lake bounded by wetland vegetation and boisterous birds.

View from the summit. The prominent edifice on the shoreline is Collingwood Terminals.

View from the summit. The prominent edifice on the shoreline is Collingwood Terminals.

Grace took a paved road to the summit, past the Ghost Bike (a memorial to a rider killed in a marathon recently). We had no time to explore the Scenic Caves, or do a little zip-lining and treetop walking. Hikers and cyclists scuttled about. We paused for the spectacular view across the green plain shrouded in haze. Only the towers of Collingwood Terminals stood out. In the distant swirls of cloudy air we imagined the frolickers on the sands of Wasaga Beach.

Georgian Hills Vineyard. Company image.

Georgian Hills Vineyard. Company image.

Over the summit to Beaver Valley. We were hunting for a specific vineyard and winery; Grace had coupons for wine tasting.

We dallied as a sommelier served the customers before us.

We dallied as a sommelier served the customers before us.

When we walked into the winery of Georgian Hills, we waited a bit for some connoisseurs to expend their coupons. Another sommelier appeared and gave us her full attention. She insisted we try everything but we exercised due prudence. Grace was driving, and I still had T.O. (T.B.S.) to face.

It wasn’t our plan to buy anything, but I still walked out with a boxful of vintages.

Next stop, Ravenna Country Store. It stood at a crossroads along with a church


and little else. Grace said that Ravenna Country

What we ate,

What we ate.

Store was a destination for thousands of tourists every year. The tiny Ravenna Country Store was real, well . . . country, offering just about anything you craved. We ordered Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. Ravenna Country Store is now on my bucket list.

Back we went over the summit of Blue Mountain and down into the plain. If I had divined the ordeals I would face in T.O. (T.B.S.) over the next few days, I might have continued on the paved road to Greenstone.

(Continued in Chapter 2)

Bottle plucked fresh from the vine.

Bottles plucked fresh from the vine.

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On Monday, September 26 . . .

On Monday, September 26 . . .

Coming back from Manitouwadge on Monday morning, on the Caramat Road, I decided I had to see the old logging dam again.

On the Caramat Road . . .

On the Caramat Road . . .

At the turn-off to Hillsport, I drove east for a kilometre and a half, and there it was, as I remembered it, only more captivating. The leaves were starting to turn, but give it another week, and this particular site would be splashed with colour.

Marathon Corporation began operating in this district in the mid-1940s. The company accessed its timber concession through the whistlestop of Hillsport on the CNR. The company’s road network began at Hillsport, and at Stevens, another whistlestop to the northwest. There was no road connection to either Highway 11 or Highway 17. Manitouwadge did not even exist.

Looking north from the Hillsport Road . . .

Looking north from the Hillsport Road . . .

It appears that this dam ̶ of concrete, rather than the usual logs and earth fill ̶ backed up the little creek to create a reservoir.   Behind the sluice gate, on the creek bed, are some logs, perhaps part of the sluiceway that once directed logs through the gate. The creek south runs into the White Otter River, which in turn empties into the Pic.

It is likely that the reservoir’s

Old sign, and the reservoir wall facing the road . . .

Old sign, and the reservoir wall facing the road . . .

primary purpose was to build up a head of water that could be released at a critical time in the spring to drive thousands of logs downstream in the White Otter. No doubt there were other dams in feeder streams to the White Otter.

The logs were destined for Lake Superior and the new pulp mill at Peninsula, which changed its name to match the company which gave it economic life.

Behind the wall, on the trail to the boat launch . . .

Behind the wall, on the trail to the boat launch .

I don’t know the details of this industrial site ̶ yet ̶ but when I first saw this site a few years ago, I was amazed. It was like finding a Mayan ruin in the Central American jungle. The overpowering presence of history, the magnificent natural setting, and the grotto-like ambiance, all combine to make this one of our region’s sacred sites.

It should be a destination site. Here’s my suggestion: this weekend, pack a lunch and some beverages, and take a companion or two on an outing. The site is 30 or 40 minutes south of Caramat. I met a grader on the road, so the road is in as good a shape as you can expect. The fall colours should be hitting a peak on the Hillsport Road. On Monday the colours increased the further north I drove.

Looking south, behind the reservoir wall . . .

Looking south, behind the reservoir wall . . .

The lunch will serve two purposes: refreshment, and survival rations. The Caramat Road (also called the Industrial Road) can be lonely. I met only three vehicles between Manitouwadge and Caramat. If you run into trouble, someone will rescue you, but it may take a few hours.

Looking south from the bridge . . .

Looking south from the bridge . . .

If you feel adventurous, continue past

Looking east towards the bridge in the valley . . .

Looking east towards the bridge in the valley .

the dam to Hillsport, just over 20 klicks futher. You can then say you are one of the few people in the world who have been there. And yes, people do live there.   Dip your bare foot into White Otter Lake, source of the river.

If you are inclined to more adventure, you might want to visit High Falls on the Pic. However, do not take the LeMay Road (originally called the LeMay Highway) past old Camp 15, towards old Camp 5. I heard that it is washed out.

Looking west on the Hillsport Road,to the junction on the Caramat Road . . .

Looking west on the Hillsport Road,to the junction on the Caramat Road . . .

Get in touch with my brother John. He knows a tote road that will take you within walking distance of the falls.

Just one more thing.

Take a camera.

And, oh yeah . . . a sense of wonder.


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Two visitors from overseas (left) examine a geocache at one of the overlooks. L to R, Paul Kathmann, Mary Kathmann, and Peter Kathmann.

Two visitors from overseas (left) examine a geocache at one of the overlooks. L to R, Paul Kathmann, Mary Kathmann, and Peter Kathmann.

[Originally published 22 August 2008]

Part I – Getting Up

Seventeen people turned out for the guided tour of the Palisades hiking trail on Saturday, August 16. Hikers had spectacular views from some of the highest points in Northwestern Ontario.

The Municipality of Greenstone partnered with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) in 2004, and with the joint funding, Greenstone contracted with Geraldton Community Forest Inc. (GCFI) to scout out, plan, and construct a trail up and on top of the cliffs that overlook Orient Bay on Lake Nipigon.

One point two billions years old, the Palisades of the Pijitawabik [PEE-GEE-TUH-WAW-BIK] present a remarkable geological formation. When the 110 waterfalls freeze over in winter, climbers come from all across North America to challenge the ice of the Palisades.

The trail begins at a parking lot in the bush, constructed by the Municipality. The Municipality had upgraded a rough access road for half a kilometre, the rough road continuing to the TransCanada Pipelines right-of-way. The access road begins on the east side of Highway 11, exactly 38.1 kilometres south of the railway tracks in Beardmore. The next road south of this one is the Gorge Creek Road.

At 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, hikers strode along a wide groomed trail, with minor ups and downs, to a sturdy bridge across a dry watercourse. Then serious climbing commenced. The trail narrowed, grew rougher, and much, much steeper. It was useful to have a hand or two free to balance oneself and to grab onto tree trunks.

Hikers arrived at the first stairway – yes, a stairway in the wilderness. It is safe to assume most of the hikers welcomed the assist, for many were in their forties and fifties, with a few in their sixties.

Looking down . . . way, way down.

Looking down . . . way, way down.

Landings, each supplied with a short bench, punctuated the long stairway. From the bottom, one could not see the top. After another scramble up the steep slopes, the group encountered another, albeit shorter, stairway. A couple of minutes further on, the leading party paused to allow the stragglers to catch up, and the last one staggered in about fifteen minutes later.

A GPS unit determined the height about sea level to be 406 metres, but only 115 metres above the parking lot where the trail began. Derek Farrar, one of the two guides, stated that the group was now 183 metres above the level of Lake Nipigon.

Farrar, Operations Supervisor for GCFI, had led a maintenance crew over the trail earlier in the season. The other GCFI guide, Shawn Lawson, provided a running commentary on the trail’s botanical phenomena.

The well-groomed trail through the bush

At the fourth and last overlook on the way to Cascade Falls creek.

At the fourth and last overlook on the way to Cascade Falls creek.

now skirted the edge of the cliffs, but hikers had a panoramic view only at the four overlooks. The canyon through which Highway 11 wound used to be a spillway for the melting continental glacier. The sun shone brilliantly on the green-clad hills, the miniature trees, and in a far-away lake, a teensy-weensy motorboat.   The trail provided no view of Lake Nipigon itself.

Most hikers strike out for the end of the trail at Cascade Falls, 4.6 kilometres from the parking lot. The trail is far from level. Part of the charm of the trip lies with the specimens of forest floor plants, the shrubs, the interesting trees and rock structures, the birds and insects, and evidence of wildlife, such as moose bones and bear scat.

