Despite the size and grade of silver nuggets found in Cobalt (pictured), many of Ontario’s mining men initially believed the samples were little more than freak occurrences. Courtesy of the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines
Most Canadians know about the Klondike Gold Rush, but few realize that the stampede for silver in Cobalt, Ontario only five years later far surpassed the Klondike in terms of profits, production and long-term impact. Concentrated in an area less than 13 square kilometres, Cobalt mines supplied almost 90 per cent of Canada’s silver production between 1904 and 1920 and by the time the boom petered out in the 1920s, the camp had become the fourth-largest silver producer ever discovered. The early history of hard rock mining in Ontario is essentially the story of the discovery of silver near Cobalt in 1903.
Spreading out in all directions from Cobalt, prospectors discovered silver in South Lorrain, Gowganda and Elk Lake, and gold in Larder Lake, Kirkland Lake and Timmins. These discoveries encouraged further exploration in northern Canada and beyond. For the next half century, nearly every major discovery in Canada – from Noranda to Eldorado to Elliott Lake – was due to the skills and financial resources acquired at Cobalt. In the process, the foundations were laid for the establishment of an important mining industry in a part of the continent that had previously been almost unknown.