The historical Cobalt Mining District – A community resource

1907 Right of Way Mine with growing community in background

Photo: 1907 Right of Way Mine with growing community in background


Sean Fraser

Buildings and architecture, Community, Cultural landscapes

Published Date: Jun 12, 2008

At the turn of the 20th century, Cobalt was a small and isolated lumber camp. In August 1903, two lumbermen – James McKinley and Ernest Darragh – were seeking timber to be used on the Timiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway construction when they found an outcrop of silver in the surface rocks adjacent to Long Lake. This accidental discovery set in motion one of the most intensive mining rushes in Ontario’s history.

The area around the town held some of the richest deposits of native silver the world has ever seen. In the years following the initial discovery, Cobalt silver transformed the provincial and national economies. This success drove exploration and development of mineral deposits in northern Ontario and across Canada for decades to follow. In nearby Haileybury, a Millionaire’s Row sprouted on the shore of Lake Temiskaming where mine owners and managers built opulent mansions with their new-found wealth. But, by the late 1920s, the silver rush had run its course. Silver production slowed in the Tri-Town area (Haileybury, New Liskeard and Cobalt), leading to a decline in prosperity. At its peak, Cobalt had 6,000 inhabitants. Today, the population is approximately 1,200.

Cobalt was quick to recognize its unique heritage. In 1967, the Ontario Heritage Trust erected a provincial plaque to the Cobalt Mining Camp. The lakeside gateway to Cobalt – the former railway station – houses the Cobalt Visitor Centre and the Bunker Museum. It has been designated a heritage property since 1979, and is also protected by a Trust conservation easement. Begun in 1985 – with support from the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines – a tourist route known as the Silver Trail winds its way in and around the town. This self-guided tour starts at the Northern Ontario Mining Museum, leading visitors past a number of fascinating industrial heritage sites.

In 2002, the Government of Canada designated the Cobalt Mining District as the first National Historic District in Ontario. The district’s heritage value is described by Parks Canada as “a rare cultural landscape possessing a large number of vestiges and buildings directly relating to the evolution of the hard rock mining process of the early 20th century in Canada.” In 2001, as national designation was being considered, TVOntario declared Cobalt “Ontario’s Most Historic Town.”

Today, the challenges facing Cobalt are many, but so too are its opportunities. In 2007, with support from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and Fednor, the Historic Cobalt Corporation was formed to help manage and organize a community approach to the historic district. The vision of the Corporation is to operate historic Cobalt as a major, world-class heritage destination, successfully attracting guests from around the world and operating on a self-sufficient basis. By combining preservation with renewal, and tourism with prudent community planning, Cobalt is finding new value for its historic mining legacy.