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Exploring Cobalt The Historic Silver Capital of Canada

Last Updated: 1st Jul 2014

Exploring Cobalt
The Historic Silver Capital of Canada


I have always been looking forward to visiting Cobalt, Ontario. When i was first researching minerals in Ontario, Cobalt inevitably was one name i came across. In the years to come i would hear the name a few more times. Then finally i seen some pictures of Silver & my interest was finally peaked. I guess what finally convinced me to visit it in 2011 was when i came across numerous reports of intact buildings, machines, & headframes. Around Bancroft where i mostly collect most mine buildings & machines are long gone, so i really wanted to visit a place where i could see some remnants of history. In this article i am going to talk about the history of Cobalt as well as how the town is today. Then i will focus a large section to the Heritage Silver Trail, Environmental impacts, & as well some additional mines i encountered in the area. Will also briefly talk about the smaller silver areas near Cobalt, show some samples of silver, & mention a bit about general collecting in the area.

Cobalt is located about 6 hours north of Toronto. Its a straight drive north, or as close to it as the highways will allow.
As the title of this article indicates, Cobalt was once the Silver capital of Canada. Its is a site not unique in Ontario because it begun as a mining boom town. Unlike most mining towns, the remnants of that time still survive. The vicinity of town also is covered by old mines, shafts, buildings, machines, pits, trenches & cuts..... The actual roads in town are quite odd because it follow the old claim boundaries during the initial staking when Silver was discovered. Cobalt is small, with a population slightly over 1,200 in 2006. In 2001 the town was designated as a National Historic Site, & was named "Ontario's Most Historic Town". From other towns i seen so far i don't dispute that claim.


Welcome to Cobalt!


Mining History of Cobalt

"
In the late 1800s, the Ontario government was eager to establish settlements in an area known as the Clay Belt, which fans out from the north end of Lake Temiskamining. This area of rich farmland was seen as a prime starting point for the settlement of “New Ontario” as northern Ontario was then called. At that time, no one dreamt that silver mining in Cobalt, and gold mining on the northern fringes of the Clay Belt, in Kirkland Lake, and further north in Timmins, would soon become the driving force for settlement, rather than farming. For at that time, many believed that there were no precious metals like gold and silver east of the Rocky Mountains.

The towns of New Liskeard and Haileybury on Lake Temiskaming were both established in the late 1890's, but at that time the only way to reach the towns was by canoe or by steamer up the lake in the summer. Only a few hundred people lived in the area, but there was a push to build a train line north from North Bay to New Liskeard, to help promote settlement. Initially there was commercial interest in the project, but this faded, and in 1902 the Ontario Government decided to build the line. By the summer of 1903 the line, the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario, was getting close to Haileybury.

Numerous contractors were employed in the construction – “contracting out” is not a new concept. Among the contractors were James McKinley and Ernest Darragh who were supplying ties for the line. In the summer of 1903 they were working north of the Montreal River, ahead of the rail line itself.

About five miles south of Haileybury was a boot shaped lake called Long Lake. On a beach along the south shore of the lake McKinley and Darragh found some pebbles which contained some metal flakes. They had no idea what the metal was, but bit it, using the old prospectors test for gold. Tooth marks in the metal were encouraging, though, as it turned out, they had bit into the other minerals with the silver – silver is too hard to bite into. It did not occur to them that the metal could be silver, since silver in exposed veins is dull black with tarnish, and did not attract the eye of the early prospectors.

On August 15, 1903 McKinley and Darragh staked a claim, and later sent a few samples to an assayer in Montreal for chemical analysis. The initial results were not promising – since McKinley and Darragh did not know what they were looking for, the first samples didn’t have that much silver in them. But more samples sent later in the fall had much better results – the grade, or richness of silver content in the rock, was measured to be 4,000 ounces of silver per ton, or about 12% silver. At that time, silver was worth about 50 cents an ounce, so at that grade, just 1 ton of rock contained about $2,000 worth of silver. That was a lot of money at a time when salaries for most workers were little more than a dollar a day.

In the meantime, Fred Larose, a blacksmith working on the railway, had a small cabin at the north end of the lake, near the Mile 103 post of the line. Larose had noticed cobalt bloom on the rocks in the area. To quote Larose "One evening I found a float, a piece as big as my hand, with little sharp points all over it. I say nothing but come back and the next night I take pick and look for the vein. The second evening I found it." Like McKinley and Darragh, Larose had no idea what the metal was – he thought it might be copper – but he was smart enough to recognize that there was something of value in the rock, and staked a claim.

A short time later Larose was in Mattawa, on his way home to Hull, Quebec. He stopped by a store owned by Noah and Henry Timmins, who were also part time prospectors. Larose showed Noah the sample – Henry was in Montreal at the time. Noah too did not know what the minerals in the rock were, but he too recognized an opportunity when he saw it. He sent a message to Henry and a few days later Henry was in Hull, and offered Larose $3,500 to purchase half the rights to his claim.

After years of fruitless searching, the Timmins brothers had finally entered the mining business. The quick decision to invest in Cobalt paid a handsome reward. In 1905 the Larose Mine shipped its first two carloads of ore, which earned over $50,000. Much more money was made in the years that followed.

The Timmins brothers made their mark in Cobalt and Noah later provided capital to help get the Hollinger Mine in Timmins into production. The Hollinger properties went on to produce about 20 million ounces of gold. Timmins later provided funding to help build the Horne Smelter in Noranda, Quebec, and also provided development funds for many other mines in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Yellowknife.

But back to Cobalt. Fred Larose also showed some of his samples to Arthur Ferland, owner of the Matabanick Hotel in Haileybury. Ferland remarked that the rock contained "some kind of damn metal". A short time later the Director of the Ontario Bureau of Mines, Thomas W. Gibson, spent a night at the Matabanick. Ferland did not miss the opportunity. He showed the samples to Gibson and they also had a discussion about some rather ambiguous language in the provincial Mining Act. Gibson was very interested in the samples, since they reminded him of some of the early nickel ore from Sudbury. He identified the mineral in the samples as niccolite, a nickel-bearing mineral.

