The Towns and Cities of Northern Ontario
Cobalt Ontario- James Bay Frontier
Cobalt is a tiny village, one of the "don't blink or you'll miss it" variety. Even so, it's rich in history and interesting things to see. Definitely worth the side trip off Highway 11 onto Highway 11B to visit.
Legend has it that a blacksmith threw his hammer at a fox one day back in 1903 and accidentally uncovered what become the world's richest vein of silver. The facts say that a pair of railway timber scouts discovered the silver while scouting here in 1903, but I like the legend better.
Whatever the story, almost overnight this area was transformed. Vast tracks of timber disappeared to be replaced by mining headframes. Between 1908 and 1910 the name of Cobalt was know worldwide. It was booming so rapidly there was no time for planning, houses and buildings went up where they would fit. The population soared to 10,000 in the blink of an eye. In 1909 a railway station was built here, one grand enough to represent Cobalt's status as a world renown silver producer. It was considered one of the most elegant in Ontario. Then, almost overnight in 1929, the stock market crash destroyed the silver market and Cobalt became a ghost town.
Today the town is as interesting as it's history. The Heritage Silver Trail is a 6 km self guided tour of several old mining sites. You can visit one of the world's finest collection of native silver, artifacts, and photography at the Mining Museum. There's a festival in August, and plenty of camp sites to accommodate you. The Highway Book Store, back on Highway 17 just south of the Highway 11B turn off, claims to have over 100,000 new and used books. This store has as many nooks and crannies and strange little passageways as the town of Cobalt did in it's heyday. Just one quarter mile north of the book store, almost across the road from the 11B turnoff, is the Iddy Biddy Petting Farm. Admission is a donation of your choice, the animals are clean and well cared for, and the hostess friendly and ready to swap stories about her animal friends. There's a Military Museum that houses a unique collection to please war buffs of all ages, including an extensive library. This museum is housed in the old train station, so that visit would be doubly interesting.
When you get to town be sure to ask the locals about the gentleman who built his store around the headframe of a mining shaft to use the cool updrafts to keep his meat and vegetables cool. He ran this store from 1926 until into the 60's. Ask about what happened in 1989 when part of the 11B highway tried to find a new home at the bottom of a collapsing mine shaft. Yeah, Cobalt may be small, but it makes up for it in big stories.