The party encountered one bear scat. Jim Turner, General Manager of GCFI, told the Times Star community newspaper, “We get calls from people for an organized hike . . . . There’s more comfort in groups.” He was referring to some people’s fear of maverick bears and of getting lost, as well as the desire to have an interpretive tour.

Farrar pointed out that a moose had recently walked the lower trail and, somehow, scaled the steep slopes of the Palisades and walked the upper trail, leaving behind the moose scat the party observed.

After two and a half hours, the group arrived at the stream that feeds Cascade Falls, which overlooks Reflection Lake. Just a trickle of water dropped down the rocky streambed for several metres towards the lip of the waterfall. Only the truly adventurous could screw up the nerve to peer over the lip into the abyss.

L to R, Shawn Lawson & RTein Onnis standing in Cascade Falls creek. Behind them is the falls that is spectacular in springtime.

L to R, Shawn Lawson & Rein Onnis standing in Cascade Falls creek. Behind them is the falls that is spectacular in springtime.

Here the group sat down to picnic, to rehydrate, and to recuperate. The wise hiker, of course, frequently takes a sip of water on the trail.   Only one of the group, Duncan McKay of Terrace Bay, had the foresight to bring a walking stick. But everyone wore sensible footwear and brought a fanny pack or small daypack with necessaries.

For anyone carrying a GPS unit, the trail offers a treasure hunt – geocaches. A geocache is a weatherproofed container which holds whimsical items and a logbook which the finder can sign. GCFI has 15 geocaches in the region, whose coordinates can be read at

Part II – Getting Down

The Palisades trail offers an alternative route back, the Browse Lake loop. Shortly after starting back on the trail, the group took the lefthand fork (easily missed if one is not alert). Hikers often stubbed their toes on the short projecting stubs of shrubs that had been removed from the trail. One of the interesting monuments was an ancient birch that was so large a person could not encircle it with his arms. The original forest gave way to second growth, although still a respectable forest, for long ago the bush in this sector had been harvested.

The fork in the trail.

The fork in the trail.

The trail arrived at a junction. To the left was a long walk into Browse Lake, where some hikers took a few moments to soak their feet. The lake was a blue gem encircled by boreal forest and rockbound shores.

Back on the main loop trail, the walking improved. Part of the trail followed an old tote road. For many of the hikers who were becoming fatigued, the trail seemed interminable, but Farrar claimed that the loop trail was the quickest return route. Hikers became widely separated.

Lingering with the stragglers was always one of the guides or Heather Farrar, all experienced hikers. Occasionally hikers encountered crude stairways over knolls or log walkways over ditches and wetlands, the logs flattened on the upper side.

Hikers soak their feet in Browse Lake.

Hikers soak their feet in Browse Lake.

Back in 2004, Geraldton Community Forest had given Cory Nephin the task of scouting out the Palisades trail. The scout took several weeks, for the terrain defied Nephin and his crew, who were accompanied by an MNR employee.

“Just getting up there,” Nephin told the Times Star, “was a problem. There was no trail. There were a lot of sheer faces, all impassable.” Additional considerations were, to locate an area for a parking lot, and once they had scaled the slopes, to scout a trail to Cascade Falls, a key attraction of the Palisades, as well as a trail to Browse Lake.

In fact, in 2005, once the trail had been completed, one branch led directly to the falls, and one directly to Browse Lake. Over 2006-07, GCFI, on its own initiative, completed a branch trail originating near the waterfall to create the present loop.

Nephin stated that they always knew they would need some stairways. GCFI called for tenders, and awarded a contract to a Nipigon firm. The contractor hauled the treated lumber up to the pipeline right-of-way using the access road, and then skidded the wood up the gentler slopes and through the bush with a cum-a-long. In essence, the stairways were built from the top down. Rein Onnis, one of the hikers, and a building contractor by trade, praised the quality of the workmanship.

On Saturday, August 16, the hikers regrouped at the lower stairway, taking an extended rest break. On their way again, the group once more resolved into small parties and individual hikers. Everyone had felt the strain of descending the slopes and the stairs, for the hike had exacted a physical toll.

Interviewed later, Arlene Boracheff said, “Coming down, it was my toenails. It felt like someone had ripped them off.” She suggested that anyone who was out of shape would find the trail an ordeal. As for the stairways, she said she had been intimidated by their length, but “I guess it beats climbing over the rocks”.

For other hikers, the whole experience was a buzz. “It was a great, great walk! I’m going to do it again in about a month.” Rein Onnis said he wanted to view the autumn colours.