In October another railway contractor, Tom Herbert, was working on the east side of Long Lake when he came across a vein. He described what he had found to Arthur Ferland that evening at the Matabanick. Walking the property the next day with Herbert, Ferland recalled his conversation with Gibson about ambiguity in the Mining Act. The Act stated that prospectors could stake claims 40 acres in size. However, a little known loophole in the Act, closed soon after, allowed the staking of 320 acres if a surface showing was discovered. With this information, Ferland spoke to four engineers working on the railway. Herbert sold his share to Ferland for $5,000, and Ferland formed a syndicate with the engineers. On October 21 they staked a claim of 846 acres on the east side of the lake. The great Nipissing Property had been born, dwarfing all others in the camp.

At the request of Gibson, Willet Miller arrived in the area in November. Millar had initially been disappointed with the samples sent by Gibson from the Larose vein. While there was niccolite on the surface, the interior of the samples appeared to contain a cobalt-bearing mineral rather than niccolite, and at that time the cobalt was of little value. However, Millar sent the sample for chemical analysis and was very surprised by the results. The sample did contain a small amount of nickel and cobalt and over 65% arsenic, but the sample also contained almost 19% silver. With this information in hand, Millar had made his preparations to go to visit the discovery sites around Long Lake.

Millar quickly realized that the veins were rich in silver. Blackened samples rich in tarnished silver had been overlooked by the early prospectors in favour of the samples containing shinier but less valuable minerals such as niccolite. Miller inspected four newly discovered veins, including the vein discovered by Larose, and the Little Silver Vein.

At the base of the Larose vein, Millar observed "lumps of weathered ore weighing from 10 to 50 pounds carrying a high percentage of silver". At the base of the Little Silver Vein, which extend up the side of a 60 foot high ridge south east of Long Lake, Millar reported that there were "pieces of native silver as big as stove lids and cannon balls" and that "loose silver is common in immediate proximity to the vein; every depression in the rock on the top of the hill contains much free silver. The earth occupying these depressions is deemed by the owners of sufficient value to sack and ship for treatment". Four samples collected by Miller contained over 23% silver.

From his visit Miller concluded that "The ore is undoubtedly very rich, containing values of nickel, cobalt, silver and arsenic, and a comparatively small vein could be worked at a handsome profit".

Despite these discoveries, there was no great staking rush in the spring of 1904. Many were convinced that this discovery would fizzle and fade like earlier ones, such as a silver discovery near Fort William in the 1880's in which many investors lost out. Despite the glowing reports of the Provincial Geologist, investors in Ontario were not ready to risk their money on a venture they though would soon fade. However, some prospectors did come to the area, and more ground was staked.

One of those who arrived in Cobalt that spring was William Trethewey, who had previously worked as a prospector in British Columbia. On just his second day of prospecting he discovered the vein that was to become the Trethewey Mine. After staking a claim with the help of another prospector, Alex Longwell, he then discovered a second vein. On the advice of the Willet Millar, who was again in the area, the second property was named Coniagas after the chemical symbols of the metals in the rock – Co (cobalt), Ni (nickel), Ag (silver) and As (arsenic). Within days of arriving in Cobalt Tretheway had discovered not one, but two mines. And within a short time Longwell went on to stake the claims that became the Buffalo Mine.

One evening in the spring of 1904 while Millar was again in the area, he posted a sign alongside the railway tracks which read, “Cobalt Station T. & N.O. Railway". Within a few days, prospectors registering in hotels in Haileybury were using the name Cobalt. The camp had a name. Soon Long Lake was renamed Cobalt Lake.

In September of 1904, W.A. Parks of the Geological Survey of Canada visited the area. He reported that "it is a reasonable assumption that other valuable properties will be located as the region is more thoroughly prospected."

Thus, by the end of 1904 the future of the area looked bright, and while some of the best ground had already been staked, the prospect of further silver discoveries was good. The stage was set for a rush in the spring of 1905.

Word began to spread that the discovery at Cobalt was no hoax, and prospectors and developers began flooding into the area in the spring and summer of 1905.

By late 1905 there were sixteen mines in the area employing 438 men and shipping $1,366,000 worth of ore. Permanent though crude buildings replaced the tents of the previous year, and the town became more established, although growth was haphazard and anything but carefully planned. That fall, the first school opened, for many of those who went to Cobalt in search silver brought their families with them.

The mines at that time were all very small and most were simple operations. Ore was mined with picks, hammers and drilling bars and hoisted to the surface by hand. Profits were huge; in 1906 $2,000,000 worth of ore was shipped. As the richest surface veins were exhausted, the exploration for new veins intensified and existing mines started to go deeper.

In 1908, Cobalt supplied nearly 9% of the world's total silver production, an incredible growth in production in just a few years.

Since most of the veins in Cobalt were surface veins or near surface veins, the best way to explore for new veins was to expose the rocks at the surface. The main way to do this was to cut down all the trees and then dig trenches in grid like patterns. However, prospectors for the Nipissing Mine developed a more effective way of exposing the rock, to the detriment of Cobalt Lake and Peterson Lake. In 1906 they began using high pressure water, pumped from Peterson Lake at a rate of 1,800 gallons a minute, to wash the rocks clean and expose the veins. The following account of the effect of this operation on Cobalt Lake was written in 1913: "Formerly the water used to be tolerably clear; now it is tainted or yellow green, and is opaque, due largely or wholly to the powerful water hydrant of the Nipissing Mine clearing away the earth and clay from the surface of Nip Hill...Moreover, there is a portion of the south end of the Lake now being rapidly filled up by the slimes or tailings from the mills."

Many of the veins which occurred on land were known to pass into the beds of the local lakes. Some mines extended workings under the lakes to remove this ore. In 1913 a decision was made to drain Cobalt Lake and work deposits under the lake bed. This decision was controversial because some residents feared that draining the lake would lead to the outbreak of disease, but a local doctor refuted this: "Were there not fish in the lake and did not gulls eat them without ill effect," he argued. He reminded [residents] "that the waters were a gift of nature, but since they were now so polluted there was no real drawback to draining the lake".

