All About Cobalt

Part One: A Town of History

Part Two: Tunnels and Shafts

As we continue to count down to the 2018 symposium we will add more information about our host town here!

 

A Town of History

 

For those of you who are thinking about attending our 2018 Symposium, you might be wondering, “Where is Cobalt?” and “What makes this town special?”

The town sits just off Highway 11, about 5 hours north of Toronto. Click here and you’ll be transported to a Google Map of the town. To the cartographers among you, Cobalt’s GPS coordinates are (more or less) 2 degrees north of the US border, and 19 degrees south of the Arctic Circle. Or, as they said back in the silver boom days, “Toronto? That’s where you catch the train to Cobalt.”

Cobalt got its start back in 1903 during the construction of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railroad. Two railway workers, Mr. McKinley and Mr. Darragh trod through the woods adjacent to the right-of-way near present-day Cobalt Lake. They were looking for timber to use as railway ties. Instead, they found signs of silver on the face of a rock outcrop. They staked their claim, arranged for the proper assays and the rest, as they say, is history.

And what a history.

Within a few short years, the two was world famous. The Cobalt silver boom was larger than the Yukon Gold Rush and fortune seekers clamoured to the area to stake their claim. At its height, the bustling town boasted a full suite of churches, schools, theatres, and a thriving commercial district crowded with shops.

The silver rush peaked in the 1920s and by the depression years, the town had lost the lustre of former glory. Over the years, as mineral prices allowed, the town experienced renewed interest from mining interests, however nothing like the early days.

When you visit Cobalt today, you will notice that the streets twist and turn through the town. These thoroughfares were laid down according to no plan other than to gain easy access to the mineral resources. Across the lake, you will see the barren rocky hills, swept clean over a hundred years ago to expose the silver sitting just below the trees and moss. As you enter from the north or south, you will see the towering headframes of remaining mine-sites. Today, these stand as sentinels to Cobalt’s mining heritage.

If you’d like a more detailed account of Cobalt’s history, there are abundant online resources, including the Town of Cobalt’s website: http://cobalt.ca/visitors/history/.

The story of Cobalt was featured in an episode of Murdoch Mysteries. Here is a link to the “making of” that particular show, with interviews of local historians who describe the fascinating story of our town: http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2648812534

Finally, be sure to visit and like these two Facebook pages :

Cobalt Mining Museum

Cobalt Historical Society

Tunnels and Shafts

 

To give you a sense of the “flavour” of this historic town of Cobalt, we’ll tell you a little bit about two of the SPARC Symposium venues. The first, the Cobalt Classic Theatre (24 Silver Street) was, and still is today, a popular performance playhouse.. The other, the Miner’s Tavern (75 Lang Street), is a playhouse of a different sort. Read on to learn about some “connections” between the theatre on Silver Street and the Tavern on Lang street as you head north from town.

Silver Street

The Cobalt silver boom was in full swing by the early 1900s. Most of the population at that time was male, and entertainment was as rough and tumble as the hardworking men who took part. Once it became apparent that mining would last for some time, the men called for their families and by 1910, “…theatres, schools, young people’s church groups, hockey teams, Santa Claus funds, a dance academy, circuses, and subscriptions for a zoo all indicated that Cobalt was a rough-hewn copy of Toronto and other more settled cities to the south. [1]”

While lavish facilities such as the Lyric and Empire theatres staged performances of theatre, music, and other live productions, The Grand Cobalt was “movies only”.  After a fire in 1925, The Classic Theatre was built in the place of The Grand and is, today, the lone surviving playhouse that at one time hosted more than 70 events each year, including theatre, music, comedy, dance, and variety shows. Today, this Silver Street playhouse continues to offer live performances, and as the marquee out front declares: “There’s always something on stage at the Classic”.

The old Lyric Theatre

 The new Lyric Theatre 

Photos provided by the Cobalt Historical Society 

The Miner’s Tavern history is succinct. “Started in 1934, burnt/rebuilt in 1947 and still ROCKIN’!” Victoria Ward writes that the tavern “is a very bright light in the town. With a perfect balance of kitsch and Northern Ontario mining paraphernalia, it has become a hub for the community. Live music, karaoke, bingo afternoons, fundraisers, special events of all kinds, Canada Day celebrations have made it a very special place. It’s also the best place to meet people who know Cobalt inside and out”.

One of those people is long-time resident Al Haraala. He was asked about tunnels that connected the Classic Theatre to the Train Station. While he was unable to confirm or deny that particular fact, he did agree that the entire town is honeycombed with underground workings.

Frank Nagy photo of mural in the Miner’s Tavern

l fondly remembered another story: “The miners working the afternoon shift at the Right-of-Way would walk the drift and pop-up from the air ventilation hole and later on when the mine shut down forever they capped the hole”.

You can learn more about the Cobalt Classic Theatre online and on their Facebook page. The Miner’s Tavern also has a presence on social media.

 

[1] COBALT: Canada’s Forgotten Silver Boom Town, Douglas O. Baldwin, 2016