The two visitors from The Netherlands had a ball. Paul Kathmann, brother of Peter Kathmann, signed up for the hike with his wife, Mary. “They thought it was fantastic!” said Peter later, his relatives having already left. Back home, they had hiked at sea level, so the elevations and the spectacular views, and the interpretations of flora and microclimates offered by Shawn Lawson, made it a memorable experience.

The writer was one of the last to stagger into the parking lot at 3:25 p.m. An hour before, a handful of hikers had waltzed in. The temperature was 25′ C. Derek Farrar distributed bottles of water to the parched group.

The bus driver was already waiting. Imexko General Contracting had sponsored the bus. Peter Kathmann, proprietor, had done some of the trail improvements for GCF.

Following is a list of participants: Derek Farrar, Heather Farrar, Shawn Lawson, Rein Onnis, Edgar Lavoie, Terry Fedorus, Agnes Vincent, Sarah Vincent, Duncan McKay, Peter Kathmann, Paul Kathmann, Mary Kathmann, Jerry Shulmistra, Suzanne Brabant, Martine Turner, Colby Craig, Arlene Boracheff.

Hikers, take heed.

Hikers, take heed.





Log jam, river drive, 1946. Photo courtesy of Longlac Historical Society.

Log jam, river drive, 1946. Photo courtesy of Longlac Historical Society.

Some months ago, I came across two logging stories from Greenstone Region, both told in one magazine article. As the title suggests, the stories deal with danger, death, and grief.

I contacted the author, Ken Plourde, who worked in the Beardmore area in the summer of 1957, staying in the Domtar Staff House. He returned to live in Beardmore in 1960, working for Domtar until 1970. Black Dan, in the article, is the uncle of Ken Plourde’s wife. Black Dan lived with his sister in Beardmore, Merle Smetaniuk.

Both the author and the magazine gave me permission to reprint the article:

Black Dan and Dynamite!

by Ken Plourde

I first worked in the pulpwood industry as a student in northwestern Ontario in 1957, at St Lawrence Corp. (later Domtar), which was originally Brompton Paper. At that time, the companies in the Port Arthur area (now Thunder Bay) were still moving logs by river transportation to lakes and thence across Lake Superior to mills. Others picked up the logs in Lake Superior and transported them by ship to mills like Red Rock, Port Arthur and Thorold. The industry was still cutting pulp by hand, mostly into 4-foot bolts for ease of handling, and for ease of river driving the logs. The 4-foot bolts obviously got hung up less in the rapids, and this length made clearing logjams easier. The downside to 4-foot bolts was the greater amount of handling, and the loads were less stable when hauling pulp on trucks.

Most of eastern Canada used river driving to transport logs to the mill, and many shanty songs and romantic lumberjack tales from the Ottawa Valley area were about these river drives. Indeed, Charlie Chamberlain, of Don Messer & His Islanders, worked and sang in river drive camps in those days. Books have been written about the tough lumberjacks going into town and stirring things up, including the story telling.

One such lumberjack tale involved a logging camp, near Auden, Ontario, east of Lake Nipigon. The camp was owned by Don Clark. Don was a contractor for Great Lakes Lumber and Shipping, and their pulp was hauled to the Sturgeon River for the river drive in the spring. During the winter, the logs were hauled to the riverbank, and piled along the river to be pushed in with a bulldozer at high water. Dan Stasiuk, better known as “Black Dan” because of his dark complexion, was the bulldozer operator who “watered” the logs annually.

In those days, men were not allowed to work alone in the bush without someone with or near them, in case of an accident. Thus, Black Dan had a helper, called a “swamper”, named “Frenchman Lavoie”, and during the course of their work, Black Dan ran over and killed Frenchman Lavoie. This unfortunate accident rested heavily on Black Dan. Sometime later, while Dan was working alone with his bulldozer, he himself was somehow run over by his own machine, and killed. The lumberjack version of the story was that Frenchman Lavoie returned and ran over Black Dan to get his revenge.

In the 1960s, when I worked at Domtar, in Beardmore, they had a depot, office and warehouse to support their operations along the river system from Jellico, Beardmore, Lake Helen, and Nipigon. I was helping out with the river drive when the logs jammed in the rapids on the Sturgeon River. We got out our dynamite, and took the two or three cases to the rapids. We only required a part of a case to free the jam, and since the river drive was almost over, we decided to set off the dynamite rather than store it until next year. There was an old abandoned camp along the river, consisting of three or four buildings, made from lumber and logs, so we decided to set off the dynamite in the camp yard. We set the fuses and piled the boxes together, and looked around for cover. I went behind an old log building about 50 or 60 feet away, then had second thoughts, and moved a bit further away, behind some trees. When we set off the charge, it blew all the buildings away completely, and into small splinters of wood. There was nothing left of the wall that I had first taken refuge behind!