Kerr Lake, to the east, was also drained and "at one period when most of the clear water had been pumped away, some embarrassment was caused by the large number of fish which had been smothered by the mud and came to the surface. Great numbers ranging in size from small perch to eels and pike 30 inches long lay everywhere, and even clogged the suctions and entering valves".

Mining in Cobalt reached its peak in 1911. By this time the town was thriving and had a population of between 10,000 and 15,000. In 1911 production reached 31,507,791 oz of silver, an all time high for the area.

The first two years of World War I were hard times in Cobalt. Many of the men were overseas in the war, leaving a smaller labour force to work the mines. In 1916 the price of silver went up, so all of the mines that could find men stayed open.

By 1917, labour shortages forced many mines to stop their mining operations. However, improvements in methods to recover silver from the mined rock meant that rock in many of the older waste rock piles could be processed to recover silver. As a result, miners were put to work recovering waste rock for processing. Despite the lack of workers, the mills continued to operate, the silver production continued.

By the end of the war Cobalt had reached a milestone with the shipment of 10,000 tons of pure silver. However, the camp was entering its twilight. The postwar population was only about 7,000 thousand, and 1919 was marked by a long bitter strike.

The highlight of 1919 was a Royal visit by Edward the Prince of Wales. He summed up the town aptly when he called it "A grey wee town".

The 1920's were hard times, with few mines surviving the decade. The Beaver Mine closed in 1920, the railway ripped up several miles of spur track in 1924. The Larose Mine closed in 1930 and by 1932 only the Nipissing Mine and a few minor producers were left on operation.

As the big mines shut down, many small companies operated through the 1920s and on into the Depression, scavenging what silver they could find from the closed out mines.

In 1934, the Nipssing Low Grade Mill on the east side of Cobalt Lake, burned down. A Cobalt landmark had been lost. In that same year, a cave-in occurred in the south end of Cobalt Lake as a result of mine workings coming too close to the lake bed. This cave-in resulted in as much as 300,000 tons of tailings flooding into the mine workings and bring those activities to an end.

World War II and the period following saw a revitalization of mining in Cobalt. Until then, there had been little use for the cobalt contained in the ores, and most of it ended up in the tailings, but during and after the war new medical uses were developed for cobalt for the treatment of cancer, and the metal also saw increasing use in metal alloys. In addition, the discovery of new high grade veins led to renewed exploration and mining for silver.

Late in the war, Harry Miller’s Silver Miller Mines found high grade silver at Brady Lake, southeast of Kerr Lake. By the early 1950s, Silver Miller Mines had three operations at Brady Lake, the Lawson Mine, and the Larose Mine. Other mines reopened too, including the Right-of-Way, Crown Reserve, Kerr Lake, O’Brien and Nipissing. Other properties that reopened included the Savage Mine (Silver Summit, Silverfields), and the Bailey property (Glen Lake Silver). For a while the glory days of Cobalt returned. Some operations also scoured old waste rock piles, looking for cobalt that has been discarded by the early mines. And some operations also re-processed tailings for their silver and cobalt content. Tailings from the south end of Cobalt Lake, for example, were re-processed and then re-deposited in the north end of the lake.

Interestingly, while mining in other camps across Ontario had changed drastically since the turn of the century, time seemed to stand still in Cobalt. The large drills and machines being used increasingly in other mines were not suited to mining the narrow veins of Cobalt. In the early 1980s though, at least one operation, the Silversides Mine in North Cobalt, did introduce newer method, using a decline or ramp from the surface, rather than a shaft and headframe. Using the ramp trucks and other equipment were able to drive into the mine. The author had an opportunity to go underground at this mine in 1986, shortly before it ceased operations.

Inevitably, the ore was depleted, and by the 1970's most of the mines had again shut down. The Silverfields Mine at Cart Lake operated until 1983, and Agnico Eagle and a few smaller companies continued to work at other properties in the area until the mid 1980's.

A couple of short lived ventures kept hopes alive through the 1990s, but today the mines of Cobalt are silent. Today, only one operation remains, recovering metals from recycled materials at a milling facility on Giroux Lake. But Cobalt has closed before only to be revitalized later, and many in the area still hope that mining will again drive the town’s economy. Rising commodity prices and increasing exploration for silver, base metals and even diamonds may lead to mining again in the future.
"(Power to the Mines, Cobalt Mining Legacy, http://www.cobaltmininglegacy.ca/mininghistory.php )

Cobalt today

Currently just in town there are two headframes that you will pass, the Townsite headrame which you will encounter first is just as you enter town. Its rusting walls a reminder of the day when this was a fully functional mine seeking rich silver. Inside town just opposite of the Cobalt Mining Museum is another headframe. North of town is another, the Nipissing 73 Mayer shaft headframe. When you reach La Rose Bridge which goes over the railway & heads south, you will get a good view of the area. You can see the area looking northeast, to the old La Rose mine property. Looking southwest you will see Cobalt, the railway, Cobalt lake, & the closest headframe the Right of Way Mine, which is located on the south side of the railway once you cross the bridge. Most headframes are located south of town.

One of the unique features of Cobalt is the sheer number of mines, & prospects that occur in town & around. Within 10 km of the town center are most mines located. When you come here on a mission to visit as many mines as you can, you will be overwhelmed. There is just so many abandoned ones. As a great starter to the exploration of Cobalt its recommended to visit the Cobalt Mining Museum. Its is located in town here: http://maps.google.ca/maps?saddr=Lang+St%2FOntario+11+Business+S&daddr=Mayfair+Rd&hl=en&ll=47.395655,-79.685815&spn=0.001262,0.003742&sll=47.374872,-79.631138&sspn=0.080793,0.239468&geocode=Ffg70wIdkiNA-w%3BFT6W0gIdkbdA-w&vpsrc=6&mra=me&mrsp=0,1&sz=13&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=47.395565,-79.685808&panoid=Efi_EnoX60UjCl_avhXVBw&cbp=12,282.31,,0,-3.29
GPS coordinates for the Museum are: 47.395555 N/-79.685904 W

After visiting the museum, its best to go & explore the Heritage Silver Trail. Keep in mind there are some safety issues here before you venture out in the field.

