Friday, 13 November 2015

The mystery of the blue engines...

We call it "Train TV".  You can hear the rumble of the train for quite a while, especially when its coming from the west.  In both the old cabin and new, a large window faces out onto the beach, to where much of the ghost town used to be.  Now instead of coal docks, fishing shacks, boats and houses, an open field leads up to the train tracks.  The tracks are just far away from the cabin to be inherently interesting without being intrusive.  It's almost impossible not to watch when we hear the familiar rumble.

The trains are usually of three varieties;  1) Long trains pulled by three engines, often with one in the middle, with most of the railcars each carrying two large containers.  Common names on the containers include  Cosco, Hapag-Lloyd, and K-Line.  2) the second type of train is not seen as much, given regulation changes after the Lac Megantic tragedy,  Oil cars.  3) The third type is a mixed train, often a bit shorter in length, that includes a variety of rail cars; flatdecks, vehicle cars, boxcars, and sometimes work cars.  Occasionally we see something truly out of the ordinary, such as windmill pieces.  Regardless, we always have to stop what we are doing to take in the view, as there just might be a "blue engine" on the tracks.

So on to the blue engine.
First we noticed them, then started a game...    It began much like punchbug, but we decided we didn't really need to wait and watch to punch each other every time we heard the sound, so instead we decided a switch to hugtrain would be benificial to all.  So big hugs go all around every time we see the elusive blue engine!

Eventually I decided to look them up to see where they came from...   The red engines belong to the CPR.  Evidently they also lease engines from a US company called CSX.  This research began with the following engine...

courtesy of

At one time, trains used to be an all day occurrence at Jackfish.  In fact, there were even 6 daily passenger trains to Thunder Bay, and back until the 1960's.  The trains no longer stop, but their magic continues as a daily reminder of the purpose and history of the village.

Our place is in the middle of the peninsula, the original Dahl family house stood where our cabin sits today.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Best Weekend at Jackfish Ever!        By: Samantha

Me and Esme pronounced this was the best weekend at Jackfish ever!  And the reasoning is because we got to build and try out a bunch of new things.  Some of these things include kayaking, building a new firepit on the beach, putting up the Canadian flag, and building our own hot tub!!!

This is Samantha, Darrell and Esme getting ready to paddle around St. Patrick's Island. They paddled a full 12 km that day, it was pretty awesome.

Off they go!

This metal tub survived the forest fire so we figured it was perfect for a hot tub on the beach. Darrell, Sam and Esme dragged it down to the beach. They propped it up on bricks and put a fire pit beneath it in an old metal cabinet they found in the bush. After they warmed up the water they were ready to get in.

The water was too hot to just jump in the tub so they needed some more Lake Superior water to cool it down, and a piece of plywood to sit on. Then those brave northern girls ran into the lake (4 degrees)

Our good friends Gwen and Judy joined us for our first weekend back to Jackfish this summer. We were able to make this great new fire pit at the beach with these logs that arrived with a big fall storm. It was a gorgeous night and we even ate our dinner down here.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Continuing, winter escapades in 2015.

So, to continue, heres the final winter post.   In early April we were blessed with some freeze/thaw cycles that provided me with a bit of a present, the opportunity to skate into camp.

The thaw melted much of the top snow on the lake, especially near shoreline.  This provided an incredibly flat smooth ice surface, if one chose to skip over the odd bit of stuck snowdrifts.  I had an great fast skate around St. Patricks Island, so chose to continue on the ice towards the mouth of the Steel River, 7km away.  I did make it most of the way, but scared myself a bit, as the ice makes some tremendous cracking and heaving noises.  Since I was alone, without a cell phone, I decided to take a cautious approach, and returned to the cabin.

Of note, I saw and took this picture of wolf tracks leading across the lake towards the Slate Islands in the distance.  In winter 2014, the deep freeze allowed wolves to travel across to the Slates, but they returned to the mainland before the end of winter.  Apparently this winter, the wolves did cross over again, and remain on the Islands, 10km offshore.  The Slate Islands, as noted in a previous blog, harbour a remnant caribou population, that previously lived without predation.  Some of the caribou became quite tame, I wonder what the result will be from this introduction of a new batch of predators.

Oh, here is what it was like to skate on Superior!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

still posting along, notes from this winter...

Hi again, wanted to continue in the series from where I left off.  I spent some quality time at camp in March and April, with opportunities to spend some good moments on frozen Lake Superior.  It's unusual for ice to form in Jackfish Bay, but this winter's deep freeze (much like the winter before) provided extensive ice cover across much of Lake Superior.  I expect two things to happen because of this; lake water will remain colder throughout the summer, and also water levels will remain relatively high as the lake did not have the opportunity to evaporate at all over the winter months.

This picture is from late February 2015,
It really shows the full extent of ice coverage.  I'm starting to wonder if extreme winters with full ice coverage is part of the Lake Superior regional response to global climate change.  That said, a full 'el nino' with warm weather is predicted for winter 2016.  It really was a bitterly cold winter again.

This is how it all appeared from camp.  It froze over early so the ice is relatively flat right from shore. On years where it freezes late, large ice hummocks appear on shore instead.  The first time I travelled out on the ice, the snow was quite deep, about 1.5 feet, tough slogging with skis and a sled.