There have been considerable safety changes related to the handling of dynamite over the years. Storage of dynamite storage is much more stringent, requiring locks, metal buildings and chain-link fences etc. The use of dynamite in forestry is now almost exclusively confined to road construction in mountainous terrain (e.g., British Columbia).

(Reprinted with permission of the author & Forest History Society of Ontario – v4, n1, Spring 2013)

Recovering a D-4 tractor, Pulpwood Supply Co. Photo courtesy Longlac Historical Society.

Recovering a D-4 tractor, Pulpwood Supply Co. Photo courtesy Longlac Historical Society.

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Wawa, Ontario.

Wawa, Ontario.

I am a fully paid-up member of the travelling public.

So, when something interesting crosses my path, I am entitled to stop and check it out.

When I was travelling north from The Soo near the end of June, I checked out Agawa Crafts at Pancake Bay. I fought my way through scores of fellow travelers to buy a book and an ice cream. At Old Woman Bay, I checked out the cliff face on Lake Superior to see if the old woman was home. Not that day. Chatted up an older couple who were frolicking on the immense sand beach. Few people know about this sacred spot.

At Wawa I had to drive into town because the store would not come to me. Still, hundreds

Ye olde front porch.

Ye olde front porch.

of people every day find Young’s General Store and linger longer than they imagined they would.

I knew about Young’s General Store, so I deliberately broke my trip to enjoy it once again. How my fellow travelers found it, is beyond me.

It is the dream of every highway community in the country to compel the travelling public to stop and buy stuff. Some communities, such as Wawa and Pancake Bay, succeed big time. Others fail big time, even if thousands of people are driving by every single day.

Tread carefully.

Tread carefully.

Young’s General Store is a combination curiosity shop and museum. Before you step up to the front porch, there are dozens of artifacts to draw your attention. And, if you’re so inclined, a couple of old-fashioned privies to relieve your most pressing needs.

Inside is a wonderland of useful stuff mixed with a hodge-podge of never-buy-

I was bearly startled.

I was bearly startled.

it-in-a-million-years bric-a-brac. You edge yourself carefully down the crowded aisles because you don’t want to break anything that you never planned on buying. When you come across a bear climbing up a pole, you ascertain quickly that it poses no threat.

If you feel you have a thirst, there are beverages. If you feel a hunger pang, there is every kind of confection including a stocked hard ice cream bar.

Outside again, I wandered through an acre of artifacts which were silently succumbing to the weather and neglect . Most of the stuff I couldn’t even put a name to, but it was still interesting.

Freshly imported jams & jellies.

Freshly imported jams & jellies.

Before I left, I bought one item. I didn’t need it, didn’t want it, but I felt I owed the proprietors something. I bought a jar of Backroad Country gooseberry jam. I don’t recall every having eaten gooseberry jam, but I am open to a new experience.

Young’s General Store cannot be accused of being parochial. It probably imports most of its stuff from far-flung corners of the globe such as Dhaka, Bangladesh and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The gooseberry jam came from Amish Wedding Foods in Millersburg, Ohio.

Ye olde farm.

Ye olde farm.

Wanna race, anyone?

Wanna race, anyone?

I'll take this buggy.

I’ll take this buggy.

Slow down! Where's the fire?

Slow down! Where’s the fire?

You can’t buy gooseberry jam at Old Woman Bay. You can’t buy anything at all at Old Woman Bay. All you can do is enjoy the magical place and, if you know it, recall its history. If the mixture of sun and cloud cover is just right, you will see the old woman’s face in the cliff face.

Those colleges that are turning out professional tourism coordinators ̶ they should have field trips built into the curricula. Compel students to visit highly successful tourist businesses such as Agawa Crafts and Young’s General Store. Compel them to visit magical places such as Chippewa Falls and Old Woman Bay. And while they’re visiting the latter, their assignment should be to design successful marketing strategies for them.

Compel the travelling public to stop a while.

I’m not so sure, though.

I kind of like a magical place without too many people.

View of the cliff face on Old Woman Bay, looking south in May 2008.

View of the cliff face on Old Woman Bay, looking south in May 2008.

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Front: Blood group O . . . Rh-Negative . . . "Carry this card with you always" . . . Well, I did.

Front: Blood group O . . . Rh-Negative . . . “Carry this card with you always” . . . Well, I did.

As I was getting bloodwork done in the lab today, I thought, Why not?

I have been carrying this card around in my wallet for half a century now.

It is the worse for wear.

So, why not get it renewed?

The lab technician laughed.

Okay, it was more of a chortle, but I was relieved that it was not a guffaw.

If I were admitted to hospital after an accident, she said, they would test my blood immediately. The card is no good anymore.

Back: "Show this card to doctor in charge." Well, I would have, if I were bleeding.

Back: “Show this card to doctor in charge.” Well, I would have, if I were bleeding.

She suggested that I remove it from my wallet and keep it as a curiosity.

Good idea.

Perhaps I should re-examine that condom that kept it company . . . heh, heh.

Interior: "BLOOD TESTED 26.4.67" And many times since, but this is the only card I ever got. I'll miss it.

Interior: “BLOOD TESTED 26.4.67” And many times since, but this is the only card I ever got. I’ll miss it.

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Looking from the lower falls to the bridge.

Looking from the lower falls to the bridge.

Taking my cue from poet Robert Frost, when I had miles to go before I slept, I stopped anyway.

No, not by snowy woods on the darkest evening of the year. It was mid-day under a scorching sun on Saturday, June 25. I was travelling north of The Soo when I saw the sign announcing an historical plaque.

131c Chippewa Falls-path S side 25Jun2016Not seeing the plaque immediately, I was drawn into the bush by a friendly path and the sound of rushing water. I had arrived at the Chippewa River. Other travelers with dopey smiles were loitering about.

I had stumbled upon one of the magical places on Superior’s North Shore. The river cascades over two ledges and runs merrily under the highway bridge towards the unseen lake. As I learned later, the lower falls is 6 metres high, and the upper one, 7 metres. (For you metrically challenged readers, that 20 and 23 feet.) I joined other pleasure-seekers on the bare rocks of the lower falls. I imagine that in early spring the ledge was smothered in foamy water, but on that day the river coursed through a narrow channel that younger legs than mine could probably overleap.

Looking at the upper falls from the lower falls.

Looking at the upper falls from the lower falls.

The fairy-tale path beckoned to me, and I scrambled up the hillocks to the upper falls. Like the lower falls, woody debris littered the boulders and bedrock. What a pleasant place to spend a summer day, but I had miles to go . . .

Rocks and ledges provide a natural stairway.

Rocks and ledges provide a natural stairway.

Returning on the path, I stopped frequently to admire the plants in the understory, each with its tale to tell. But, I still had miles to go . . .

You know, back in the ’50s, one of the Group of Seven painters had found this river and painted an iconic picture of a Northern stream. He didn’t portray the falls, though, just a stretch of rapids. Perhaps the log jams and brush-and-root piles had spoiled the effect he wanted.

Back at the parking lot, there was a signboard to commemorate the contribution of this artist, A.Y. Jackson, and of his colleagues, whose representations of the Canadian Shield helped formulate our sense of national identity.

A stone monument commemorated the centennial year in 2003 of the founding of the Canadian Automobile Association.

Another signboard advised travelers that they had reached “the halfway point” (exact phrase) in the Trans-Canada Highway. There was a reference to the highway being 8,030 kilometres long. A lengthy notice paid tribute to a booster of the highway. Here is the core of the text:

In 1925, Dr. Perry Doolittle was the first Canadian to cross Canada by car. He drove 800 km (500 miles) of his journey using railway wheels fitted to his car where there was no road. He was a life-long promoter of a highway that could span Canada and he is now hailed as “the spiritual father of the Trans-Canada Highway”.

Strictly speaking, the historical note is accurate. An Englishman and an American-Canadian actually accomplished the journey in 1912 (taking a freighter across Lake Superior), and in 1920, a Canadian did the journey strictly on roads, but he drove partway on American soil.   (I will tell their stories in my forthcoming book on the first Trans-Canada Highway, which followed Highway 11.)

I still had not discovered the historical plaque. I walked a ways up the highway to a café and asked the proprietor about its location. “Someone stole it,” he said, and melted it down for scrap. Not so, his wife piped up. It’s been replaced. The proprietor wasn’t so sure.

Log jam on the upper falls, looking downstream.

Log jam on the upper falls, looking downstream.