Safety while exploring

Most mines are accessible to collectors, some are not. You must be wary of fenced in areas & all signs. Due to the shear number of mining activities in the past there are many dangers still left around. Old shafts, deep cuts, open adits, steep dumps, & trenches litter the landscape. Most are fenced in but you never know, deep in the woods some could have been forgotten, or fences could have collapsed. You must avoid these areas as they can be a real hazard. Most of the cuts & deep trenches are located closer to Cobalt around Nipissing hill & a bit south of Cobalt Lake but that does not mean you won't encounter one further south. Be wary, stay clear, & stay safe.


Open Shaft on the Lawson mine property


Also be aware that most mill foundations on the trail & in the area are known to contain high concentration of Arsenic & other metals. Always wash your hands after having contact with these buildings (Cobalt Mining Legacy, http: //www.cobaltmininglegacy.ca/visitingCobalt.php ). One particularly heavily arsenic contaminated mill is the high grade mill on Nipissing hill. At the parking location just in front of a cement structure used to be a deposit of tailing & Ertherite that had arsenic concentration of 200,000 ppm. This deposit has been removed but likely where it was the soil is still highly contaminated. Take very special care around mills.


High Grade Mill foundations, contaminated with arsenic


Another thing to keep in mind is the mine tailings around the area. Frequently they are present around mills & in the local lakes. These tailings contain high levels of heavy metals such as arsenic. The arsenic content is much less then from a mill but still elevated. Most of the tailings are devout of vegetation except for a few hardy grasses.


Cart Lake Tailings, south end of Cart Lake


Heritage Silver Trail

"The Heritage Silver Trail is a self-guided driving tour of several mine, headframe, and mill sites in the area. The trail is well marked, guiding visitors around the backroads of Cobalt. At each site, signs are posted, identifying the site, and providing a brief description of the site.",( Heritage Silver Trail, Cobalt Mining Legacy, http://www.cobaltmininglegacy.ca/visitingCobalt.php ).


Heritage Silver trail map, from the Cobalt Mining Legacy website


Here is the trail map: http: //www.cobaltmininglegacy.ca/gallery.php?image_string=images/graphics/Heritage_Trail_Map

The trail is an excellent start to your exploration of Cobalt. The tour starts at the first headframe you encounter when you enter Cobalt, the Townsite #1 headframe. In town the road the trail traverses is paved, but once you go south of town it becomes gravel. It is drivable by all vehicles. Let me mention a few highlight of the trail. Lets begin with the Townsite mine.

"This mine was originally worked 1906 by cobalt Townsite Mining Company Limited; it yielded some 405 000 000g of silver from 1908 to 1917. Production ceased in 1939. The original operator worked the deposit until 1914, & 1932 mining was conducted by Mining Corporation of Canada limited. Total production amounted to 410 027 925 g of silver & 1895 kg of Cobalt", (Sabina Ann, P. Rocks & Minerals for the Collector, GSC Miscellaneous Report, Townsite Mine, page 20).

The Townsite headframe is site #1 & is unusually located within town, surrounded by main street & residential houses on one side. Like all headframes its is fenced in but you can get very close & take some nice pics. Once yo get near the headframe you will see evidence of dumps on the north side of the road. At this site you have the headframe, hoist drum, mine dumps, ore carts, & the Glory Hole (Site #2). The Glory hole is a large "hole" that was dug to explore for silver, it is located near the headframe & a short trail leads to it. The hole is water filled & about 250 feet deep, you can see a number of side tunnels exiting it. The hole is viewed from a fenced in observation platform & is full of water.

Glory Hole

You will noticed around the headframe are a few ares that are fenced in & it looks like a sinkhole is occurring. This is called subsidence. Due to the fact that most mines at the time in Cobalt were not build for longevity, & some early tunnels are located close to the surface. This has resulted in small cave in over the years. A few spots are fenced in because of this reason. The town has been dealing with this challenge, & a few road sections have been repaired due to this reason.

sinkhole near headframe

Here is the headframe: http://maps.google.ca/maps?saddr=Lang+St%2FOntario+11+Business+S&daddr=47.3918818,-79.6911653+to:47.39186,-79.69226+to:Mayfair+Rd&hl=en&ll=47.392179,-79.690495&spn=0.001262,0.003742&sll=47.392256,-79.689996&sspn=0.005077,0.014967&geocode=Ffg70wIdkiNA-w%3BFYkk0wIdYwJA-ylNfiXz7HEmTTHtea1da272AQ%3BFXQk0wIdHP4_-yk7N_nK7HEmTTH9AR1M9l_WQw%3BFT6W0gIdkbdA-w&vpsrc=6&mra=dpe&mrsp=1&sz=17&via=1,2&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=47.392121,-79.69063&panoid=PXX2rcdG53bf8YZcOEFqSw&cbp=12,28.02,,0,6.39

Townsite #1 headframe



Ore Carts


Site #4 is the Little Silver Vein. It is located south of Cobalt near the McKinley-Darragh Mill.

" The vein was discovered in 1903 by a French Canadian lumberman named tom Hebert. It was Subsequently acquired by the Nipissing Mining Company Limited & was to become the first of many producing veins for the company. The actual vein consisted of soft, white calcite, native silver, cobalt, nickle, & arsenic. It averaged 20 cm in width & yielded over 700,000 ounces of silver by 1932, for a 1986 value of $4,760,000. Mining was originally carried out using steam-powered drills & hoists. Cheaper power became available by 1910, with the development of the Ragged Chutes Compressed Air Plant on the Montreal River. It supplied a natural source of compressed air to most of the mines in the Cobalt camp until fire destroyed it in 1981. The vein was initially mined from the top of the hill, down to a depth of about 10 m. At the base of the cliff an adit was driven in along the vein, which was then stoped. The vein was later accessed from deeper Nipissing workings and was stoped until the adit level was reached ", (Heritage Silver Trail, Site #4 Tunnel to Riches, info plaque).

