Cobalt: Ontario’s Most Historic Town (Former Silver Mining Mecca)

cobalt ontario train tracksDo we really want to stop there? It was a long drive back from north of Englehart, Ontario to the Greater Toronto Area. It had been a long drive up, the day before. Still, family had once lived in Cobalt and it was just six kilometres off Highway 11.

Cobalt, Ontario was worth the stop. Not quite a ghost town. A long way away from its heyday as the centre of the silver mining world. Cobalt could very well earn its nickname, “Ontario’s Most Historic Town”. It is, if nothing else, historic. Still with over 1,000 residents, it’s not a ghost town. However, like a soul out of a dead body, the economy is nothing more than a ghost that left the area long ago.

Although, if I were to add some words to describe the town, besides historic, they’d be peaceful, photogenic and barrier free. Because of the old buildings and ruins, your camera is never without an interesting subject. The ruins of the many mine buildings and mills are virtually barrier free and are yours to discover.

 

Cobalt, Ontario Image Gallery

For full-size, high resolution versions of any of the photos in the image gallery, simply click on the individual pictures.

Cobalt, Ontario

Cobalt now (as of 2011, anyway) has a population of just over 1,000. In its prime, just after the turn of the 20th century, those numbers peaked at 7,000. Some sources even put it at 10,000 residents. The town is located about 150 kilometres north of North Bay, Ontario and around 500 KM north of Toronto.

Cobalt was first discovered in 1884 but it wasn’t until the discovery of silver in 1903 before the town began to boom. The precious metal was noticed during the building of the railway from North Bay. The town was officially incorporated in 1906 and by 1908 it was the world’s largest producer of silver and cobalt.

Fire was never kind to the town. In 1909, a blaze started in a cafe and burned down half the town. In 1977, a Victoria Day fire, started with a discarded cigarette, destroyed 140 buildings.

This is just one of three mining camps in Canada to be designated a National Historic Site. It was the first town in Northern Ontario to have a street car system. The street cars are long gone and today it shares a transit system with the nearby towns of Haileybury and New Liskeard.

The town is the birthplace of hockey player Kent Douglas. Douglas, a Calder Trophy winner as NHL rookie of the year, played 428 regular season and 19 Stanley Cup playoff games in the National Hockey League between 1962-63 and 1968-69. His promising career started with the Toronto Maple Leafs and fizzled out with the Oakland Seals and Detroit Red Wings.

Cobalt was famous for hockey long before Mr. Douglas, though. In 1909-10, the town was so prosperous, it had a pro hockey team in the National Hockey Association (predecessor to the NHL). The Cobalt Silver Kings competed in the NHA for just that one season, taken over by the Quebec Bulldogs the following season. They played home games at the Sport Palace, a venue that could hold 3,500 spectators.

The train station looks to be in some sort of state of renovation. Passenger service, provided by the Northlander of the Ontario Northland Railway, ceased in September, 2012. Freight traffic still frequents these tracks.

 

Mining Museum and Heritage Silver Trail

The Cobalt Mining Museum is located downtown at 24 Silver Street. The museum is open seven days per week from 9:30AM until 4:30PM. Adults pay $8 to get in. If you want to add the underground tour, the total cost is $15. The underground tour goes five times per day and takes you down into one of the old mines.

The Heritage Silver Trail starts from the Cobalt Mining Museum and is a self-guided tour to all the abandoned mining sites around town. There are nine sites throughout the town and surrounding area, including the museum. Interestingly, the Right-of-Way Mine building (the brown building pictured beside the tracks at the end of the lake in the gallery) doesn’t seem to be included.

A number of the images in the gallery above were taken at the McKinley-Darragh Mine Mill Site. Not much more than the crumbling concrete foundations are left of what is was the first mill to operate in the Cobalt mining camp.

 

Resources

Town’s Official Website

Mining Museum

Heritage Silver Trail

 

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