I wandered down to the highway bridge. The view of the falls is not impressive. Someone driving by would not be struck by its beauty, but up close it is a beauty spot.

A boy, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, clambered over the railing with a fishing rod in his hand, and dropped down. Apparently this method was the way fishermen accessed the shady shoreline under the bridge. From another angle I snapped a picture of a family fishing.

Fishermen under the bridge.

Fishermen under the bridge.

Back in the parking lot, I inquired of other travelers if they had seen the plaque. No one had seen it. So I concluded that the signboard about “the halfway point” was a substitute for the plaque.

Another word about the Trans-Canada Highway. Today, Highway 17 gets that label. In 1943, the highway link between Geraldton and Hearst, via Highway 11, was completed, and for the first time, Eastern and Western Canada were joined by a road on Canadian soil. Everyone, even the government, called that the Trans-Canada Highway. Motorists had to wait another 17 years for the Highway 17 route to be completed in 1960 from The Soo to Nipigon. In fact, when A.Y. Jackson travelled Highway 17 in 1955, he came to a dead end, but he was able to access the Chippewa River.

On the other hand, Dr. Doolittle, President of the CAA in 1925, never travelled Highway 17. He took to the rails to cross the Canadian Shield.

That tribute to Dr. Doolittle is misplaced at Chippewa Falls. The true halfway point in the first Trans-Canada Highway lies between Geraldton and Hearst.

We have to correct that historical inaccuracy.

And we have to find an appropriately scenic spot for a genuine historical plaque that honours the first Trans-Canada Highway.

A.Y. Jackson's "Stream Bed Lake Superior Country 1955". Image from Reproduction Gallery.

A.Y. Jackson’s “Stream Bed Lake Superior Country 1955”. Image from Reproduction Gallery.

Posted in GREENSTONE, HISTORY WORTH KNOWING, LAST LINK PROJECT, MY EXCURSIONS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


In these 5 volumes, there are approximately 170,000 words.

In these 5 volumes, there are approximately 850,000 words.

Just the other day, I did two things I had sworn I would never do. And I did them on the same day.

First, I threw away a book.

And second, I bought a Starbucks product.

Both on the same day. Consider this a confession.

Last August we held a monster yard sale on our road in the country. Neighbours joined in. I had hundreds of books for sale, all from my personal library. I have been collecting ̶ and rescuing (but that is another story) ̶ books for 70 years.

The monster sale was a roaring success. Except . . . that very few books sold.

So, over the next few months, I found homes for the leftovers. And I had hundreds, hundreds of leftovers. The other day, I took the last volumes to Thunder Bay. I planned to give them away to the Thrift Store because nobody else wanted them.

When I told them what I had in the boxes, I was turned down. Flatly. Nobody, it seems ̶ nobody reads Reader’s Digest Condensed Books any more. These are good solid volumes, with hours, weeks, and sometimes months of reading pleasure in a single volume. Nobody wants them. Even to build shelving with . . . With a few planks, one could build shelving that reaches the roof. Nobody wants Reader’s Digest Condensed Books any more.

The Thrift Store was my last resort. I had to clear space for our next monster yard sale, coming in August. There was only one place that would accept these books. I drove to the recycling depot on Front Street (near the waterfront) and dumped the boxes in a waste container. There was no one to stop me.


The recycling containers here are lined up around a half-hectare lot.  It's never a busy place.

The recycling containers here are lined up around a half-hectare lot. It’s never a busy place.

It breaks my heart.

I soon found myself wandering the aisles among thousands, yes, thousands and thousands of books. These were books that people wanted, books that people would pay good money for, books that have helped create a chain of bookstores across Canada. And right next to Chapters, under the same roof, actually, is a Starbucks.

Alicia Martin has made a reputation by making sculptures out of discarded books.  Google image.

Alicia Martin has made a reputation by making sculptures out of discarded books. Google image.

Now, I have never patronized Starbucks. And when you hear this story, you will know why.

But, I had a thirst. For some reason, my throat was dry. When I develop a thirst, I usually look for a Tim Hortons. On this occasion, a Timmys was ten minutes away. Ten minutes. In a city, nobody wants to waste ten minutes if there is a satisfactory alternative available. And I, a country boy, was thinking like a city boy. After all, hadn’t I just destroyed several million words in a few minutes? And I knew where there were hundreds of millions more within arm’s reach.

My Starbucks mocha.

My Starbucks mocha.