This is an interesting site as it offers the visitor a chance to get a glimpse of the mining conditions that the miners experienced. Once you are here right in front of the vein you will feel the cold rush of air coming from it. Its an interesting sight.

Little Silver Vein, taken by Reiner Mielke


Next site to visit is the McKinley-Darragh Mill (Site #3).

"James McKinley & Ernest Darragh worked for the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway. While collecting timber in August 1903, they found "glittering rock" on the south shore of Cobalt Lake 200m northeast of the present mill ruins. The rock was assayed 4000 ounces of silver/ton and led to the development of the McKinley-Darragh mine which consisted of 5 shafts & 24 km of underground workings. The mine produces over 20 million ounces of silver in the first sixteen years of operation. The company's mill, the first to be build in the Cobalt camp, was erected in 1907 to precess ore from their mines. It had initial capacity of 15 tons of ore/day and by 1913, could process 225 tones/day. The mill was permenantley closed in August 1927, & burned to the ground in April the following year", (Heritage silver Trail, Site #3 Mckinley-Daragh Story, info plaque).

If you like old mills make sure to visit it. Its one of a few mills in the area but it looks very interesting. Beside the Mill is an elevated section of ground where once the old streetcar service used to go at the height of the Silver boom.

Mill Ruins


Another interesting headframe is site # 6, Nipissign 96 Mine. Also known as 96 Vein. It is located near Carr lake on top of a small hill. Around the headframe are a number of old machines too: a hoist drum in a roofed shelter, ore carts, hoist wheel, & bucket. The headframe is very well intact & you can get very close up to it.

Nipissing 96 headframe

Hoist drum room

There is also the actual 96 Vein located here. Its a very deep open cut that begun as a trench. It is 142 meters long & 75 meters deep at its deepest point. The vein is connected to the shaft underground (Heritage Silver Trail, Nipissing 96 mine, info plaque). The distance from the headframe & the vein is very short. Due to the depth of the vein frequently snow from the winter remains there for a long time into the year, i seen some when i was there in mid June.

Deep trench, see the ice at the bottom?

On the road up to Nipissing 96 there is a small lookout over Carr Lake. If you look carefully you will see two visible headfrmes on the opposite shore, the Provincial #2 headframe & the Savage Mine(Silver Summit) headframe. Both of these headframes are not official sites on the Heritage Silver Trail but you will pass the Savage headframe if you go toward Hound chutes.

South of town are where the majority of the headframes are located. The first one you will encounter is clearly visible once you get on the La Rose bridge which goes over the rail line. This headframe is the Right of Way mine headframe, it is site #9.

" The Right of Way mine operated from 1906 to 1919, with the most productive period being 1909. The mine was developed by two shafts, one 21 m deep opposite the LaRose mine adit, the other below and south of the LaRose bridge. The mine produced 87 088 400 g of silver and 18 120 kg of cobalt." (Sabina Ann P., Rocks & Minerals for the Collector. GSC Miscellaneous Report 57, page 35.)


Right of Way mine headframe

The mine is part of the Heritage Silver trail so you can come right up to it.

Can get right up close to it

There are some small dumps & ore carts on display here as well.

mining equipment


You might notice that the hills just south of town seam oddly barren. That is because in the initial staking & hunt for Silver, the hill south of town was cleared of all vegetation to look for surface showings of Silver in exposed veins. The miners used high pressure hoses to wash debris of the hill to expose the bare rock. This has left the hills, Nipissing hill mainly looking as if it was power washed of all greenery. Only now some vegetation is slowly coming back.

Here is a hill just south of town. You can see the major lack of old vegetation.

exposed hillside


North of town another interesting sight is the site #12: Nipissing 73, Meyer shaft. This is a another intact headframe which can be easily seen from the road. This site is the most norther point of the Heritage Silver Trail. If you go a bit further down the road past a small construction yard, on the north side of the road will be an abandoned hoist drum, just before the woods. A trail will be beside it. It leads to the headframe as well.


Meyers shaft & many old machinery


Getting back to town is site #13, the Coniagas #4 shaft headframe. Unlike other old headframes, this one was in-cased in a building where the owner used the cold of the shaft for refrigeration. An ingenious idea for the old building. The building is located right beside the road, & is an odd sight. This is the only visible working of the Conaigas property that is viewable.

The deposit was discovered in 1904 by W.G. Trethway on his second day of prospecting in Cobalt. Trethway carried out the early work, then sold his claim to Coniagas Mines Limited, which operated it continuously until 1924 when a fire destroyed the concentrator & shaft #2. The concentrator was build in 1907. The ore was shipped to the company's smelter in Thorold, Ontario, which operated from 1908 to 1926. Although most of the known ore was mined out, mining was carried out at intervals by various interests from 1937 to 1982.
From 1905 to 1943 the deposit yielded close to 1 057 502 000 g of silver, some 8493 kg of cobalt, & a small amount of copper & nickel, making it one of the most productive mines in the Cobalt area.
(Sabina Ann P., Rocks & Minerals for the Collector. GSC Miscellaneous Report 57, page 22.)


Caniagas headframe


A nice lookout is at the old Colonial Mine, which is site# 16. Here the mine is located on a hill which is covered by extensive dumps on a one side. There are a few ore carts here as well. There used to be a headframe here but its long been removed. There is an adit here as well which is used for tours. The "Underground Mine Tour" its called. Its worth a trip if have time as the tour is available only at certain times of the year for a small fee.

The deposit, discovered in 1904 by Murdoch (Murty) McLeod and George Glendenning, was originally worked by Colonial Mining Company Limited (1906-1914), and later by Menago Mining Company Limited (1922-1926). Subsequently, small yields were obtained by various companies. The mill, erected in 1909, was operated for some years after 1954 by Coballoy Mines & Refiners Limited. About 38 878 750 g of silver & a small amount of Cobalt were produced from this mine between 1907 and 1937. The workings consist of several opencuts, adits, & shafts, and a mill. All were located on the north side of a ridge. Underground workings from one shaft reach a depth of 330 m, about the deadest of any in the Cobalt area. The most productive veins were mined from adits. (Sabina Ann P., Rocks & Minerals for the Collector. GSC Miscellaneous Report 57, page 41.)

