Cobalt Mining Legacy

History of Cobalt

Ask someone today on the streets of Toronto or any other major Canadian city where Cobalt is and the response will likely be a blank stare and a shrug. Few today have heard of Cobalt. Fewer still have any idea what happened there, or how important those events were in Canadian history.

In a speech on “Canada and the Empire” to the prestigious Empire Club in Toronto in January 1912, the Rev. Canon L. Norman Tucker recalled a story of a widely-travelled American who was asked where Toronto was. He thought for a moment, scratched his head and said, "Oh, yes, that is the place where you change cars for Cobalt".

Now even in 1912, Cobalt was not more important than Toronto. Yet this story helps to show just how important and well known Cobalt was 100 years ago.

News of discoveries in Cobalt made headlines across the continent, and silver fever gripped many who never ventured to Cobalt. In 1906, the New York Police Department had to use mounted police to break up mobs of people trying to buy Cobalt mining stocks on Wall Street. People from across North America and around the world came to Cobalt to seek their fortunes in the mines. Most did not make it rich. Some did get rich – very rich.

It is hard to know why the silver rush in Cobalt is forgotten, while the gold rush of the Klondike is not. Perhaps it is the glamour of gold, leaving silver the poor cousin – even though the value of silver produced during the rush in Cobalt exceeded the value of gold produced during the rush in the Klondike. Perhaps it is the epic journeys across mountain passes just to get to Dawson City – an overnight train ride from Toronto to Cobalt doesn’t seem as adventurous. Perhaps it is part is the romantic allure of “the North” even though most Canadians have never been there.

Whatever the cause, Dawson City and its stories are romantic and exotic, and thanks to writers like Robert Service and Pierre Burton most Canadians today have heard of the Klondike and have at least a vague idea of what happened there. On the other hand the stories of Cobalt are largely forgotten.

This section tells some of those stories, to help keep the history of Cobalt alive. But to really appreciate the stories, the spirit of Cobalt, go there, and spend some time there. Talk to the people on the street, at the museums. Have lunch there, maybe even stay the night there. Take the time to experience the ghosts, absorb the history. Invest some time in this town, and you will, like me, leave a piece of your heart there when you leave. And you will want to return.