I marched to that Starbucks counter and I ordered a café mocha. Okay . . . Starbucks does not offer a café mocha. It sells something called a Caffe Mocha. One of the reasons I don’t patronize Starbucks is the pretentious names of its products. I watched the barista prepare the drink. (Only Starbucks has baristas. Every other coffee shop has servers.) She did it all wrong.

I ended up with a mess of soap suds. True, it tasted better than soap suds, but when I met up with Olga, she had a raging thirst. Hadn’t been allowed to drink anything for the past fourteen

My Timmys mocha.

My Timmys mocha.

hours. She tasted the suds and almost threw up. Myself, in the bush, I have drunk water from a standing pond covered with scum, so I was able to finish that concoction.

On the way home, we stopped at Timmys in Nipigon. I ordered my usual café mocha. I watch the server make it, and she did it right. She topped off the foamy crest with squirts of chocolate

syrup. That’s doing it right. And it cost me $2.43 for a medium mocha.

Starbucks had charged me $4.95 for a medium.

I will never patronize Starbucks again.

A lot of throw-away cups go into piles like this. Google image.

A lot of throw-away cups go into piles like this. Google image.

I will probably throw away another book some time soon. That says a lot about the kind of world we live in. And then I will reach for a café mocha again.   And contribute another cup to the mountains of garbage we live on today.

Some habits are hard to break.

Starting our trip on the shore of Onaman Lake, August 1914.  Not a discarded book or throw-away cup in sight.

Starting our trip on the shore of Onaman Lake, August 1914. Not a discarded book or throw-away cup in sight.

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Barton Bay outing.  Photo by Heather Collins, ASWCO.

Barton Bay outing. Photo by Heather Collins, ASWCO.

What caught my eye today was a flotilla of colourful kayaks on Kenogamisis Lake.

I pulled into the Geraldton waterfront to investigate. The paddlers were too far out on Barton Bay for me to contact, but I spoke to one of the supervising adults from the Thunderbird Friendship Centre (TFC). This was the second day of the Geraldton Multi-Sport Camp for Aboriginal youth, ages 12 to 16.

Later in the afternoon, I caught up with Ron Miron, instructor, as he was loading the now-empty kayaks on a boat trailer. He was assisted by Walter Davies, also of Longlac, and by Pete Hohmann of Virginia. How did the kids respond? I asked Ron. “They loved it,” he said.

Cheryl Checkley is the Aboriginal Health Outreach Worker for TFC. She was also out on the lake, so I had to phone her later to get more facts.

Cheryl said this was the first time the three-day event has been staged here. The sponsor is a provincial body named Aboriginal Sport & Wellness Council of Ontario (ASWCO), and their representive, Heather Collins, was also participating as a facilitator. ASWCO covered all costs for the 13 young participants.

On the morning of the first day, Tuesday, July 5, the youngsters played golf at the local course, and in the afternoon, soccer and basketball. Different staff members at TFC were taking turns acting as chaperones.

On Wednesday morning, there was basketball, ultimate frisbee, and dodge ball. After I saw the kayak lessons in the afternoon, the group retired to the Centre for some darts and karaoke.

L to R, Ron Miron, Pete Hohmann, & Walter Davies, kayaking specialists.

L to R, Ron Miron, Pete Hohmann, & Walter Davies, kayaking specialists.

On Thursday, the agenda called for lacrosse in the morning, and in the afternoon, double ball, and capture the flag, acted out with toy guns which shoot foam bullets.

Participants travelled to the golf and kayak outings in a chartered bus. The board of education allowed the gymnasium venue for other games, free of charge.

“I think they’re having fun,” said Cheryl. “I’ve been playing every sport that they’ve been playing.” How does she feel physically? “I actually feel good!” According to the ASWCO website, the organization’s mission is to promote all-round well-being through physical activity, recreation, and sports activities.

Ron Miron, kayaking instructor, met visitor Pete Hohmann of Virginia on one of the many pilgrimages Ron makes to kayaking venues. Pete said he really liked Greenstone, and wanted to learn more of its history.

Ron said he intended to donate the kayak rental revenue to the volunteer-driven, non-profit group in Longlac, Want-A-Pet.

On Friday, Ron is staging what is becoming a popular three-day event in Greenstone, the annual Kayak Camp, this year on Margo Lake. He is expecting 40 participants from all over.

Barton Bay waterfront. If you squint hard, you can see kayaks out on the water.

Barton Bay waterfront. If you squint hard, you can see kayaks out on the water.

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