The view from the Colonial Mine dumps is very scenic, you can see a decent distance. Great on a sunny day.

Nice view from Colonial mine dump



Mill



Very extensive Colonial mine dumps


Here is the adit entrance. Its locked & only accessible through the Cobalt Mining Museum's Underground Mine tour.

Colonial Adit


The next mine along the trail is the Nova Scotia Mine, site #17. Here you have the ruins of the mill, some ore carts on display & a dump pile. As with most stops on the trail, a few interpretative plaques tell the story of the site. A section of Peterson lake is just on the other side of the main road beside the turnoff to the site. From the dump looking southwest can see a section of Peterson Lake, & in the distance the tip of Diabase mountain, & the radio tower perched on top.

The deposit was discovered in 1904 by J.B. Woodworth & Murdoch McLeod. the original operator, from 1906 to 1912, was Nova Scotia Silver -Cobalt Mining Company limited; it erected a concentrator mill which later was used to treat ores from other mines. After 1912, the mine was worked intermediately by other operators until about 1957. The mine produced about 31 000 000 g of silver, approximately 2830 kg of cobalt, & a little gold. The deposit was worked by several shafts, the deepest being 76 m. it was also worked by an open cut which was the initial discovery location for the silver on the property, (Sabina Ann P., Rocks & Minerals for the Collector. GSC Miscellaneous Report 57, page 41.)


View from the dump seeing ore carts, mill ruins, Peterson Lake, & Diabase Mountian


Another interesting mine along the trail is the Crown Reserve Mine (site# 18). The mine was on the lake bottom of Kerr Lake. The lake was drained to allow access to the silver veins. In 1907 they drained the lake by 8 feet by means of a ditch, this allowed them a place to sink a shaft down to 300 feet. They started pumping out the lake in 1913 & it was dry in 1915. They pumped 600,000,000 gallons of water & silt to dry the lake. Between 1913-1952 the lake was drained 4 times through out the course of the mining. The mining was done by open stopes in the early stages, they by underground work via shafts, the deepest it reached was 800 feet (Heritage Silver Trail, Crown Reserve Mine, info plaque). Quite a story isn't it?

Today there is little left of the mine though. Where the shaft stood is a cemented cover, a shaft elevator is left here for visitors to see, & there are some plaques & a hoist drum. Nearby is the Kerr Lake Mine & its mill used here is long collapsed & fenced in.

Shaft foundation & shaft elevator



Mill ruins of the nearby Kerr Lake Mine


Way south of town is an interesting site that should be visited, the Silver Sidewalk, site #19. Its is a trench where a very pure vein of solid silver was mined. It is right beside the road & easy to find. This site is the most southern section of the Heritage Silver Trail.

Silver Sidewalk

On the way to the the sidewalk you will pass the Lawson Mine headframe also. This headframe is a bit more worse for wear then others, but its still stood in 2012. There are extensive dumps around the headframe.

Lawson mine headframe, still toughing it out in 2011

Quite often you will encounter metal tools & objects from the mines littered around. Here is a very old drill bit from the Lawson Mine.

Old corroded drill bit from Lawson mine, could be near 100 years old based on the design


Besides headframes & mining machinery there are a few old buildings & lookouts that are well worth a look. The most scenic lookout over Cobalt is from the low grade mill on Nipissign hill. In the picture you can see the town of Cobalt, mill foundations, & a fenced in trench where a headframe used to be before it collapsed.

Low Grade Mill lookout over Cobalt

The actual mill is quite extensive as you can see here. The observation platform is on top of the ruins.

Mill seen from a bit down the hill


So there was a summary of some highlight of the Heritage Silver Trail. It is worth to take as its a rare place in Ontario for mineral collectors & those interested in mining history. Few towns have taken the effort to preserve it like Cobalt.

Of the Heritage silver Trail, More Cobalt Silver Mines

If you only take the Heritage Silver Trail you will see plenty of mines, buildings, & machinery but if you are feeling adventurous & have extra time you should consider exploring some other Silver mines off the Heritage Silver trail.

Most of the mines in the area are south & east of Cobalt. Here are a few other Silver mines i encountered along the trail.

O'Brien Mine

This mine was the longest continuously operated mine in the Cobalt area. M.J. O.Brien Limited commenced operations in 1905, two years after discovery of the silver-bearing vein by Neil King who was employed in construction of the railway; the Main shaft was sunk on the discovery vein. Except for a two year period (1905-1907) interruption due to litigation proceedings, operations were carried continuously until 1937. Operations were continued intermittently through leases, until 1952 when the company amalgamated with Nipissing Mines Company Limited & became Nipissing-O'Brien Mines limited. Mining continued until 1958 when Agnico Mines Limited acquired the property, which it worked until 1967. The mine consists of several shafts with the Main shaft reaching a depth of 105 m", (Sabina Ann, P. Rocks & Minerals for the Collector, GSC Miscellaneous Report, O'Brien Mine, page 40).

This is a quite extensive mine located northeast of Nipissing Hill & directly north of Peterson Lake. There are very extensive dumps, deep cuts, & a large photogenic & intact mill foundation. The height of the dump directly behind the mill offers a decent view too.

Mill ruins

Panoramic view from mills

Extensive dumps


Savage Mine (Silver Summit)

" This deposit was discovered in 1905. The original work was performed between 1909 & 1928 by McKinley-Darath-Savage Mines of Cobalt, Limited. Subsequent operations were conducted at intervals by various operators until the 1960's when Silver Summit Mines Limited dewatered the mine & brought it back into production for a few years. It was operated by a few shafts", (Sabina Ann, P. Rocks & Minerals for the Collector, GSC Miscellaneous Report 57, Savaga Mine, pg 31).