We also went in as a family with good friend Esme, and the girls took time to create their own version of "Jackfish Clue".  I have to admit I enjoyed the game more than the original.  

Perhaps the best fun was in exploring ice caves and spending time on the froze lake.  We took the opportunity on a cold march day to walk around St. Patricks Island.

Stay tuned for part III in the series...

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Long Time No Blog

Hi, thought it should be time to add in a catch up post.  Kim and Samantha have not been at Jackfish much this year due to living in Newmarket, but I (Darrell) with travelling back in forth between Thunder Bay and Southern Ontario did get to spend some quality time at camp on the lake.  Here's a bit of a synopsis over the next few blog posts.

Jackfish was incredibly beautiful on the days I visited in fall.  One night, without pictures, I drove in during a blustery gale, under the full moon.  The lake was roaring, and the whitecaps glowing under the light of the moon.  Most importantly the beach was gone!  It was replaced by water rolling up into the grass.  I had to scoot along to get to the cabin.  By the next morning the lake calmed down completely leaving time for the following photos.

Storms like this, throughout the fall, picked up a large number of trees, and parts of the old fuel dock and placed them on our end of the sand beach.  As a result, this summer we have lots of good dry firewood, and benches to make a great beach firepit.  Next blog will contain pics from this spring.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Woodland Caribou!!

So as many of you from Northwestern Ontario might have noticed we had a bit of a chilly winter around here this year.  As a result, a few interesting things occurred.  

First and foremost, Lake Superior froze over.  Frankly, it went a bit above and beyond frozen, with one of the longest consistent full ice cover as far as anyone can remember.  Thunder Bay Harbour had its latest opening on record, bringing in the first ship 10 full days later than the previous record.  As well, a solid, and consistent ice bridge developed between the Slate Islands and the North Shore of Superior, for well over five weeks.  The picture above is from a Satellite image taken by the Modis project on March 2, 2014.

So, heres a google earth pic of the Slate Islands.  Jackfish Bay is the two pronged bay on the mainland immediately North of the Slates.  For those who are unaware, the Slates are an incredible place;  formed by a meteorite impact that was over 30km wide!  I believe the islands are the "splash back" that occurred when the big rock hit the earth 330 million years ago.  (Well, I've read anywhere between 13 and 900 million years ago).  

Given their isolation from the mainland, the islands have harboured a remnant heard of Woodland Caribou, of at present about 100 or so animals.  The animals live on the islands without predators, so they have thrived.  On the mainland, they have been extirpated since the 1950's.  At certain times of the year, on the Slate Islands, you are virtually guaranteed to see caribou if you visit the inner harbour of the Slates.  In fact, some are a bit too friendly.  

Introducing Clarence the campsite caribou!  These pictures were taken with a regular, not zoom lens.  I had to shoo Clarence away from supper preparations as he was trying to eat our carrots.  Its really exciting seeing the animals, but I also get a bit of a sad feeling much like when visiting zoos.

But back to this winter.  ... as I said, the ice cover became well established and lasted for an extended period, even into April.  On the April 12/13 weekend I headed out to the cabin, as I heard that there were signs of caribou crossing over to the mainland.  Skiing in on the ice was scary but truthfully it was about 3-4 feet thick.  

Cabin, lake ice, and the Slate Islands about 12km offshore. 

On the first night, at about 11pm, I heard some rustling outside the cabin, being in bed I decided it was too late to look outside so I waited until the morning to go searching for caribou.  Luckily I found their tracks right outside the door!  Went for a ski about 2-3km North of the cabin, and found four young caribou resting on the ice.

It was sunny and I wasn't sure they were actually animals, but thankfully I had Samantha's camera with a great zoom lens.  I didn't see them in this picture until after I was back in the cabin.  Shortly after this shot they jumped up and ran along the lake into the Moberley Bay area.

So, I did hear later, that 6 wolves crossed over from the mainland to the Slate Islands, (one young wolf was found dead) and subsequently a number of caribou have moved back to the mainland as well.  Personally I'm really happy to see caribou back on mainland, and I hope that the wolves and caribou will develop a more natural ecosystem on the islands.  I'm sure researchers will be looking at this event for years to come.  In fact, research helicopters flew over the islands last weekend for the first survey of the new predator/prey interactions on the islands. 


Sunday, 25 May 2014

Mysteries of Jackfish
May Long Weekend 2014
Samantha and Esme's Photo Essay
Part Two

For some reason, many extra logs and trees have washed up at the rocks below the cabin.  They joined the regular 'walking tree' that has been around for years.

This car is hidden away in a gully on the other side of the tracks.  It has really cool doors.  I'm sure we can get it running again ... not.

There is still ice on the shoreline in spots.  Its really cool.

But it was also a beautiful weekend.  You can see the bits of snow and ice though on the right side.

This is the collapsed coal shute, it was exploded down the hill when the cpr stopped using it.  You can crawl inside it from down below.  Its really huge!

These are some of the treasures we've found on our beach.  Lots and lots of beach glass, some are really pretty.