Cobalt silver remains a puzzle to this day

Darlene Wroe

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

COBALT - The Cobalt Mining Museum remains open two days a week during the winter for people interested in coming it to learn more about the fascinating history of the Cobalt Mining Camp and the town that quickly sprang up during the silver mining boom which started in 1903.

Visitors to the museum can enjoy the many displays that will take them deep into the exploration for silver and the people who flocked to the area to dig for it. The emergence of national-class hockey players and other notable developments are all there.

Curator Peter Greyson is well versed on the history of the area as well as the geological activities of the area, and the event two billion years ago that created the vast veins of silver in the Cobalt Mining Camp. He noted those that come in at this time of year will have the place more or less to themselves and he will have more time to talk about the exhibits and the history of Cobalt.

For the rest of February, the museum is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and in March it will be open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If visitor numbers warrant, that will be expanded to three days a week for the remainder of the winter months, until summer visiting hours are put in place.

One of the great attractions offered by the museum is the opportunity to go underground in July and August to see what it looked like to miners 100 years ago, noted Greyson, who added that this is one of the last underground mining tours still being offered.

The history of Cobalt is "not as understood as it could be," said Greyson in an interview at the museum.

"The silver that came from this town financed an enormous expansion of mining in Northern Ontario initially and then right across Canada. Mining companies that were built on the basis of the silver that came from here are now international giants of the mining industry and Canadian mining is one of the most significant mining industries in the world."

The early years of the 1900s, after silver was first discovered, was "a bit of a free-for-all and a lot of interesting things happened here," said Greyson.

The museum offers six rooms of displays about those events, with more in storage, which are brought out from time to time to rotate the exhibition. There are excellent collections of silver, other rock samples, and early mining implements such as lights, dynamite, drills and other mining items. Greyson said the mining artifacts were "basically left here when the mines closed many years ago."

Mining thrived in the area until about the time of the Depression, he said, but resurged in the 1950s.

"During the Second World War there was a great need for cobalt so many of the mine dumps here were re-put through the mills and cobalt was extracted, and in the '50s they found other silver deposits that were then mined until about the mid '80s,” said Greyson.

“The last mine that was opened here was 1983 or 1985."

However, there has been an increase in drilling in the area recently due to an interest in cobalt for electric vehicle batteries, and also for un-mined silver that is believed to be still out there.

"I would say there is a good possibility that there are untapped resources here. It is a very mineral-rich area," said Greyson.

The town is filled with reminders of the days of the silver boom.

The museum stands on the site of the town's newspaper from that time. The Cobalt Daily Nugget covered the news of one of the most interesting towns in Canada at the time.

In later years the offices became occupied by Ontario Hydro and in 1961 Hydro deeded the building to the Town of Cobalt, which turned it into a mining museum. The collection of Paul Hermiston was housed there, along with collections of some others, said Greyson.

In the last few years the museum has been almost completely renovated. Greyson said he would still like to redo the hockey display at the museum, and the display regarding the First Nations in the area.

He noted that the Royal Ontario Museum has artifacts from the area dating back 2,000 years. The artifacts were found in the Peterborough area at the Serpent Mounds Provincial Park, and were created by Indigenous people living in the Cobalt area at the time.

Greyson said it is generally agreed that the silver was deposited in the area due to volcanic activity two billion years ago. A diabase sill was formed "and as it contracted it left spaces." Water flowed through the spaces and deposited silver, cobalt, calcium carbonate and other things, he continued.

"What caused the silver to go out of the liquid form that it was flowing in and to deposit itself in those veins, they don't really agree on that."

He added that the silver deposit is "patchy, it's not one big long continuous vein, and knowing why it precipitated would aid enormously in finding any remaining silver, so that's an interesting puzzle for a geologist and it's ongoing to this day."

Darlene Wroe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temiskaming Speaker