This mine is located on the way to Hound chutes. Its located on the southeast end of Carr Lake. From the road to 96 vein you can clearly see the tall headframe of this mine & the Provincial #2 mine not far away. Silver Summit is an old headframe but it too is photogenic, but not in the best state of stability. Here the headframe is given a wide berth & is fenced in for a good distance, but you can still come up to the fence & see the headframe well. There are a few minor buildings here & dumps but all are fenced in for safety & aren't accessible. This headframe unfortunately collapsed through the harsh winter of 2013. Here are some pics of how the headframe used to look.

Imposing headframe front

Headframe seen from Carr Lake tailings



Provincial Mine #2

This mine is located about 200 meters from the collapsed Silver Summit headframe on the south shore of Carr Lake. The south end of Carr lake is full of tailings but if you walk over them you can reach the Provincial headframe. This headframe is is good shape & quite scenic. If you walk out enough on the tailings you will be able to see the collapsed Silver Summit & Provincial headframes together.


Provincial headframe



Panoramic shot showing the Silver Summit headframe on the left, & Provincial headframe on the right



Waldman Mine

This mine is located just along Hound Chutes road, you can see an ugly rusting headframe right from the road. The headframe definitely is the least "attractive" of all the headframes that i seen on my trip. You cannot get too close to it though as it is fenced in & posted. I got as close as i could to take some pics.

one bloody ugly headframe


Silverfields Mine

This mine is located on the very top of Diabase mountain. The steep road that leads to it can be a bit rough in some spots but it can be driven with "most" vehicles. On the top of the "Mountain" is a radio tower, that's it. As for the mine, there is little left from it. There used to be headframe but its gone, collapsed or removed. There are decent dumps up here though. The one thing that is definitely interesting to see is the core sample pile. There is a massive core sample pile here, it is located on the north side of the road. It is very extensive & it dissapears deep into the woods. What impresses me most is the fact that this pile is only from THIS mine, other mines surely have core samples as well? Quiet the thought isn't it.?

many, many, many, many, many, core samples...


Silver Miller Mine, Lumsden Shaft

This mine is one of those mines south of Lawson Mine. The road from the Lawson mine goes south & it begins to degrade, no maintenance. I was able to make it here but going much further with low clearance would be tricky. The mine has a dump along Brady Lake,& a foundation. It is right beside the road. If you look across Brady lake to the opposite shore you will see the Pan Silver shaft dumps.


Foundation ruins


Silver Miller Mine, Pan Silver Shaft

This mine is another Silver mine located off the main road. The mine is smaller then those closer to Cobalt center but it still has decent dumps.

Here are the mine dumps seen from the Lumsden mine across the lake


Conisil Mine

This mine is directly south of the Lawson Mine & is located along Giroux lake. The mine is relatively isolated compared to most but it offer a few interesting sights. First you have the mine dump, which is decent, & it offers a very scenic view over Giroux Lake & Diabase Mountain. Would be a great spot to cast a line. There is one building intact here, the old managers office. Then you have a few core sample piles, foundation base, & two hoist drums one of which is in a roofed structures. The two hoist drums i think are the real sight as there were well preserved. This mine was part of the Lawson Mine property.


View over Giroux Lake from the dump



One of the two hoist drums


Christopher (Columbus) Mine

This is another small mine located south of Brady Lake & before Columbus Lake. There u can find a very small dump near the lake. Along the road to the mine you will pass a cannibalized Jeep frame.


The small dump


Cobalt Lode Mine

This mine is near the end of the road south of Bradly Lake. Its gets pretty rough at this point. Not much is left of the mine except a main dump pile & some shallow dumps, & exposed outcrops.


Main dump


North Cobalt & Silver Center

Most of the silver mines are immediately around & in Cobalt, but there are two other nearby areas that silver was discovered. The first site is in north Cobalt immediately north east of Cobalt. The second site is the Silver Center area, located about 30 minutes south of North Cobalt. Both of these sites are minor areas compared to the immediate mines around Cobalt but they are sites of note nevertheless.


Silver Centre

Southeast of Cobalt is the long abandoned site of Silver Center. This was a small concentration of Silver Mines located near Lake Temegamie. Its reached by Silver Center road in the area known as South Loraine.

Wood's Vein, Keeley-Frontier Mine

This mine is the main mine of the Silver Center area. It accounts for over half of the silver produced from the South Loraine area. Its made up of the Keeley & Frontier property.

Keeley Mine Property


Mill foundation & collapsed Wood's vein. Taken by Reiner Mielke



One of a few open shafts on the property.


Frontier Mine Property


Panoramic view of the Frontier dumps seen in the fall.



Mill ruins near Frontier.


Lorrain Trout Lake Mine


View from top of dumps.



North Cobalt

In the North Cobalt area is another small concentration of silver mines. The area is very close to the shore of scenic Lake Timiskaming. Most of the mines are located very close to the main road, which eventually leads to Silver Center.

Green-Meehan Mine

This mine is literally right beside the road. You will see the large dump analog the hill from the road & the mill foundations just south of it. Here you can also find a few fenced in cuts, a pit, & either an adit of shaft on the top of the hill.


Mill foundation, right beside the road



View from the mill looking east


Cobalt Contact Mine

This mine is located just south of the Green-Meehan Mine across the road. You will see the old mine road from the mill foundation of the Green Mine. Not much is left but a very shallow dump & a fenced in area which might have been the shaft.


Likely fenced in shaft


Around the old mines in North Cobalt there seams to be some mining activity going on. For example the Auguanico Mine on the north shore of Lake Timiskaming has got some exploration work going on around it. A new road is being installed & some machinery is present. This mine is located right beside a campground.


Auguanico Mine


Collecting

With Silver once plentiful in the areas mentioned, the question is whether it can still be found here? The answer is yes, it can. You can find silver but its very difficult now. Many savvy collectors have used metal detectors to comb the dumps & have found all the easy stuff. You can still find little bits of silver in matrix here & there as well as small wire Silver aggregates but not often. The thing is, there are so many mines here & so many dumps that you got plenty of place to try your luck. Most mines have accessible dumps, some are not accessible. Keep your eyes on any posted signs & respect private property. Also keep eyes for fenced in areas, they are fenced in for a reason. Do not attempt to cross them stay way away. Also there might be overgrown old trenches, cuts, shafts, or adits that you might stumble upon if you decide to explore the woods. Keep your eyes open as these sites might not be fenced in & could kill or injure you if you were to fall in! Take extreme care when exploring the woods around Cobalt.

Beside Silver, there are many rare occurring minerals that can be found. Most occur in micro form.

Here are a few examples of Silver in matrix that i found in the mines of Cobalt.

Piece is 8 x 6.5 cm. Vein 19, Nipissing 404 mine.

Silver in matrix


The piece is 12.2 x 8.5 cm. Vein 19, Nipissing 404 mine.

Silver in matrix


It is 3.8 x 2.5 cm. Vein 19, Nipissing 404 mine.

Silver in matrix


A tarnished Silver leaf with some green Malachite from the Meyers Vein. Piece is 7.8 cm wide.

Silver in matrix


The largest leaf is 1.4 cm long. Lumsden Shaft, Silver Miller Mine.

Silver leaf in matrix


Silver vein, polished & cut section from the Silver Miller Mines (Brady Lake property). 17 cm across.

Silver leaf in matrix


Silver leafs sticking out of carbonates from the Silver Miller Mines (Brady Lake property). Piece is 7.8 cm across.

Silver leaf in matrix


Some Silver leaf sticking out matrix. From Christopher Mine (Columbus Mine) Piece is 5.5 cm tall.

Silver leaf in matrix


A nice leaf of Silver perched on some matrix. From Nipissing 404. Dimensions: 11.1 cm x 5.5 cm

Silver leaf in matrix


Here are a few old pieces of Silver from the area that i acquired.

Silver Leaf. It is 3.7 x 2.8 cm, & 2 mm thick.

silver leaf


Silver leaf glacial float. It is 8.5 x 5 x 1 cm at its thickest point.

Glacial float


A piece of silver from Cobalt showing the polished section. The piece is 7 x 3.8 x 3.7cm.

Cut Silver


Silver wire acquired from the Cobalt area. Image is 5 mm across.

wire


Silver wire acquired from the Keele-Frontier Mine. Wire is 1.1 cm across.

wire


Silver wire acquired from the O'Brien mine. Wire is 3.5 cm tall, & 0.5 cm wide at the bottom. An Ex-ROM specimen, acquired.

nice wire


Summary

If you like history & seeing how Silver was extracted from the earth using various methods then Cobalt is the place to go. The area is very scenic & rugged. I love that fact that most mines are located a few feet from a main road, very little trekking required. Just drive & collect. So much history in such a small place. most of the dumps are open which tends to keep bugs away, but in the woods they reside so be ready.

I have greatly enjoyed my trips to Cobalt & i know i will make more of them in the future.

You can learn more about Cobalt from the following links:

Town of Cobalt website: http://www.cobalt.ca/

Cobalt Mining Museum link: http://www.cobalt.ca/index.php/historic-cobalt/mining-museum

Heritage Silver Trail link:http://www.cobalt.ca/index.php/historic-cobalt/silver-heritage-trail

References

- Google Maps street-view: Various location in Cobalt(Cobalt Mining Museum, Townsite Headframe)
- Heritage Silver Trail, Info plaques (sites #2, 4,.....)
- Collection of Reiner Mielke
- Collection of Maggie Wilson
- Collection of Michael Adamowicz
- Sabina Ann, P. Rocks & Minerals for the Collector, GSC Miscellaneous Report 57




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Comments

Thanks for writing this long story. I read it front to end and enjoyed it
Cheers!

Frank de Wit
3rd Jun 2012 8:12pm
Wow, wow, and wow again!!!! Great article Michael!!
I'm curious; is it possible to collect some of those core samples? Reason I'm asking is my wife and I use them to create a simulated exploration project with her geology students and having real cores the students can handle makes it much easier to teach with.

Again, great job on the article and wonderful photos.....

Paul Brandes
3rd Jun 2012 9:21pm
I want to go too! What a wonderful article. Just the type of information I need to plan a trip to this mining rich area.

Keith A. Peregrine
3rd Jun 2012 9:21pm
Glad you all enjoy the article. Wish i had more time to write them! Cobalt is an amazing place where time has stood still.

Paul, if you are interested in core samples i can tell you of a few sites around Bancroft that you can find them. Contact me through mindat.

Michael.

Michael Adamowicz
4th Jun 2012 12:39am
Thanks for an interesting and informative article.

Jim Bean
4th Jun 2012 1:34am
Great article Michael. Thanks for taking the time to write and post.

Frank Ruehlicke
4th Jun 2012 2:56pm
Thanks for the great report. I don't imagine I'll ever get there, but after reading your report, I feel almost like I've already been there

Dennis Tryon
4th Jun 2012 7:34pm
A fine read on this Canadian mine complex

Steve Rust
5th Jun 2012 10:39am
Michael,

Thanks for this great and informative writeup. We visited Cobalt one time about 40 years ago so your article brought back lots of fond memories. The town, like most mining towns, has not changed much but that is what makes places like Cobalt fun to visit--lots of history and nice people.

Best,
Joe

Joseph Polityka
7th Jun 2012 1:45am
Terrific work, Michael - thanks for the article!

Maggie Wilson
11th Jun 2012 11:01am
Hi to everybody, hi Michael!
Very interesting article, also nice places! But I think those places are accessible just for one or two month per year, because in Winter (from October to the end of April, I think!), you should freeze there! How about permits of picking up minerals in Canada? Is it easy to achieve them?
Greetings from Italy by Riccardo.

Riccardo Modanesi
11th Jun 2012 12:31pm
Excellent job, Michael!

Alfredo Petrov
14th Jun 2012 6:08pm
Super job! Great pix! Very informative! Thank you!
Joe

Joe Mulvey
15th Jun 2012 1:12am
Michael, my congrats for the comprehensive article. I0ve read it from top to bottom and I am very very impressed! :)

Chris Mavris
29th Jun 2012 11:58pm
Excellent article! Thank you!

Pavel Martynov
23rd Aug 2014 7:35am

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