In 1902 the Ontario government incorporated the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (T&NOR). The company was to become a provincial Crown corporation with construction commencing on the railway beginning the following year.
By the summer of August 1903 T&NO railroad crews had reached the 103-mile mark north of North Bay. Legend has it that here a blacksmith named Fred Larose was working at his forge when he was startled by a fox. Larose, as the story is told, threw a hammer at the fox, missing it and hitting a rock instead. The hammer exposed a silver vein underneath that would set off a silver rush.
The actual discovery of silver in the Cobalt area began in the Long Lake area on August 7, 1903 while two workers named James H, McKinley and Ernest Darragh were scouting the right of way for trees to use as railway ties. The pair discovered rocks showing leaves of bright metal. The samples were sent away for examination with the results finding native silver assaying 4,000 ounces to the ton. McKinley and Darragh secured their claim and began the McKinley-Darragh mine which would go on to produce thirteen millions dollars worth of silver.
Contrary to the tale, Fred Larose found silver a few weeks later in mid-September. He had discovered pink-stained rocks that he thought contained copper and had the samples sent to Toronto. The results indicated that the rocks were rich in nickel. Newly appointed Ontario Provincial Geologist, Willett G. Miller followed up on Larose's discovery of nickel. His findings indicated that Larose had discovered four veins. Three of the veins contained massive chunks of silver while the fourth, the original nickel vein, was actually bloom.
These initial findings set off a silver rush that brought prospectors, miners and financiers from all over the world.
As for the railway, it reached Englehart in 1906, and Cochrane in 1909. After the silver rush began, the T&NO had no difficulty in finding men to work on the rail crews north of Cobalt, rather they had difficulty in keeping them. As the train neared 100 miles of Cobalt, men would jump from the train to go off in search of silver – their transportation provided free by the railway. Eventually the T&NO posted guards at the doors so that their fresh group of workmen would still be there when the train reached it's destination north of Cobalt.
Drinking became a problem for prospectors and the sale of alcohol was prohibited within a five-mile radius of any mine. The first Ontario Provincial Police detachment was opened and George Caldbick became the first constable. To keep the town peace, Caldbick would frisk each man for weapons when they disembarked the train.
Alcohol was available legally in Haileybury for thirsty miners and Cobalt residents. For those not wanting to purchase alcohol the legal way, over 100 “blind pigs” were operating out of Cobalt where a thirsty man could purchase some “home brew”. The Hunter Block building alone had nine illegal drinking establishments within it.
Female companionship became available for a price, at one of Cobalt's cathouses. In some cases the madams followed the miners from state to state.
Cobalt's mining reached its peak in 1911 and had a population of between 10,000 to 15,000 residents. That year the silver production reached 31,507,791 ounces.
By the 1920's most of the mines were closed due to the stock market crash and depleted silver supply.
-- The Right of Way Mining Company --
When silver was discovered at the south end of Cobalt Lake in 1903, The Right of Way Mining Company Limited was formed. In 1906 the company purchased the rights to take over and mine any discoveries of silver made within 50 feet on either side of the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway.
The Right of Way Mining Company sunk two shafts at the northern end of Cobalt Lake to determine if silver was present. For two years the mine operated at a profit but was closed in 1909. For the next 78 years it would see continued re-activation. From 1906 to 1935, 2,969,205 ounces of silver were produced at this site.
The remains of the Right of Way mine can be found at the north end of Cobalt Lake in the town of Cobalt. Take highway 11 north of North Bay past Temagami.