Cobalt Mining Legacy

Living Heritage

“Something happened here. You sense it as soon as you see the smattering of wood frame houses perched on the barren hills. This is a place of ghosts and memories. Walking along the twisting streets you can still feel their fading traces. Something wild, something ominous happened here, something that makes this little town of Cobalt different from any other town in Ontario.”

That is the introduction to the description of the Cobalt Walking Tour on the Town of Cobalt website. Every time I read it, I get shivers down my spine. It is so true, so evocative. Cobalt is not a ghost town - it is still home to over 1000 residents. But yet the spirits of the past are at every turn, and you cannot visit the town without feeling some sense of its past.

My favourite place in Cobalt is the lookout at the Nipissing Low Grade Mill, atop the hill on the east side of Cobalt Lake. From there you can see for miles, and the whole town is spread out before you. It is a peaceful place, but for the sounds of the wind in your ears, the distance traffic in town, and of course, the ever present ravens. And the living echoes of the past when the occasional Ontario Northland train slowly passes through town.

But standing atop the lookout can be like a time machine – close your eyes, stand still, and be transported back in time. Imagine the activity all around you, the sounds of drills boring into the rock beneath you, the distant rumble of underground blasts, and all around the lake, the endless sound of stamp mills pounding rock to dust, freeing the silver.

Imagine too the people, for this was not a quiet little town of 1000, but a bustling northern city hewn from rock and bush, home to 15,000 or perhaps more. Imagine the sounds of workers from across Canada and abroad, speaking in many accents, all here to seek their fortune. Imagine the sounds of children at play – for this was not just a place for the men – many of the men brought their wives and families with them. Cobalt was home, not just a place to work.

Cobalt was born of a silver rush, but unlike the gold rush of a few years before in the Klondike, would-be prospectors and miners could get on a train in Toronto, and arrive in Cobalt a few hours later. In the early days, once there, they could pitch their tent near the train station, and begin prospecting almost immediately.

Cobalt grew quickly, and within a short time, over 100 mines supported an ever growing population. Soon, news from Cobalt made the headlines across North America. The silver riches of Cobalt fuelled a mining boom, fuelled the dreams of many, and made a few of the dreamers very rich.

The slowdown in Cobalt was more gradual than the growth. Inevitably, the silver veins were exhausted, and there were no more to be found. Many people moved on to other mining camps. Some stayed behind, keeping the spirit of Cobalt alive.

Today, visitors to Cobalt will find a town proud of its history, and ready to tell its story.

To discover more about the historic legacy of Cobalt, you can go to the following pages: